Yee: What is ESRB Trying to Hide?

August 29, 2007 -
Included in GameSpot's coverage of the Manhunt 2 political fallout are strong words from California State Senator Leland Yee concerning the re-rating of the controversial game:
What are they trying to hide?  Unsurprisingly, the culture of secrecy continues at the ESRB. 

Even individuals within the video game industry are now calling into question their rating system.  Parents simply can not trust an entity that is unwilling to disclose or give any meaningful rationale at how they come to their decisions. 

The ESRB refuses to use the AO rating for violence despite the descriptor calling for such a rating when there are "graphic depictions of violence."  If Manhunt doesn't qualify, what would? 

Combined with the use of the ambiguous term "Mature," many parents are left with a false sense of how violent an M-rated game may be; and obviously even many retailers as the Federal Trade Commission secret shopper study suggests.  Using the numbers generated by the FTC, 42 out of 100 kids who want to purchase Manhunt 2 will be able to do so.
When weighing in on laws to prohibit the sale of ultra-violent video games to children, the industry has said over and over, "trust us; our rating system will protect children."  This latest episode demonstrates once again that the ESRB in fact can not be trusted.

Yee, of course, was the driving force behind California's 2005 video game law, recently declared unconstitutional by a federal court judge.

GP: Presumably for space reasons, GameSpot edited Yee's remarks. We've published the entire statement, which came to us from Sen. Yee's office.



We must be moderate in our opinions - assuming that movies and games are "the exact same thing" isn't genuine.

When you buy a game, what is it you buy? The physical media? The video and sound? The interactive risk/rewards that make up gameplay?

If you disclose (parts of) a movie before its release, you spoil it - you give away everything the movie contains for free.

If you disclose a screenshot, you just make people want to play the game more! Compared with movie trailers, we get much more advanced viewing of games already from the publisher's own channels.

I can imagine that game companies would love to turn the ESRB into a marketing outlet - whoring screenshots of the game suffixed with the content descriptors they earned.

That would, of course, make the ESRB even more dependent on industry funding, and bring into greater question their impartiality.

So the reason why the ESRB shouldn't disclose this information isn't because that would destroy movies and therefore must destroy games (but it won't) - it's because this disclosure channel would destroy the ESRB itself.

Jesus Christ.

Yee, are you fucking dense? Do you not understand what happened here? They did not just change the fucking rating, R* had to resubmit the game re cut with content removed to get the fucking rating lowered.

Why don't you go read the ESRB site, its been rather informative for the last 6 years if you know how to use a fucking web browser. They actually explain the ratings process if you aren't to busy to go and look.

@ ChrowX

Yea, people should stop giving away these horrible game systems. I mean they cost what $5 for the system and $1.50 for the game. The kid could skip lunch for a few days and buy these things for Christ's sake.

I swear some of these people think the above. The cheapest I've ever seen a game was $10 and that was a DS game. For that matter, the cheapest systems are over $100 (and those are last gen). The last generation of games was $50 a pop brand new and greatest hits for $20. This generation is $60.

If your kid is able to save up the $500+ to purchase the hardware, accessories, and games, then connect it to a TV, all without your knowledge, you have some problems. Or your kid is the most mature and devious child I've ever met! Or you kid has a job and hence more than likely mature enough to either handle the games, or know which ones not to buy.


I was using movies as an example of how full disclosure allows the entire movie to be seen before it's ready for release. It's perfectly applicable to games too, because in order to be "fully disclosing", you'd have to release the playable game...

You're assuming that screenshots of the game would be sufficient to "fully disclose" the content. I say nay. Remember these people wanted the ESRB to "fully play" the game, so how can you "fully disclose" the content if you don't release the full game?

If the ESRB only released some screenshots and descriptions, they could still be accused of "hiding" details about how the game got it's rating, because they're not disclosing everything.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

@ lumi

">You gotta love how the word “Ultra-Violent” keeps coming up in these press releases. What soccer mom thought that word up?

Pretty sure it was actually Stanley Kubrick. Clockwork Orange ftw =D (now THERE’S a game that would warrant an M rating…) "

A Clockwork Orange was a book before Stanley Kubrick made it into a film. It was written by Anthony Burgess as Eric Lamy has already pointed out. But now we're getting off-topic.

1) Yee has grosely ignored a vast ammount of information concerning the ESRB's ratings system AND the exact sales information, which has been posted here previously. All we need here is for the ESA AND the ESRB to make a big announcement with all of that information, CNN would be a nice touch.

