At GDC Europe, Quantic Dream co-CEO Guillaume de Fondaumière delivered an impassioned and well-researched presentation on the contrast in rating systems between games and film -- which you can watch on GDC Vault for free.
More than merely informative, the talk (written up on Gamasutra) was a call to arms. De Fondaumière wants game creators to step up and demand major changes in these systems, to become involved in a process from which they have been excluded in all countries except for Germany, he says.
In this interview, he explains precisely what happened with the global content ratings for Heavy Rain, what changes had to be made to the game to get it a 16 age rating in PEGI (Pan European Game Information) territories, and why he thinks the system absolutely must change. He also addresses criticisms of the portrayal of one of the game's four leads, Madison Paige.
Heavy Rain was re-released in France in an edited version to get a new rating. Can you talk about about that?
GDF: First of all, I would like to maybe come back a little bit to the rating of the game in general. During the whole production of Heavy Rain, we've had, of course, many discussions with Sony, our publisher, about content -- what can be in it, what can't be in it.
Most developers, at least that I talk to, have similar discussions throughout the development of their games. Because although we were creating a game that was mature in themes, we, of course, never intended to show violent sequences to be provocative or shocking.
However, when you look at how different the rating systems are in the world, it's sometimes difficult to clearly understand where to draw the line. Clearly, we didn't want to be AO, for instance, in the United States. We didn't want to be a Z if possible in Japan, etcetera, etcetera.
But on the other hand, we didn't want to dilute the content, and not to be able to express ourselves the way we wanted to. So there's always this active balance that you need to during the development.
And usually you get to present your game to the content boards very late in [development], because you're between the beta and the master, and you most of the time hope that it's going to be okay. And so when the game was at that stage, and we started to send it to the ESRB, to CERO, to PEGI, USK, etcetera, etcetera, the first ratings that came back were not surprising -- but we were quite kind of relieved to see that we were within the boundaries.
We were expecting an M in the U.S. and it was quite a straight M. We were a little bit surprised in Japan. Because there are certain cultural differences, we were expecting a Z. Surprisingly, we got a D. We got a 15 in Australia, we got a 15 in the UK, and we got a 16 in Germany -- which was also kind of a surprise, because in the industry, there's this feeling that Australia and Germany are the toughest countries, and so usually you get there the toughest ratings.
The big surprise was to get an 18 in Europe by PEGI. We didn't feel that this game that we're making was deserving an 18. And also what we learned because our previous game, Fahrenheit, had received a 16. And we thought we were approximately the same level, if I may say so.
And so at that point, we started to dig a little bit into the system, and try to understand how it works. Because, in fact, most developers don't know how it really works -- because we're totally cut from the process. And then I understood that actually to do your rating on the PEGI is basically a relatively stupid questionnaire, where you have to tick boxes and say, "Okay, yeah -- there is mutilation."
Alright, yeah -- but what's the context behind this mutilation? Is it explained in the story? Do you have to do it? Don't you have to do it? We thought that we had treated all these elements of violence and sex, if any, in the game, in a relatively tasteful manner, and always brought it to the players in a very contextual way. So we were very surprised with this 18 rating. And so we always had in mind to go back to the rating body, and try to understand what was going on.
Is there a process that they have?
GDF: There is a process where you can go back and ask for a reclassification of your game. But that poses a number of problems. We got this rating, and we were really in the process of launching the title. You know, when you're launching internationally a triple-A product, you don't want to lose a month in discussing ratings with anyone.
So a decision had been made to release the title like this. But one day, we thought, we want to go back, and we want to understand why we got this rating, and what was this about. And we couldn't really see any reason why this had happened. And so we went back. And also, one the French distributors was quite keen on having a 16.
What's the problem with having an 18 PEGI?
GDF: There are numerous problems. The first problem is you can't advertise your game primetime on TV, for instance, in certain countries -- which is the case in France or in the UK. So there's the first limitation: you can't market it the way you should.
When you look at the bigger picture, I also think that it's not good for our industry to have so many games rated 18, because in the minds of the people you always see "this is a game for adults, this is a game for adults, this is a game for adults," and I really don't believe that in most cases the content deserves these kinds of ratings.
And then when I compare it to what I see in movies, or on a TV series today, I don't think that certain games are showing more violent scenes than certain movies, and certain films, and I see a big difference in ratings.
How many NC17 films have you seen in your life?
Very few. It's not typically used.
GDF: Very few, unless you go and see a porn movie.