Friday, 20 November 2009

Digital Economy Bill - Also screws game developers

So it's here, the bill that has the open rights group setting up pages to tell Lord Mandleson where he can go over Three Strikes, and worries us all with the shadows of a "Pirate finder general" (Love the Monkeydust reference)

And, as to be expected, fears are justified. In its contents are indeed provisions for cutting off the supply of our internet without a trial or court-tested evidence, for the creation of powers that can be bestowed upon people (such as members of a record label) and on a lesser reported scale, a broad attack on creativity and independent development in the field of computer games.

Others will go in to the mainstay of the three strikes law, and I just want to make sure this other part of the bill doesn't get ignored.

Regulation of all video games

In section 40 of the Digital Economy bill the focus moves on to Video Games, and their regulations. Amending the Video Recordings Act 1984 Mandleson intends for video games to become much more regulated. Unless you are an education, sport, music or...bizarrely...religious game you will be regulated.

This law feels poorly written. A lack of definition of video games feels, to me, to open the door to interpretation too widely. Where does an interactive experience online become a "video game"? Similarly it would seem a music game like Rock Band could get away without regulation despite containing a song with "swearing" (another loose definition) in it, while a perfectly reasonable platformer with a single profanity would need to go through a regulation process.

I think the fact that potential religious games preaching to our children are not considered dangerous enough to regulate, while games that have a bit of cussing are, shows just how imbalanced this whole section is.

The worst of it all, however, is that it applies to games distributed in any manner, with or without reward. Where does this leave independent game makers, and hobbyists? Unless they're willing to limit the scope of their work they need to face an added barrier of regulation, something that is completely unfathomable when it comes to a Flash enthusiast creating a small beat-em-up game and facing a hefty fine or even jail time for their ignorance.

It will be all to easy for MPs, when it comes to them, to concentrate on the admittedly more pressing matters of infringement of our rights. But we shouldn't let that mean we're willing to let this part of the bill slide as well, it may not be as pressing but it is a definite step in the wrong direction in terms of how to regulate games and "protect our children".

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