Ex-Game Rater Dishes the Dirt… ESRB Boss Fires Back

An ex-employee has pulled the curtain back a bit on the enigma that is the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

In a guest shot for the April issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, Jerry Bonner, who spent six months with the ESRB as one of the organization’s first crop of full-time content raters, offers his perspective on the video game rating process and what he feels are the problems therein. EGM also gave ESRB president Patricia Vance (left) a chance to respond. She did, taking issue with most of Bonner’s points.

Bonner, who rated more than 700 games in his short ESRB stint, writes that the system needs to be fixed in order to keep government censors from stepping in. He offers a six-point solution which includes:

1.) Dropping the “Adults Only” rating and and adding a T-16 to go along with the current Teen rating, which is intended for those 13 and older.

2. Actually playing the games. This has already become a political issue given Sen. Sam Brownback’s Truth in Video Game Ratings Act, now pending before the U.S. Senate. Bonner writes:

The ESRB’s current pool of fulltime raters… does not actually play the games that they rate. They just watch submitted videotapes or DVDs of someone else playing the game…

I would strongly suggest having the raters play the games to completion and carefully log their findings throughout the playtest. I’ve already heard the ESRB’s argument on this one: “That’ll take way too long and it will compromise our turnaround time.” My solution to that is simple: Hire more people.

3. Forget “parity” – If Bonner is correct, the ESRB bases sequel ratings on preceding games in the franchise, terming this “parity.” Bonner writes:

Parity to the ESRB is like dots to Pac-Man or blood to Dracula – a lifesustaining fuel. The logic goes like this: If game X gets a Teen rating, then it stands to reason that the sequel will get the same and so on and so forth into infinity. In my time as a rater this concept just handcuffed us more than helped us… Forget the whole concept of parity, or minimize the dependence on it, and judge each individual game solely on its content and nothing else.

4. Be more open – In GP’s experience, Bonner is correct that the ESRB is pretty secretive about its operations:

I used to tell a joke while working at the ESRB that their acronym should be changed to CIA… Realistically, there is nothing to hide at the ESRB. Everything was above board as far as I could tell… But by acting in a secretive, mysterious way, the ESRB creates an appearance of impropriety. 

In addition, Bonner wants raters to have more say in final rating determinations as opposed to what appears to be somewhat of a committee approach. He also sees the development of competitive rating systems as a way to motivate the ESRB to improve.

Not surprisingly, ESRB president Patricia Vance took issue with Bonner’s views, pulling no punches in a counterpoint which runs with Bonner’s article in EGM:

Mr. Bonner’s article contains numerous misleading statements, factual inaccuracies, and misrepresentations… The author also fails to mention the unique and limited nature of his six-month tenure at the ESRB…

He implies that we arbitrarily change ratings after the raters have done their jobs. This is not the case… And, contrary to Mr. Bonner’s contention, the fact that a title being rated is part of a series has no bearing on the decision…

The author unfortunately also confuses our efforts to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of the ratings system with unnecessary levels of secrecy. It is regrettable that the author does not appreciate the importance of protecting the confidentiality of the raters to avoid even the possibility of undue influence from external sources.

At the end of the day, ESRB stands behind each rating it assigns, and the process by which it assigns those ratings.

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  1. 0
    Sai ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Frankly, a separate T-13 and T-16 rating wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I often find myself explaining to customers at work how oddly broad the Teen rating can be.

    Sometimes a game is T for simply “violence” and nothing else. Sometimes it’s T for “violence, blood, language, and suggestive themes”. There’s a pretty big difference there if you ask me.

  2. 0
    ZippyDSMlee ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    Infinity’s End

    Rating boards change over time unless something is republished the only rating stands (I can show you a few PG movies that are not R and a few R movies that were PG).

    So what you do is change it and move forward give the retailers who give a flip a list and stickers and they can slap new rating sticker on the older packages.

    The MPAA never gave much a damn about updating the whole line of media on the shelf neither should the ESRB.

