Film and Publications Board rating procedure explained
MyGaming interviews the FPB to find out how they rate games for distribution in SA
The FPB is the South African statutory body established by the Films and Publications Act of 1996. It is tasked with classifying films, videos, DVDs, computer games and certain publications for their suitable age viewership.
Any video gaming product sold in South Africa must carry an FPB rating. It is because of this that many digital stores do not support South Africa as a region, citing the complications and costs of getting a product rated – prime examples are the iTunes Store and the Android Market. Those that do operate locally only receive a slow trickle of content which doesn’t stack up against international counterparts – Xbox LIVE South Africa.
MyGaming caught up with the FPB to find out about the gaming classification process, and what the FPB has to say about the claims that their processes stymie a local digital distribution market. The questions below were answered by Phumelele Faba, FPB Communications Officer.
MyG: What are the procedures the FPB follows when rating a digitally distributed application or video game, or a physical retail game?
FPB: A game is rated through a process of classification. This involves a classification committee of at least two people viewing and evaluating the material submitted. The content viewed is then compared to the classification guidelines. The guidelines are published in the government gazette and regularly reviewed through a public participation process.
The FPB will shortly commence a gaming classification pilot project which will involve gamers playing the games for the classification committee in real time. We will then compare these results to the classification results from static content viewing classification and determine the best way forward.
MyG: Can you enlighten us as to the complications involved in getting mobile applications and games rated for distribution through local variants of services such as the iTunes Store and the Android Market? Currently the South African based variants of these stores have limited or no content, and as far as I understand, this is due to complications in getting the content rated.
FPB: The FPB has frequently been confronted with the claim that the content of local iStores are limited as a result of complications relating to classification. The FPB has not refused to accept content. Rather, distributors have not submitted nor have they formally approached us to outline any problems regarding the classification of this type of material. The FPB acknowledges that we live in a rapidly evolving media environment and we are very open to developing our classification model to accommodate “new media”.
This includes entering into agreements, under strict conditions, that could allow distributors to distribute certain types of content without having to first submit it to the FPB. In making any such decisions, we are guided by our principal objective which is to protect children from potentially harmful content.
MyG: Under section 2.3 (Interactive Computer Games) of the current tariffs, can you clarify what constitutes a ‘different format’? Does a title released for different gaming platforms require a new rating for each platform? (i.e. The same game on Windows PC, Mac OS, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3).
FPB: In theory, every format requires a classification. We do allow for “Copy of Decision” ratings where there is no material difference in the content. If a distributor submits a game for classification in say PS3 format, they would be able to within the same time frame, get a Copy of Decision for every other format they request.
MyG: In light of the above questions, how does the FPB handle inexpensive digitally distributed games that appear on multiple platforms? An example would be Angry Birds which is available on eight different platforms. Does this mean the developer/distributor of the product would have to pay R1,508.64 to have the title rated on each platform?
FPB: Please refer to the above. Developers should also keep in mind that the FPB applies special tariffs to locally produced products. Products without any classifiable elements can also be submitted for exemption, at a much reduced rate. Again, Copy of Decision would be available to the distributor across all platforms if the content is the same.
MyG: In this day and age of cheap digitally distributed games and applications (some costing as little as US$1 (±R7)), aren’t the high costs associated with product ratings prohibitive? These publishers may not generate enough revenue to justify the cost of rating.
FPB: The FPB encourages all publishers and developers of content to approach us with conflicts between their business model and our classification model. Our goal is to include and accommodate anyone and to facilitate the industry – certainly not to limit the development of in particular, local product. Wherever possible, we will look to develop a system that can make it work for the class of distributors affected – provided that our principal obligations to protect children from potentially harmful content is not compromised.
MyG: Are you aware of any plans to update the Film and Publications Act, No. 65 of 1996 to be more representative of the modern digital product distribution landscape?
FPB: Legislative review is a continuous process and never really stops. There will probably not be substantive changes to the Act in the next year or two but many challenges can be resolved through agreements and amendments to regulations and operating procedures, which do not require legislative amendments.
MyG: Would some sort of recognition of the legitimacy of other international ratings systems be considered as an alternative method of having content rated in South Africa?
FPB: The FPB is constantly in touch with our classification colleagues in various jurisdictions, including PEGI but also distributors such as Microsoft. Whenever a distributor has a demonstrable desire to comply with the substance of our mandate and where it is possible to develop a model, the FPB will always consider such proposals. This includes co-operative agreements with international classification agencies.
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