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ESRB Eyeballing Ratings For iPhone Games 72

Kotaku reports that the ESRB is thinking about expanding their game ratings to include games sold on the App Store. They realize that evaluating every single game is not feasible, but they may still be underestimating the amount of work they'd be taking on, and it could negatively affect some developers. Quoting: "'ESRB has seen increases in rating submissions each year since its founding and has always been able to keep pace,' the ESRB's Eliot Mizrachi told us. 'We have rated more than 70 mobile games to date and will undoubtedly rate more in the future as the market grows.' Seventy? Over the past, what, four or five years? It's a piddling number when you think of the hundreds of games available through the App Store. Further, many of them are mobile adjuncts to console releases, a different sort of beast from iPhone games. Not all of those need or deserve a rating; but if Apple brings in the ESRB to rate games, with the idea that it'll help parents control what their kids buy for their iPods, then unrated games are likely to be blocked by such filters. The incentive would definitely be there to get a game rated. And what of the cost? Getting a game rated isn't a free service; the ESRB levies a fee that covers the cost of looking through the code and rating the game."
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ESRB Eyeballing Ratings For iPhone Games

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  • Seems pointless (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bogtha ( 906264 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @06:45AM (#28333391)
    When you submit an app to the App Store, you already have to select various categories your app falls into (e.g. you might select realistic violence: frequent/intense), which result in a rating that is a direct analogue of ESRB ratings (Apple publishes a table showing the equivalents). iPhone OS 3.0 will make use of these ratings so a parent can lock out content they think is inappropriate from their children's phones. Apple have shown themselves more than willing to lay down the law to app developers, so why would the ESRB need to get involved?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      so why would the ESRB need to get involved?

      Probably pressure from "concerned parents" and/or government officials.

    • Because the ESRB believe it is a real ratings board and in order to prevent its irrelevance occasionally needs to stick its nose in where it doesn't belong.

    • by cgenman ( 325138 )

      The next step up would be to crowdsource it. Have users give each game a star rating and an age-appropriateness rating. Let the broad population decide what is and isn't appropriate.

      Only after self-rating and crowd rating have failed, should you resort to rating by elite secret boards.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Comment removed based on user account deletion
      • Comment removed based on user account deletion
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Actually, probably the best reason is this: Why should Apple get a free ride on its games? The PSP and DS need their games rated, and the iPhone is being pushed as a viable gaming platform, with an install base reaching the PSP's. If Apple's platform is outside the established ratings, and becomes very much popular, the voluntary ratings system falls apart. The ESRB is administered by the industry, which is preferable to a governmental agency doing so, and remember, the government over the years has said th

  • is a cowboyneal review board to certify the fart apps.
    • So what's to stop something from being an "app" instead of a "game" ? "It's an application designed to train reflexes through context-sensitive touching" and the like?
      • ... to train reflexes through context-sensitive touching

        Sounds like me when I'm all alone with my pr0ns.

      • Easily. The government will get pissed off, and step in. I can't believe how many people forget all the times the government's tried to pass video game laws that didn't go simply because the ESRB is doing a good job.

  • by Sun.Jedi ( 1280674 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:07AM (#28333483) Journal
    I don't buy or play games based on their ESRB rating. I do not judge games or content for my children based on the ohsosubjective ratings process []. These guys provide no value-add, just seems to be a money catch.

    Oh, MPAA [], you can lose your ratings as well ... I'm an adult, a participating parent, and I prefer to allow my children to experience and ask questions rather than become numb little fat kids with Nicktoons as a babysitter and therefore do not need your assistance in choosing appropriate content for my children.
    • It's not a money (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:26AM (#28333565)

      It's a "Keep the politicians the fuck out," action. The reason that the MPAA started rating movies was because there were grumbles that maybe the government should start doing it. Well you can ask our Aussie friends how much they like a government run system. So instead the movie industry set up a voluntary ratings system. It is completely voluntary, and if you sniff around you find there are plenty of films not submitted for ratings. However most do get submitted and rated. Thus they can say "No need for a government ratings system, we take care of it ourselves."

      Was the same logic with the ESA and ESRB. They are trying to keep congress the fuck away from game ratings because they know that'll be a huge shit storm. Instead there is a voluntary ratings system that most companies use. It isn't required, looking at Impulse right now there's a couple of new indy games on there that aren't ESRB rated, whereas the big name games are. Also it isn't the only one out there. PEGI is a European equivalent. Many games are rated by both, however I've encountered US titles that were PEGI rated rather than ESRB, Civ 4 comes to mind.

