What regulations must a UK-based mobile gaming company follow to ensure age-appropriate content?

11 June 2024

The digital environment has considerably evolved in recent years, with children increasingly accessing the online world at a younger age. A major area of concern is the content available to children within online games. As you create your UK-based mobile gaming company, it's essential to understand and comply with the necessary regulations designed to ensure age-appropriate content. This article will delve into the key areas you need to focus on, including age rating systems, child safety, privacy policies, and the implications of gambling facets.

Understanding Age Rating Systems

As a gaming company, one of the first steps in ensuring your content is age-appropriate involves understanding and implementing age rating systems. Whether it's for a social game or a standalone app, age ratings provide parents and users with guidance on the suitability of content for children of varying ages.

In the UK, the primary bodies responsible for game age ratings are PEGI (Pan European Game Information) and the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification). The Video Standards Council Rating Board administers PEGI ratings. Any game sold in the UK must comply with these ratings, which range from 3 to 18, based on content.

The BBFC rates games that are exempt from PEGI classification but contain explicit sexual content or gross violence. You must familiarise yourself with the guidelines provided by these bodies to ensure your game's content matches the appropriate age rating.

Child Safety and Online Content

Child safety is paramount in the online space. As a gaming company, you have a responsibility to protect young users from harmful content. In addition to age ratings, there are specific regulations you must follow.

The UK’s Online Safety Bill enforces the duty of care to users, especially children. It means your service must mitigate risks, which include but are not limited to, cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, and exposure to illegal content.

Moreover, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety provides a universal guide for providers of social media and interactive services. It includes best practices for ensuring safety features like privacy settings, content reporting mechanisms, and moderation of user-generated content.

Privacy Policies and Data Protection

Privacy is another key area where regulations come into play. Children may not fully grasp the implications of sharing personal information online, making them vulnerable targets. This makes it crucial to have robust privacy policies in line with data protection laws.

The UK's Data Protection Act 2018, incorporating the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), extensively covers the use of personal data. It includes provisions targeted explicitly at protecting children’s data. As per this regulation, if your game collects personal data from users under 18, you need explicit parental consent.

Furthermore, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) provides an Age Appropriate Design Code for online services likely to be accessed by children. This promotes a ‘privacy by default’ approach in your service, limiting data collection and ensuring transparency in your privacy policy.

The Implications of In-Game Purchases and Gambling

The line between gaming and gambling has blurred with the advent of in-game purchases and 'loot boxes'. As a gaming company, if your app includes these elements, you must tread carefully.

The UK Gambling Commission does not categorise loot boxes as gambling under current law. However, they have raised concerns about the potential risks they pose to children, who may be unaware of the costs involved.

While no specific regulation exists yet, the House of Lords Gambling Committee has recommended that loot boxes be regulated under gambling laws. It is prudent to stay informed about this debate and consider the ethical implications of including such elements in your game.

In conclusion, while the digital age has brought vast opportunities for gaming companies, it has also introduced an increasingly complex regulatory landscape. To ensure age-appropriate content in your online games, it's crucial to adhere to existing legislation around age ratings, child safety, privacy, and potential gambling elements. By doing so, not only will you ensure compliance with the law, but you will also foster a safer and more enjoyable gaming environment for all users.

The Role of Parental Controls and Age Verification

Understanding the role of parental controls and age verification mechanisms is a vital step towards ensuring age-appropriate content in your mobile games. Setting up these measures can significantly aid in restricting children's access to content that isn't suitable for their age group, and protect them from potential online risks.

Parental controls are features that can be activated in digital and electronic devices to limit certain functions, features or access to certain content. They can help to monitor and control the games that children play, the amount of time they spend gaming, and the people they interact with online.

In the UK, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) provides guidelines around collecting data from children younger than 13 years. COPPA requires parental consent for the collection or use of any personal information of the users. Therefore, as a gaming company, it is essential to develop age-verification mechanisms that can reliably confirm the age of the user before collecting any data.

In addition, the Age Appropriate Design Code, also known as the Children’s Code, stresses the importance of setting high privacy settings by default and disabling geolocation services. It also emphasises the need for platforms to provide straightforward means for children to signal that they deny consent for data sharing. Thus, incorporating these aspects into the design and functionality of your games can go a long way in ensuring child safety.

Offering Transparency Through Clear Privacy Policies

Transparency is a crucial aspect of protecting young users in the gaming community. One way to ensure transparency is by having clear, comprehensive and easily understandable privacy policies.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK provides guidelines for privacy policies, recommending that they are written in clear, plain language that children will understand. This is integral given that children and young people might not fully comprehend the implications of data sharing and privacy.

Your privacy policy should detail what kind of data you collect, why you collect it, how you use it, and who you share it with. It's also important to provide information on how users, or their parents, can access, change, or delete personal data.

Additionally, the Data Protection Act 2018 mandates that you must inform users of their rights, including the right to lodge a complaint with the ICO, the right to withdraw consent at any time, and the right to access personal data. Upholding these principles will help you maintain the trust of your users and their parents, and ensure your compliance with data protection laws.

While the proliferation of digital technology and social media has brought about new avenues for entertainment and learning, it has also ushered in an era of increased responsibility for those creating content targeted at children and young people. It is no longer enough to simply make engaging video games; developers now need to navigate the complex web of laws and regulations designed to protect children online.

From understanding age rating systems to ensuring child safety through the enforcement of online safety measures, every aspect is crucial. Implementing robust privacy policies, parental controls and age verification systems are also non-negotiable aspects of ensuring age-appropriate content. The blurred lines between gaming and gambling pose an additional challenge, highlighting the need for ethical considerations alongside legal compliance.

In essence, ensuring age-appropriate content in mobile gaming is a multi-faceted task that requires companies to be proactive, informed and considerate. By doing so, we can ensure that the world of online gaming remains a safe and fun space for all users, irrespective of their age.