About this new proposal that was recently submitted; I don’t know how this new bill would benefit anyone other than the ESRB. Proposing fines wouldn’t change anything and again, would only benefit the ESRB. I don’t have a problem with my former employers benefitting and growing in an ever-changing digital world. I just don’t see how this is different than what is already there, other than forcing everyone who makes games to have no other choice but use the ESRB rating system. Apple and Google have their own ratings systems so this proposal, if it were to go through, would force Apple and Google to use the ESRB rating, right? I don’t know. Now, do I have a problem with every game being rated by the ESRB? Absolutely not. In fact I think every game should use the rating system because It is most widely recognized and most trusted games rating system. Don’t believe me? Go and find the hard facts and studies that prove it. Need your own proof? Look at the recent rating mishap with the NRA app. A mistake like that would never happen at the ESRB.
Now do not misunderstand this post. This is not about the ESRB or money. For me, this is all about those kids whose lives were cut short because some mentally-ill kid lost his mind. Violence in America is a serious issue and a nightmare like that should never happen again. As a core gamer, I take it serious when politicians try to use games as a scapegoat instead of dealing with the bigger issue: mental illness. I mean, don’t get me wrong, violent content in videogames must be monitored by responsible parents and not used as some baby-sitting tool just because a game is popular. In addition to what was proposed to Vice President Biden, I propose these ideas to the entire industry as well:
1) Have better enforcement at retail (and online) for selling games to the age group for which they were designed. Checking ID’s is fine but doesn’t really work online. Perhaps parents identified with passwords, credit card or whatever, can choose to purchase a game and send that game digitally to their child via email or gifting. That way parents will be forced to know all about the game before purchasing it for their child. That’s just one idea at the point of sale. I don’t know but the solution is there, we just have to think of it.
2) If developers really care about the industry and want to make change then I think they should come together and agree to make it mandatory for all M-rated games to contain a content filter. It can be similar to the way Epic did with Gears of War where you could toggle gore and profanities on and off– but make it mandatory. That way it’s the players choice to turn it on or off. Or if a parent is using parental controls, the consoles can automatically start the game in the edited version with the blood, gore, and language already toggled off. OR they could go the more expensive route and release a T-rated version of the game in addition to the M-rated version. I know there are already parental controls on consoles but they only stop a child from playing a particular rating category. What kid likes being told they can’t play something? With this system in place, they can play it, just a slightly edited version. Again, these are just a few ideas.
3) If developers agree to the 2nd idea, the ESRB can create a shared rating where it shows buyers that the games content can be changed and also include a descriptor that explains that game content can be changed. Now, I know the ESRB already has systems in place when dealing with compilation packages but this rating icon would be a new one that simply adds a small icon that shows the content can be changed. Think of the circular recycling arrows between a “T” and a “M” and you’ll get the idea.
4) Include rating summaries on the actual game packages. I know this would be a pain because most game packages are covered with legal notices and logos of the IP holders (blah, blah, blah.) But it’s just another idea to help America stay informed without it feeling like censorship. Informing consumers is more important than the legalities on game packages.
I think these are the types of discussions we need to have in addition to what was already proposed. Would it be a pain in the neck to create this stuff? Absolutely! Would it be more expensive to develop content filters? Yes, but I doubt it would be that much more than it already is. In the end, I think the safety of America’s youth is more important. It won’t be censorship. It’s just offering more options to your audience. Why? Because you care. What do you think?
Who am I? A former rater at the ESRB; a husband, a dad, and a core gamer. Follow me on Twitter @4lefty
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase your ticket now to save $200!