      So that's the idea. It isn't that the ESA is trying to extort money, it is that they are trying to protect their market from politics. They want game makers to be able to develop games without having a congressionally appointed committee saying "Nope, that's not ok, you can't do that." They do charge for the service, but it makes sense since yes, it DOES take time and effort for people to go through a game and rate it.

      It's good that you don't use ratings as a "This is ok," guide for your children, however that doesn't mean that the whole ratings process is worthless. It is more about CYA than anything else. Also, ESRB ratings are pretty good. While they are subjective, all ratings will always be, they give specific reasons for a rating on the box. On the front there is the letter that lets you know what the rating is, but on the back there is a larger explanatory panel. For example Prototype is a new game rated M. The reasons listed are Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language. Sacred 2 is also rated M, it's reasons are Blood and Gore and Violence. Now that sort of thing is helpful, though the ratings are the same, the reasons are a bit different. Suppose you are ok with violence, but not swearing (ok so that's stupid, but just suppose) then maybe you decide that Sacred 2 is a game that you can consider.

      So really, I'm happy with ESRB ratings. I don't use them to make any kind of buying decision, I don't have kids, but I like that it is working to keep politics out of game rating. Otherwise, it'll just be a huge problem.

      For example they might find a crafty way to try and get around the first amendment. So they pass a law saying all games must be rated by the Government Ratings Board to be allowed to be sold. They aren't restricting your expression, just saying that if you want to sell the games they have to be rated. However they decide they want to ban what are now M rated games. So what they do is set up ratings for lower games, but then keep disagreeing on what goes in the highest rating. So you submit a game, and it gets shot down, they won't rate it because they don't have the rating for it. You claim free speech and they say "We aren't restricting your speech, you are free to make the game, you just can't sell it right now since we don't have a metric for how to rate it." Net effect? Game is banned and such a law might survive a court challenge.

      So let's keep the voluntary ratings thing going here. Give the government as few reasons as possible to get involved in regulating games.

      • by Devout_IPUite ( 1284636 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @08:08AM (#28333775)

        The one think I really have against the ESRB: Halo a higher rating than Medal of Honor. Even though MoH has you shooting humans over government pissing and land grabs and Halo has you shooting aliens in self defense because they're trying to wipe you out.

        They only rate the fluff, not the context. That and of course, boobies get a higher rating than shooting someone with a gun... WTF?

        • They only rate the fluff, not the context. That and of course, boobies get a higher rating than shooting someone with a gun... WTF?

          I dunno about you, but I always rate boobies higher than shooting someone with a gun... *rimshot*

        • Here in Germany (well Austria in fact) no one cares about boobies. But a drop of blood... Boom R18/16 or whatever. But only for games. Movies are somehow ignored.
        • Ragdoll and gibs are an automatic M rating. I don't really know why they're so strict with ragdoll, but the gibs are pretty self explanatory.

      • I completely understand that Government controlling the ratings/review would probably lead to asshat legislation. The ratings still fail for the same reason, not by who is in charge of the review.
        • Would you rather crappy ratings system comes with force of legislation? Government BAD for regulating industries. Self-regulation still bad, but not as.

          • I said they both make no sense. It's not a matter of which is worse, the fact that we need 'ratings' in the first place is the fail; more so when they are subjective and inconsistent.

            What exactly is the point of a content rating value (regardless of who rates it), that I cannot derive from:
            - The box artwork
            - The box descriptive paragraph
            - The game website
            - The plethora of gaming review websites
            - The demo (like actually playing the demo ;))

            Why do I need a useless badge of 'acceptance' or 'descript
      • So really, I'm happy with ESRB ratings.

        Obviously you're not a developer.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by morari ( 1080535 )

        It isn't that the ESA is trying to extort money, it is that they are trying to protect their market from politics.

        No, it's a money grab. They are middlemen, and just like any other middleman, they are only there to make money by providing a service that no one really needs. If they want to keep the government out of their market, then why don't they? Being bullied into doing something isn't much better than having it done for you. Last time I checked, books don't have to submit to some asinine ratings system. Hell, even music albums only need a vague, nondescript "Parental Warning" sticker.

        • Uhhhhh (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 )

          So what, you think they just tell the government "Hey, you are never allowed to regulate us," and the government says "Ok,"? Wow, I had no idea it works that way! You really should go let the hedge fund managers know, the government is currently piling tons of new regulations on that which they don't like. If only they knew all they had to do was tell the government to stay out and they will! ...