2) The more transparency for the ESRB's rating guidlines, the more scrutiny from all sides. Yee and the rest won't be satisfied with knowing how the ESRB rates games, they're going to do everything they can to mold the criteria to what THEY want. Yee could easily call for the FCC to investigate "inadequate" criteria for ratings, even though it would once again be unconstitutional. It's the same reason why the MPAA's criteria for ratings aren't publicly published.

If Yee wasn't attatched to the CCFC, and so zealously out to get unecessary and unconstitutional legislation passed, I'd be able to respect him. Heck, even NIMFL recognizes the gains the ESRB has made, and at least partially favors education before legislation.

>Remember these people wanted the ESRB to “fully play” the game, so how can you “fully disclose” the content if you don’t release the full game?

I bet he would try to protect the interests of the movie studios and MPAA in the same situation. Yee's a hypocrite.

I think the Europeans have something with their labeling system.

1. It's spaced out fairly evenly. Keep the other ratings, but lower what is known as "M" to 15. (E, 10+, 13+, 15+, 18+)

2. Do not use ANY letter/word rating beyond the initial E rating and/or a Reccomended for before the +whatever rating

3. with the 18+, it leaves out the "ADULT PRON LOL XXX" connection, since the word adult is not used.

That way, the ratings appear to be more of a reccomendation AND an enforcement, depending on your understanding of the system.

You know, all these comparisons to the MPAA are unfair.

At least with movies, if content is cut for being too violent, you still have a shot at seeing it in a "Director's Cut" six months down the line, and nobody bats an eye.


Penny-Arcade ftw! I loved that one!
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

"You gotta love how the word “Ultra-Violent” keeps coming up in these press releases. What soccer mom thought that word up?"

Actually this was from Doom(and I think wolfenstein), I remember it quite clearly since I played it the other day.

I think what the ESRB are trying to hide is the Intellectual Property of companies that submit work to be rated, if the Industry itself loses faith in the ESRB and its ability to deal with their potential profits in a confidential manner, then it will fall far faster than the Government could bring it down.


We're not talking about what does and doesn't end up in stores at this point, we're talking about what would happen if the ratings criteria used by the MPAA and the ESRB were made public.

What you're talking about can be found here

Movies do the EXACT same stuff. Hell they even advertise the "Un-Rated" version. They even made an Unrated version of the ABC Family version of The Dukes of Hazard (And they have the word FAMILY in the channel name!). So what the hell is wrong with a game doing this when everything else gets away with the exact same thing?


see what I posted for Phantom

Please, for the love of god, somebody vote this fucking wanker out of power.


Won't do any good, there's a decent chance the same kind of person would get the job.

Yee, just like every other "save the children" politician is sorely out of touch with the subject he's trying to legislate, and that won't change anytime soon.

the ESRB are more like guidelines than rules, anyway (pirates arrrr). Parents should treat them thusly. Look at how Manhunt 2 was rated and for what reasons. Would you want your underage child playing it? Of course not. You have now used the cleverly marked package to come to the conclusion that this game is not appropriate for kids, how has the system failed?


Pitty he does not seem to realize (or care) that the ESRB does not have permission to expose said information.

Frankly, one glance at the cover would tell me all I need to know about whether the content is suitable for a younger player.

Manhunt 2... hmmm.... yes I do believe this is just the thing for little Jimmy on a rainy afternoon. I surmise it's about a loving father figure taking his son out for a good day's hunting lesson. ...the sequel

"Parents simply can not trust an entity that is unwilling to disclose or give any meaningful rationale at how they come to their decisions. "

So which is it ignorance or just saying whatever sounds good in a press release?

Because it isn't as if anyone has ever accused the MPAA of being "unwilling to disclose or give any meaningful rationale at how they come to their decisions." It isn't as if someone didn't make an entire film about how the MPAA ratings are so secret that they had to get a private investigator to find out who the actual specific people that rate the movies are or anything. It isn't as if the MPAA gave that film an NC-17 when they rated the movie or anything which in effect prevented the film from getting a wide distribution or anything...

But yes, let's focus on those damn videogame ratings people because they are the only ones that are bad...

Perhaps when the BBFC and MPAA disclose all of their rating and re-rating decisions then he might have a valid point.

Until then hes just whining and everyone with half a brain knows it.