    I do not think we need a 18+ ratings level at this time because it will be boycotted by the industry it would be better to slot all Mature level and above games to M17 let the console makers cheery to pick the games for finial approval for launch on their console and be done with that until the industry as a whole can be mature enough to admit it wont ban adult games.

    As for the teen level add a T15 to it and stuff thats around the MPAA PG13 level maybe alil harder can be slotted there.

  3. 0

    […] GamePolitics wskazuje nam artyku? w kwietniowym EGM, w którym jeden z by?ych pracowników ESRB mówi o niedoskona?o?ciach i nieprawid?owo?ciach w systemie oceniania. Okazuje si? na przyk?ad, ?e recenzenci nie graj? w dostarczone im gry. Ograniczaj? si? do obejrzenia kaset i DVD z zapisem rozgrywki i na tej podstawie wydaj? swój werdykt. Innym nieciekawym zwyczajem jest ocenianie danego tytu?u na podstawie poprzedniej cz??ci gry. W tek?cie jest te? par? jego sugestii, w jaki system ocen móg?by zosta? ulepszony. Oczywi?cie po publikacji druga strona nie by?a d?u?na i wystosowa?a list (równie? opublikowany na podlinkowanej stronie), gdzie przedstawia swoj? opini?. ESRB broni w nim swoich racji i ocen, mówi?c i? oskar?aj?cy ich by?y pracownik przekazuje myln? opini? o organizacji, jak równie? donosi o jego krótkim sta?u pracy. Warto przeczyta?. Na pewno systemy oceniania i kategoryzowania gier wymagaj? bli?szego przyjrzenia si?. Coraz wi?cej osób gra i naturalnym porz?dkiem rzeczy jest, ?e gry jako medium kultury mo?e przenosi? i prezentowa? tre?ci przeznaczone tylko dla doros?ych. Warto, by zosta?y one odpowiednio wcze?nie oznaczone, tak by rodzice wiedzieli od jakiego wieku ich pociechy mog? si? dan? produkcj? bawi?. Mam nadziej?, ?e w PEGI nie mamy takich kontrowersyjnych dzia?a? i gry s? oceniane porz?dnie. Zobacz podobne Spada ilo?? gier dla doros?ych (30 dni temu) […]

  4. 0
    Jexic says:

    I think for RPGs that do go on and on they can sit with the developer who should know what content is in their games.
    AO needs to go. NC-17 keeps movie makers from showing what they want or saying what they want.
    Ratings shouldn’t really be enforced like they’re law. It shouldn’t be up to a board full of people to decide what children play. Ratings should only exist online or in stores as a guide for parents, and not slapped all over the game.
    It should really just be up to parents.

  5. 0
    Infinity's End says:

    I’m not surprised there is internal strife amongst fellow or former employees of the ESRB. It’s a flawed system. Games are (obviously) not like movies, in that you can watch them for the 2-3hr. span of time that they last, and make your judgement call. They have to be experienced. Although a video may show 80-90% of what the game is like, that last 10% is what playing is all about and completely NOT doing that is like saying you don’t like food if you’ve never even tasted it. It just makes no logical sense, ESPECIALLY in a business perspective.

    I do agree AO needs to be canned, but I also think M should be 18+. It’s NEVER too late to change this. And adding T-16 would be fine. The growing years of maturity from 13 through 16 are IMMENSE and wayyyy more than 17 to 18. The only problem from a business standpoint from changing the ratings is all those games that are on the market currently would also need to be changed, repackaged, relabeled, etc. and I seriously doubt this is something the industry wants to do.

  6. 0
    cppcrusader ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    So I just recently got caught up on all my mail from the last couple weeks and this issue of EGM was in the stack. I finally got a chance to read the article, and honestly, I don’t think Vance needed to write a rebuttal (which I haven’t read yet btw). Bonner does fine job of making himself look like an idiot all by himself. Everything he wrote is entirely reactionary and he hasn’t thought it through at all.

