Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK)

Games are a source of fascination for adults, adolescents and children alike. For 28 years now, the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK) has been working in the field of youth protection to ensure that young people can enjoy a good gaming experience without being subjected to inappropriate content.

As the games industry’s organisation for voluntary self-monitoring, the USK is the responsible authority for the assessment of computer and video games in Germany. The non-profit organisation’s sole stakeholder is game – the German Games Industry Association. The familiar USK age ratings (0, 6, 12, 16 or 18 and up) found on games make it possible to recognise at a glance the age from which a game is appropriate from a youth protection standpoint.

Since it was first established in 1994, the USK has conducted over 51,000 evaluations of digital games in Germany. In 2021 alone, 1,744 games were assessed. The USK also awards age ratings in the framework of the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) for apps and games that can be obtained online. USK age ratings serve as an important point of reference for children and adolescents, as well as for parents and educators.

As part of efforts to continue improving the system’s quality assurance process, the IARC test process has been utilising ATLAS (Artificial Intelligence Testing, Learning And Scraping), an AI tool developed by USK. ATLAS is based on a machine learning system that analyses online games and apps according to a specific set of criteria and is able to predict the probability that an app will be incorrectly classified.

Nearly 50 companies have already become members of USK.online. As an officially recognised self-regulation body under the German Interstate Treaty on the Protection of Minors (JMStV), USK.online gives its member companies practical support in implementing and complying with statutory provisions related to their online offers. USK.online also conducts approval processes regarding technical measures for the protection of minors in the media environment. In 2021, the organisation welcomed another leading international company in Microsoft, which joined USK.online in order to be able to work together to promote high standards of youth protection in the company’s games division.

Germany’s new youth protection legislation came into force in May 2021, bringing with it significant changes for digital games. Since the legislation was passed, the USK has been working closely with the responsible Supreme Youth Protection Authorities of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, game and the Permanent Representatives of the Supreme Youth Protection Authorities at the USK to develop proposals for putting the new provisions into actual practice. It is expected that the provisions of this new legislation will have been implemented by the end of 2022.

As the official partner for youth protection, the USK advised gamescom on the age-appropriate implementation of the event. The USK also organised a digital open day as part of gamescom 2021, which once again had to take place digitally on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. This day offered people a look behind the scenes of the USK.

The USK also puts its comprehensive knowledge in the field of games to work on projects to promote media expertise, and it collaborates on efforts to educate the public on the principles of digital games safety. An excellent example is provided by the ‘ESportZ’ initiative, which is sponsored by ‘ZEIT für die Schule’ and ESL. As part of this project, educational materials were developed for the topics of youth protection, gaming and esports that could be used by teachers. The USK team also lent its support to the Institut für Film und Bild in Wissenschaft und Unterricht (FWU) in its efforts to create teaching materials on the topic of gaming for third- and fourth-year primary school pupils. Issues covered include ‘Diversity of games’, ‘Protection and monitoring’, ‘Frustration and flow’, ‘Cost traps’ and ‘Serious games’.

Proportions of USK age ratings 2021

For more information visit: www.usk.de