I suppose Mr. Yee would be happy to turn over his financial records to one of his constituents of asked? After all he is an elected representative and thus an employee of the people. What does he have to hide?

Perhaps it is simply a matter of it not being his business. Has he purchased a game which was mis-rated? Has there been a spate of games with inappropriate ratings, people complaining?

Or is this more likely a power struggle from a busybody who can't be bothered to address real problems in his state? An appeal to emotion rather than logic.

"Parents simply can not trust an entity that is unwilling to disclose or give any meaningful rationale at how they come to their decisions."

Can parents disclose any meaningful rationale at how they come to their decisions? I'm a parent, and I can't.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

You know.. I think that, just maybe, the video game industry should try to pioneer, rather than use the excuse that "they don't do it, so why should we?"

Make the ESRB transparent in the methods. Let anyone who actually wants to see the material the games are reviewed through, see it. Don't hide it. If a game, like manhunt 2, gets re-rated, then let people know -why- and just what changed.

And, damnit, use the AO rating properly. I agree, games that are meant for adult audiences, should be rated for adult audiences. And console makers shouldn't limit that. In fact, if they really wanted to do something about it, limit the systems to T-rated games by default, then have a one-time call-in to unlock the parental controls to M and AO. That way, young kids can't just get their hands on bad games and play away. It makes the parents conscious about what kind of material their kids might be playing, and it just makes adults take 3 minutes, once, to call a toll-free number and unlock.

Don't use the AO as a censor, don't use it as a bludgeon and don't use it as a way to punish companies. Let companies make games that are meant for their audiences. Damnit, let them make an even more explicit version of Leisure Suit Larry, if they want to. The Wiimote would be a -perfect- way to play something like that, and it would get around a lot of those subtle innuendo bits that kids might not get.

If, for whatever reason, a developer wants to make a game about flying cocks and pussy raiding, that should be within their creative rights, and it shouldn't be censored or banned from the market, because a few companies are afraid of letting their hardware be "corrupted". Especially since you can already watch porntube on the Wii browser. That's worse than what you'd see in most games, anyway. :P

Why doesn't he just wait and see like the rest of us? Geez, sounds like he wants a exclusive peek at the game, perhaps a beta or something.

Re: 42%

Interesing figure. I downloaded the report to make sure I read it correctly not to just take Yee or Thompson's word and indeed, undercover mystery shoppers were able to purchase games 42% of the time.

This number does not indicate real life.

They GAVE kid money and told him/her to go in and buy a particular game. I've yet to see any research that has statistics regarding sales as to an age demographic.

Suffice to say any sales with a credit card were probably not a kid under the age of 17, so then break down cash or gift card sales of M rated games: what does to correlate to? anyone? Then break that down in to age, what do you suppose that number would be? I seriously doubt it would be 42% of cash/gift card sales of M rated games.

food for thought

"You know.. I think that, just maybe, the video game industry should try to pioneer, rather than use the excuse that “they don’t do it, so why should we?”

Make the ESRB transparent in the methods. Let anyone who actually wants to see the material the games are reviewed through, see it. Don’t hide it. If a game, like manhunt 2, gets re-rated, then let people know -why- and just what changed."

Why should the ESRB have to do this? Even when they would do this, they would even get more flack for the rating they gave a certain game. When the ESRB is very upfront about why something got a certain rating, the politicians will still not agree with the rating. This will only give the more ammunition than ever before. Because what the ESRB would deem suitable for minors, other people may completely disagree with.

The politicians just need to deal with the fact that the ratings are guidelines and nothing more. And I really have no clue why Yee is so damn idiotic about this. It is only a difference between 17 and 18 years old, that is it. If it were a game that was AO and got re-rated T, he would have point, but now he simply doesn't. And how hard is it to understand those ratings? It says M and 17 + on the same box. It also tells people exactly what type of content it contains.

And who on earth would even think that a game called MANHUNT could be remotely suitable for children? It is about time that Yee stops helping the parents to be so lazy. Children can't buy games without money. When you give your child money, below a certain age, you should always know what your children spend it on. And when you don't want your 16 year old to play a game such as Manhunt, put their computer behind locks when you aren't home (only give them a laptop, something small you can easily take away). Sure, they could still hide the laptop themselves, but then you have already failed as a parent. A good parent knows that you need to learn your kids everything, BEFORE they become teenagers and not during the teenage years (doesn't work).

