LAS VEGAS -- Facing pressure from the U.S. Senate, an industry coalition put the development of a universal rating system for video games on a fast track on Jan. 8 during the Winter Consumer Electronics Show here.
Four sessions will be held before June to work out a system for advising consumers on the level of violence, sexual content and strong language in games, said Mark Traphagen, staff counsel for the Software Publishers Association, Washington. SPA is coordinating the effort, which also has been joined by video game manufacturers and retailers represented by the Video Software Dealers Association, Los Angeles.
The coalition was formed after hearings on video game violence held in Washington on Dec. 9 by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.
"There's a window of opportunity to get this done ourselves," Craig Odanovich, general manager of Video Central at H-E-B Grocery Co., San Antonio, told SN after the meeting. Odanovich chairs VSDA's video games committee.
If the industry doesn't come up with a viable system, the government might step in, he said. "It's extremely important that we move quickly," said Odanovich.
A possible result of the rating system is that supermarket video departments will not carry certain titles that they now have because they tend to be conservative in their selection of titles, he said. "But anytime you have full disclosure on anything, it's a good thing. It's truth in packaging," said Odanovich.
"Senator Lieberman views these meetings as an extremely good first step and a way to get the ball rolling in follow-up to the Senate hearings," said John
Nakahata, staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on Regulation and Government Information.
The senators have scheduled a second hearing for March 4, Nakahata noted. "At that time, we will be looking for real progress toward the development of a rating system," he said.
"The real bottom line is that the rating board has got to be independent, it has to have credibility, and it has to be insulated from market pressures in a way that competitors and the consuming public will trust," he said.
VSDA and its retailer membership, which includes many supermarket chains, will be charged with enforcing whatever rating system the industry coalition comes up with, said Dawn Wiener, president of VSDA. Wiener is also president of two video specialty chains based in Austin, Texas, Discount Entertainment and Home Video Plus.
"We have to make sure that it is a hard and fast kind of rating system that we can live with," she told SN.
During the meeting at Winter CES, Traphagen and Ken Wasch, SPA's executive director, outlined some of the industry's options. A key decision will be whether the rating system will be based on "prior review" or "registered disclosure," said Traphagen.
With prior review, companies would submit their titles to a board for its evaluation, as the movie industry does through the Motion Picture Association of America. The industry would benefit from the public's awareness of and confidence in the MPAA system.
But, with 10,000 game and interactive multimedia titles expected for release by 1996, prior review may be impractical, he noted.
An alternative would be registered disclosure. "In this system, participating developers and publishers would identify the content of electronic interactive entertainment products and register them with an independent ratings body before releasing them to the market. This system may well meet the requirements without creating undue hardship for developers," said Traphagen.