The video game industry’s ratings board has figured out a way to put parent-advisory ratings on all games that are delivered via digital means.The new systems will allow developers and publishers to obtain a rating for a game using a streamlined process that allows for self-rating of games, with oversight.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board, a non-profit self-regulatory body formed in 1994, provides ratings for console and PC video games and last year started rating mobile games. About 85 percent of parents are aware of those ratings on game boxes sold at retail. Now it is extending that system to all games delivered in digital form, said Patricia Vance (pictured right), president of the ESRB, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“We’re looking to make sure that consumers get their ratings wherever they play games today,” Vance said. “We’re making the service free for developers wherever they deliver games.”
The new rating deals with a problem of the digital age: New platforms for downloadable games will soon have hundreds of thousands of games or even millions. That’s too many for one body to determine whether games are appropriate for children or not. The new “digital rating service” is a no-cost solution that requires developers and publishers to fill out brief but detailed online questionnaires. The assessment is used to determine a game’s age-appropriateness as well as interactive elements. The latter means that it will notify parents if the app shares information about the user with anyone else.
The new system will apply to digital platforms including Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Certified devices, Nintendo eShop, and Windows 8, with other digital content aggregators, online game networks, streaming and download services to follow. If users complain about bad ratings, Vance said the organization would review them and react.
“We’re not charging a fee because we need an affordable and scalable system for developers, Vance said. “There’s a cost involved with monitoring and clearly we won’t be able to monitor all of them. We believe the system will quickly be able to correct ratings that are incorrect. In the event that we need additional funding, the game industry will be there to help. The system has a lot of support in our industry.”
The system assigns a rating immediately. By simplifying the process and eliminating the cost to developers, the ESRB hopes to achieve broader adoption of ratings. The digital rating system complements what the ESRB worked out last year with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. That program assigns ratings to mobile apps using a similar process.
“The ESRB’s Digital Rating Service is the most sensible way to implement ratings for games across the many platforms on which we now publish games,” said John Riccitiello, chief executive of Electronic Arts. “A consistent standard is in the best interest of publishers and consumers alike, empowering parents with the information they need to make informed choices for their families.”
“Today our customers expect to be able to play their favorite games across a wide range of different devices, in home and on the go,” added Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). “We believe our developers will greatly appreciate how easy this new streamlined system is to use and our customers are certain to benefit from having broader access to ESRB ratings across all of their game devices.”
The ratings go beyond content. That’s because two-thirds of parents are concerned about what information an app shares with third parties, such the personal information, the ability to track a user’s location, and other details. The rating system includes a “shares info” label that alerts parents about the sharing of email address, phone number, credit card info, and other info. The “shares location” label indicates if the app displays a user’s location to other users. And the “users interact” label indicates possible exposure to unfiltered/uncensored user-generated content, including user-to-user communications and media sharing via social media and networks.