Revealing specific content after release isn't really a viable option, as it's not something that game developers are likely to agree with.

As one example, consider a game developer that cuts sections of material present in an early build and applies it to an expansion patch. Anyone who's hacked around with game files from Doom on out knows how many inactive bits of assets are even present in released files that speak to cut or unincluded material.

Those developers aren't going to disclose how many features got cut or reused for another release or even product. Honestly, given their position and in many cases duty to their stockholders it makes very little sense for them to do so.

At the same time, many games need early builds released for rating to allow for readjustment if they should receive a rating that would kill their viability for the intended market. So the developers will hold onto NDAs for reasons that do, in fact, make business sense.

In this regard, there is in fact a greater reason for nondisclosure in a game rating system than in the MPAA.


This argument is in line with many who have said transparency isn't viable due to disclosure affecting sales and I STILL disagree.

Using your analogy of unused assets in the original "Doom" , how would viewing that material NOW cause heartbreak amongst stockholders, or investors? The answer is it wouldn't.

Frankly, the industry is going to come to a point where it can't afford NOT to disclose this information after a certain amount of time because they will be neck deep in frivolous law suits all clamoring to know why their AO rated game got an "M".

It seems to me a small compromise and a show of good faith to keep people like Yee at bey and when I hear that the game developers are unwilling to make compromises, it makes me wonder why I defend them so strongly.

As a consumer, my best interests are served when the game industry and politicians get along well with one another.

I take offense when politicians misuse my tax dollars for laws that would circumvent the constitution and I sure as hell take offense when I give a company hundreds of my heard earned dollars only to hear them say they refuse to make concessions or compromise on such trivial matters... like a label on a box or revealing, after a reasonable amount of time, the process by which their controversial game was rated.

These are small maters that can be addressed without laws, interventions by politicians or threat of legal action or investigations.


Even without creditcard/gift card sales, BearDoggX worked out the numbers to
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

less than 2% of all m-rated purchases being made by teens without parental knowledge.than 1% of total purchases are made successfully.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

One thing I keep noticing about Yee, Thompson, and all like them.

If the ESRB does not do all of the work, that it eliminates parents having to think and removes all responsibility from the parents, does not ban games THEY find objectionable, if the ESRB does not prevent 100% of mature game sales to minors 100% of the time, then the system is completely and utterly broken.


"It seems to me a small compromise and a show of good faith to keep people like Yee at bey"

But it won't keep people like him at bay.

Imagine the following scenario. The ESRB rates a game "AO", and lists it's reasons for doing so, along with the material that got it the rating. The Yees of the world nod in agreement, because the system works, the horrible game got defacto-banned.

Then the game got resubmitted, with material cut out, and the ESRB rates it "M". The Yees of the world cry foul, because they want it rated "AO".

How does revealing the material cut stop them from continuing to demand it be rated "AO"? Clearly they don't want that material put back, yet they demand to know what it was. It doesn't matter if it's gone right? Confusion FTW.

The other problem is that it then opens it up to nitpicking. Rating is an art, not a science. You can't state "if character X gets throat slit just SO by character Y, and X is a bad guy, and Y is a good guy, and X deserved it, and it was badly lit, and the camera angle was Z, THEN it's AO, but if it was angle Q, it's only M".

Knowing everything still won't let you compare judgment calls, and only gives people like Yee the ability to nitpick. "Well it wasn't badly lit enough by MY standards, so it should have been AO, not M"
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

I wonder if we could apply that to the voting records on Capitol Hill? ;)

That was @ Kurisu btw :)

who is BearDoggX, excuse my ignorance?

How did they come to that number?

you know the other thing is, just because a game is rated M does not mean my 14yo can't play it in my house. I take a look at ALL the games we buy and many we don't [funny how I make purchase decisions by research than gut reaction]

I let him play Halo, I let him play KOTOR, I let him play almost anything he actually wants to play which for him, is usually music related games or games where you play with others, he has not gone on line BTW to play games.

so, how many "M" rated games get sold to minors who are NOT allowed to play that particular game in their own house with parental knowledge.

Thompson & Yee would have us believe that parents everywhere are just clueless. I don't know any parents who are completely clueless and I sure as hell don't know any that let their kids have control of the TV, computer and videogame console in their house.


I don't say that there will be NO investigations but it will shut up people who try to claim the ESRB or Game Devs are "hiding" something if its all out in the open.

nope, still doesn't sway me, Transparency is key here. I'm not the only one who thinks so.

