The M, T and “E for Everyone” ratings have become common vernacular among most gamers, but the ESRB has decided that the ratings for the industry’s increasingly prevalent downloadable game segment need a bit more consistency and a more-streamlined process. So, this week, the ESRB will begin implementing a new rating process for all games that are sold and/or downloaded exclusively through a console or handheld storefront. This means the common DLC avenues — Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Store, Nintendo Wii and the DSi Shop — will be subject to the new ESRB rating process.
All other types of games will continue to undergo the traditional rating process, which involves completion of an open-ended questionnaire and review of a content DVD by a minimum of three raters who reach consensus on the appropriate rating.
The new rating process for downloadable games, however, starts immediately and requires publishers to complete a different submission form than is used for all other games. The new form contains a series of multiple choice questions designed to assess content across all relevant categories, including violence, sexual content and language. The questions also address contextual factors such as the game’s realism and visual style and the player’s perspective (third-person, first-person, etc.). The responses from the publisher will determine the game’s rating, which is issued to the publisher as soon as a DVD reflecting all disclosed content is received by ESRB.
“The ESRB rating process that has been in use since 1994 was devised before the explosion in the number of digitally delivered games and devices on which to play them,” said ESRB president Patricia Vance. “This new rating process considers the very same elements weighed by our raters. The biggest difference is in our ability to scale this system as necessary while keeping our services affordable and accessible.”
All games rated via this new process will be tested by ESRB staff shortly after they are made publicly available to verify that disclosure was complete and accurate. In the event that content was not fully disclosed during this process, the rating displayed in the console or handheld store will be promptly corrected. In cases of nondisclosure or misinformation, the game and all of its promotional materials will be removed from the store through which it is being sold, pending its resubmission to ESRB.
“We serve a rapidly growing and evolving industry, and it is incumbent upon us to continually adapt along with it,” said Vance. “This new process for downloadable games helps position ESRB for a future that promises an ever-expanding market for games while allowing us to continue empowering parents with the ability to determine which ones are OK for their children to play.”
The actual game ratings themselves for downloadable games will remain the same as retail SKUs: Early Childhood, E for Everyone, E 10+, T for Teen, M for Mature, and AO for Adults Only.