          Ya, sorry, doesn't work that way. The government has the authority to regulate basically anything they like. More

          • by morari ( 1080535 )

            I don't think think that providing a truly volunteer rating system would be such a bad thing. Listing the content of a product provides consumers with a way to make a (slightly more?) informed decision. The true problem, both with games and films, is that if you choose not to have your product rated, you are basically screwed. Most theaters will not show unrated films. Console manufacturers won't even allow "Adults Only" rated content on their systems, let alone unrated games. This is without even getting i

      • Our government run system hasn't been completely bad in the UK these past few years. The problem with it and the Australians' system is that they have the power to BAN things. No one would be complaining about any government run system if they didn't have such power (assuming there wasn't a do-no-NC-17 mantra that plagues the US...we have that here for R18, but it takes a LOT to get a British R18 rating). And of course, if the MPAA were government run then you could cite the 1st amendment to prevent bann

    • Still, I think the MPAA should require all new Disney children's releases to carry the label: "Warning: May contain fart jokes."
    • You shouldn't use Any rating system as a fixed in stone, however more of a guide line.

      I have seen some fairly disturbing G movies. as well some tame R. However you should see them as a normal curve line where the peaks are at different parts of the scale.

    • based on the ohsosubjective ratings process. These guys provide no value-add [...]

      ESRB staff reviews the raters' recommended rating category and content descriptors, conducts a parity examination where appropriate to maintain consistency in rating assignments

      Taking them at their word (this should raise a red flag, but let's just play "what if" for the moment), they try to make the ratings consistent with at least themselves.

      This would mean that if you have experienced, say, Twilight Princess which has PEGI rating 12+ for violence (let's just assume it's rated Teen:Violence by ESRB), you know that a rating of Mature:Violence is going to be more violent and a game rated "Everyone" (no violence) is going to be less violent. That's (probably) the proposed value of

      • Do you have a good idea how it could be made less subjective?

        Maybe. Probably not.

        Why does there need to be levels (the subjective part of the objective element) of gore, violence, language or nudity? Why can't it just be "there is gore, there is profanity, there is nudity" instead of adding the ages? How do they know my 10 year old can't handle DOOM, or UT3? How does that rating apply to games where the gore and profanity _can be turned off or down_?

        My children have been allowed to see what the MPAA categorizes as too mature for them. They ask real questions,

  • Apple has been known to take a long time to review many apps. If they were to have games rated through the ESRB, how much longer the process would take? On the same note, how much longer would it take to resubmit your app for approval if there is a rating dispute?

    • And will it be mandatory?
      If it is, who's gonna foot the bill? I think we'd see a lot less new stuff if you had to pay to have your games rated.
  • by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <.rodrigogirao. .at.> on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:18AM (#28333525) Homepage
    ...I'd use TIGRS [] rather than ESRB.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tepples ( 727027 )

      I'd use TIGRS rather than ESRB.

      And run the risk of your game not getting into the App Store, should Apple follow the policy of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo of making ESRB the exclusive ratings organization for the North American market.

  • The iPhone is still a new platform and this is the Wild West of its development. Because the device rivals handheld gaming consoles like the DSi and PSP, it is only inevitable that the ESRB gets involved. Parental controls being added to iPhone OS 3.0 didn't surprise me either.
  • by Renderer of Evil ( 604742 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:22AM (#28333549) Homepage

    ESRB should forget about the iPhone and start rating desktop applications. I'd like to know if it's acceptable to let teenagers play with NURBS in 3DS Max

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      NURBS in 3DS Max

      NURBS are at least M (Mature). What with all the luscious curves and all ... RRRRrrrrrrawr.

  • the ESRB levies a fee that covers the cost of looking through the code and rating the game.

    The ESRB evaluates games by looking at the code? I very much doubt that. Wouldn't they be looking at the compiled game as it appears to the consumer?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      I think the usual thing is that publishers send them footage of the 'worst' stuff in their game and the base the rating on that.
    • Re:Say what? (Score:4, Informative)

      by bipbop ( 1144919 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:38AM (#28333615)
      It's changed a bit since the whole "Hot Coffee" thing, but for most of the existence of the ESRB, you basically rated your own game, sent them a tape with some stuff from the game, and then they rubber stamped it in exchange for your cash. It's pretty stupid, really.
    • by g-san ( 93038 )

      If that's the case, I'm going to run a genetic code generator for a few thousand iterations, get some really meaningless routines, make a random main(), add some TicTacToe code, then submit it for review: HotTicTacToe as a 7MB binary... Let them figure it out.

