For video games in Russia, five age categories can be introduced – “0+”, “6+”, “12+”, “16+”, “18+”, which will meet international standards. Such restrictions were proposed by the head of the Digital Development direction of the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) Alexander Malakhov, speaking at the round table “Prospective regulation of the field of computer games” on February 22, 2023. He also noted that it is not a separate body that should assign a rating, but the developers themselves or game publishers.
The CSR proposes to extend innovations only to games distributed online. They will not affect games on physical media. “We have two distribution channels. Physical distribution is the area of responsibility of Rospotrebnazdor, the Internet – Roskomnadzor, Malakhov said at the round table. “We are not sure that it (tagging games on physical media) should be introduced now, because it is difficult, expensive and in fact a small percentage of games are distributed on physical media.”
Age marking should be introduced by analogy with the one prescribed in the law No. 436-FZ “On the protection of children from information …”, while focusing on the features of games, Malakhov believes. “The game has two components – game content, which can be marked in full accordance with 436-FZ, and the game process, which is not mentioned in the law,” the expert explained to Vedomosti. “So in a game about unicorns and clouds, there can be such intense gameplay that if you give it to a child that is not for his age, it will cause him stress.” According to the representative of the CSR, in order to introduce age marking, it will be necessary to make changes not only to the 436-FZ, but also to the laws 149-FZ “On Information …” and 38-FZ “On Advertising”.
In addition to the main categories, the CSR proposes to introduce seven descriptors (additional categories. – Vedomosti), which are also not spelled out in 436-FZ, Malakhov said. To reflect not only the age rating itself, but also indicate the reasons why it is that way, games should be tagged with icons for “violence”, “obscene language”, “scenes of sexual action”, “in-game purchases”, “scenes, causing fear”, “prohibited substances” and “alcoholic products”, Malakhov listed. At the same time, information prohibited in Russia, for example, LGBT propaganda, is not allowed in games by default, the expert added.
According to him, the rating should be assigned to the game by the person who puts the game into circulation, that is, the developer or publisher, and not a separately created organization, the representative of the CSR believes. “The introduction of an institution of experts who will check each game and give it a category implies high loads,” he explained. “The current legislation in the field of protecting children from [dangerous] information does not require mandatory examination of all materials, this marking is similarly applied by the author or publisher.”
Most developers already put age markings on their games, says Vasily Ovchinnikov, head of the Organization for the Development of the Video Game Industry. Therefore, the CSR proposal is not so much about the very fact of introducing labeling, but about the development of rules for this process, he explains. For example, there is still no consensus on whether the developers or publishers themselves should assign labeling or certification authorities (not necessarily state ones) are needed for this, which will determine the age rating and give recommendations on what exactly needs to be changed to reduce it, the expert explained .
In addition, the CSR proposes to synchronize the Russian game labeling system with all existing international systems, that is, PEGI (Pan European Game Information – European rating system), USK (Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle – operates in Germany), ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board – operates in the USA). and Canada). According to Malakhov, this will allow mutual recognition of Russian and international categories of games, that is, they will operate regardless of the jurisdiction of the developer.
The current discussion of additional marking of video games is far from the first, reminded the founder of the Vengeance Games studio Konstantin Sakhnov. According to him, talks about the need for a separate law, in addition to 436-FZ, have been ongoing since 2019, but the relevant bills have not been published.
Until 2022, developers tried to comply with the requirements of 436-FZ by putting age restrictions on digital products, the expert says. But now people think about it less, as the Russian video game market has shrunk several times, leaving the top ten most promising ones, he said. “No regulatory measures at the moment will have an effect, since there is no emerging market that can be regulated,” Sakhnov complains. “The primary issue that needs to be addressed is the return of games to the Russian market.”
According to Malakhov, the proposals of the CSR were discussed with representatives of the Ministry of Economic Development, Roskomnadzor and the Ministry of Digital Development. A representative of the Ministry of Economics told Vedomosti that the department is considering various proposals prepared by both the CSR and industry representatives. “At this stage, we do not give priority to one or another regulatory approach, but continue to collect proposals,” he said. “The position of the ministry will be fixed based on the results of the proposals’ elaboration.”
Now in the Russian legislation there is no separate regulation of the sphere of computer games and Roskomnadzor specialists are ready to take part in the discussion of the relevant norms, the representative of the department added.
Vedomosti also sent inquiries to the Ministry of Digital Development and the Ministry of Health.
Now 436-FZ does not affect games, it only applies to films, TV shows, books, music and other works that have a finished look, that is, they are recognized as “information” in the sense in which federal law implies it, explained the managing partner of the law firm Enterprise Legal Solutions Yuri Fedyukin. The law “On the Protection of Children from Information…” does not take into account two important points that distinguish games from many other media, Vladislav Arkhipov, a teacher at the educational platform Moscow Digital School, confirms: the first is interactivity, the second is user-generated content that can dynamically and unpredictably change the content of the game
At the same time, Arkhipov doubts that full synchronization of the Russian age rating with Western ones is possible, because “they are based on different value approaches, and with external similarities, they differ significantly in internal logic.” Although individual criteria may be partially synchronized, he concluded.