@The Central Scrutinizer

When the MPAA has full transparency and disclosure on its methods for rating movies, and there is full disclosure and transparency on how TV programs are rated, then I will see a potential argument for the ESRB to do so with video games, and not before.

Right now, the biggest noisemakers who are demanding full disclosure (like Yee) are simply demanding something of one entertainment medium which does not exist in others. That is a double standard, and is simply an effort to censor said medium.

Jabrwock - I agree. I really don't see any point in disclosing the information to Yee or to anyone outside of the ESRB for the exact reasons you expressed especially handing over reasons for Yee to nitpick and voice his opinions on. I think thats his true goal.

Now if Yee wanted to really solve the problem he would probably want to have talks with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo about allowing AO content and then letting everything fall into place after that with retailers. Then game developers wouldn't worry as much about avoiding the AO rating and the ESRB can continue to improve upon their rating system to make people like Yee happy. Meanwhile adult gamers won't be affected because AO games will be available for them to play. Sure Id rather not have any regulation but I suppose if this were to happen I'd find it tolerable until I'm a bitter old man.

But I think he is just trying to get some ammunition from the ESRB to use against the industry. (Look at what was in this game, they don't think it deserves an AO rating so this proves they aren't a credible or reliable when it comes to protecting out children.)

I should have included the game developer in there. The rating should be between the game developer and the ESRB and unless both parties wish to release the information behind it I don't see a legitimate reason why it should be disclosed.


"who is BearDoggX, excuse my ignorance? How did they come to that number?"

BearDogg-X does the math, but assuming the only games kids try to buy are M rated, that leaves us with 0.53% of all sales being M games sold to minors without parental involvement. And that number doesn't include refusals at home, only lack of parental involvement in the purchase at the till.

"I don’t say that there will be NO investigations but it will shut up people who try to claim the ESRB or Game Devs are “hiding” something if its all out in the open."

No it won't, because it's still a judgment call, and they'll bitch that it wasn't by THEIR standards of judgment. The lack of material to judge is just an excuse to bitch, but if they were given all the data they'd still bitch.

How would you release all the details of a game, in such a way that you couldn't be accused of "hiding something". The only way I see is for you to release the game. In it's entirety.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

"When the MPAA has full transparency and disclosure on its methods for rating movies, and there is full disclosure and transparency on how TV programs are rated, then I will see a potential argument for the ESRB to do so with video games, and not before."

Actually, first I'd ask that Yee fully document and disclose every single work spoken during any meeting he's ever had with lobbyists, phone calls he's made from the office, and all material he's ever edited out of press releases and speeches. Otherwise he's clearly hiding something.

Afterall, if he's not guilty, he's got nothing to hide, so what's the worry?
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

typo... every WORD spoken
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Jabrwock - Do you think Yee considers it marketing toward children because he doesn't consider a 17 year old an adult? I mean its pretty hard to argue with that .53% figure.

If he disclosed all that information we'd have a whole lot of ammunition against him I bet.

Actually, you know, the ESRB SHOULD do it. Have a lackey sit down and type out a FULL description of EVERY SINGLE SCENE of the game. It'll make 1,000 pages of single-spaced, double-sided description, after all, we don't want to leave out any details, or the ESRB could be accused of hiding something...

Oh, and charge standard copy fees for it (10c/page). So that's $100 for the report on what's in the game.

And on the first page, include a $5 off coupon for the purchase of the full game...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...


ohhhh, yeah, I DID see BearDogX's post, he was quoting ESA numbers, gotta go find those and see how they did it but the number sounds right for real life numbers and not some set up

In my opinion the MPAA DOES have ful transparency by default since we have the luxury of comparing theatrical releases with unrated or director cut releases in the comfort of our own homes. I DO wish we could do the same for games but we're far from there yet.

My feeling is, if small concessions can be made by game devs and the industry as a whole, they should just go ahead and make them and lets stop all this bickering so I can enjoy my games and my family without worrying if someone will say what I'm doing is illegal, immoral or otherwise.

Um, guys...

Don't hold that .53% figure as gospel. While BearDogg-X's point is valid, his math isn't quite correct.

That said, the number of minors purchasing M-rated games is very tiny. The figure itself is even more unimpressive when you consider that most of those sales are to 16 and 17-year-olds.

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