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Monday June 15, 2009 @07:26AM (#28333567)
    This is to protect all those young, impressionable minds out there that can afford a $400 phone and $100 a month for 3G service! Seriously, if a kid has one of these, he has more important things to worry about than "mature" elements in the games. Like getting mugged for this very expensive piece of hardware for instance. Won't somebody think of the children, and not load them up with this expensive shit that is just an invitation for them to get jacked?
    • They could also be one of the many kids with a $229 iPod touch and no monthly contract. With nearly half the iDevices being touches, I'm sure there are at least a few kids among them. Isn't a PSP slightly more expensive, or around the same price?

    • by ekhben ( 628371 )

      It's a sad statement on modern civilisation that kids in "first world" countries are so likely to get mugged in their home towns in broad daylight that it's taken as par for the course.

      Wups, too down, time to read happy news!

  • Be involved with your kids and actually take a look at what they're playing/downloading and act accordingly. Take it upon yourself to rate their games/apps.
  • I wish game companies would tell the ESRB to stick it. They're unregulated, inconsistent, and parents buy their kids games regardless of their ESRB rating most of the time. I would rather see a more useful rating system where they rate different categories separately. Give each game a 4-digit code; Violence, Sexual Content, Language, and Realism. 0-5 for each category. 0000 would be like Strawberry Shortcake's Magical Adventure and 5555 would be Duke Nukem Meets Leisure Suit Larry.
    • by Krakhan ( 784021 )
      During the time the various rating organizations were coming to be around 1994, there was a rating system from the Recreational Software Advisory Council [] used for PC games. They had a rating scale of 0-4 for Violence, Sex/Nudity, and Language.

      Of course, the main criticisms as pointed out in the wikipedia article include no general age guideline, it was only applied to computer games, and it was basically more complex and didn't stand out from the box, compared to the ESRB ratings. Either way, any ratin
  • So this is for all those 11 year olds with iPhones? Can I quickly ask what the fuck an 11 year old is doing with an iPhone?
    • by rob1980 ( 941751 )
      I believe this applies to the iPod Touch as well. Same OS, same access to games on the App Store.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Can I quickly ask what the fuck an 11 year old is doing with an iPod? Or any device that REQUIRES him to start charging items to your credit card?

      Are you people smoking crack?
  • If Apple's behavior is consistent [], this could be a very bad thing indeed.

    If you remember from the linked story above, Apple blocked an e-reader because it was possible to read the Kama Sutra on it.

    I would not be surprised in the least to see Apple adopt a 'no unrated games' option for their store.

    Given the bandwidth issues and cost suggested in TFS, this could be quite bad indeed.

  • The ESRB is non-profit. You can't exactly make a cash-grab if you're a non-profit entity. Anyone who says this is a cash grab is obviously just knee-jerk anti-regulatory.

    • The other jerk (Score:3, Informative)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 )

      The ESRB is non-profit. You can't exactly make a cash-grab if you're a non-profit entity.

      Holy crap are you ignorant about non-profits. Non profit is code for "not taxed" and as a result they are HUGE businesses with lots of money flowing through them.

      The ESRB is no different, the money flows from the game industry.

      Anyone who says this is a cash grab is obviously just knee-jerk anti-regulatory.

      Better than being a regulatory jerk.

      • I think it is you who are ignorant of non-profits. They have tons of bookkeeping information that they have to keep to ensure they're not distributing that money outside the mandate of "A nonprofit organization is an organization that does not distribute its surplus funds to owners or shareholders, but instead uses them to help pursue its goals." So they could raise their salaries a bit, but the rest has to go back in to the company. I dunno about your country, but here in Canada, NPOs get shut down if they

  • The only reason a game maker would go to ESRB for ratings is that they are a known standard. Companies pay money to the ESRB to rate games.

    Well sorry ESRB, you're not going to be able to suck the life out of indie development on the iPhone. You see, Apple has just replaced you - developers are now required to set age ratings on all apps, including games.

    This basically means that Apple only has to police the line between adult and non-adult apps, to make sure anything lacking a 17+ rating is really clean.

  • the developers didn't submit code to the ESRB. The packet submit to the ESRB includes video of the game and descriptions of material of note ("character makes racially inflamed comments at X cutscene" or "suggestive character animations with Y action").

    It's been a while since I've been in the industry and I only had to prep a packet once (pre-hot coffee). If anyone feels they should correct me with recent changes, please feel free.

    It's a pretty simple act of watching a tape and reading a report for the ESRB

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