    The only good point he made is that the ratings need to be changed to phase out the useless AO, but the fact that he considers the ESRB not making changes on a whim and carefully considering them a negative negates his entire argument.

    He also suggests that the ESRB needs to adopt free-form descriptors like the MPAA. While this isn’t the worst of his suggestions, it’s still foolish. Pick up a recent dvd, like Kingdom of Heaven, and you see descriptors like epic warfare. Stuff like that does nothing to help inform a parent of the content within.

    His worst suggestion is the idea of competing ratings boards. He talks about the days of multiple ratings systems like it was a good thing. The entire point of the ESRB was to do away with that. Multiple rating systems makes things extremely confusing for the parents. They have a hard enough time with one.

    Clearly Bonner became disgruntled while working for the ESRB and did not leave amicably. My advice to him, when you leave your next job, you probably shouldn’t write an article with suggestions that you haven’t really thought through. You’ll just look an incompetent, disgruntled jackass….again.

  7. 0
    ZippyDSMlee ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    1. this is my main complaint with the ESRB they need to rework the TEEN-ADULT tiers to make the system a non draconian ban it ban it ban it ratings board,we have NC17 dvds rated as unrated in wallmart for Christ sake!
    Drop AO add a 15M or T16 or T15 and be done with it!

    2. I do not feel fully playing through a game will helping rating it, bring out the hardest content of a game if you fail to divulge all of the hardest content of the script/scenes/gameplay you will be fined 10-20% of the games profits and you will be suspended from the ESRB until you pay up, keep the fines high and they wont dare screw it up.

    3. W T F…a game needs to be rated on content regardless of WTF it is….

    4.I do not think it needs to be more open if it drops the ban stick, wihtout the ban stick games can be fully published without fear of begin blocked, unless they fail the approval process each console maker has.

  8. 0
    TJLK ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    E. Zachary Knight – So you know the vast majority of individuals that have an opinion on the ESRB? Thats a tragic fallacy if I’ve ever seen one.

  9. 0
    TJLK ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    Cheater87 –

    It is possible for an unrated game to be digitally distributed for PC.

    Jbonner71 – I agree with you for the most part, though playing through games might take too long, especially considering some games are only finished when the user decides so.

    I hope you do write more about games. It is extremely important to speak your mind and you have the experience to help gamers solve this problem that is troubling to many of us. If you don’t want it to be about the ESRB, fine. I’m sure your experience has given you more than a few ideas not relating to the ESRB.

    It isn’t like we don’t appreciate the ESRB or we don’t think that the ESRB is the best regulatory system for a particular art/entertainment product(because I think it is). HOWEVER, I see problems with their system. I am extremely thankful for you speaking out because you have justified the concerns of many gamers that were previously played off as expressing worries illegitimate or inaccurate problems.

    It is not surprising at all that the ESRB responded to you the way they did. They know what they are doing and they know they have to cover themselves in a firm manner. So maybe that includes spinning the truth a bit. I don’t think they really care as long as they try to silence whatever noise there is. The ESRB can not silence gamers, there are many of us that are very upset at them for not attempting to fix issues and not taking our opinions seriously. The ESRB should not be a system made for parents and children. It should be a system made for ALL people who consume video games or purchase video games. This includes parents, non-parents, seniors, adults, teens and children. When they share statistics that say a certain percentage of parents agree that their system is effective I see that as proof of their discriminatory policy and their lack of interest in anyone that is not a child or parent. It honestly is disgusting.

  10. 0
    Spartan says:

    Before anyone calls me “Fox News”, My comment using the word “lady” was meant in a sarcastic manner. This is so because she hit back hard as any good legionnaire would do with a counter punch. She is the standard bearer after all and she cant show any weakness in the armor of censorship or it might just be seen for what it is.

  11. 0
    E. Zachary Knight ( User Karma: 2 ) says:

    @ all those who think the ESRB should revela the ratings process

    You are wrong. They shouldn’t. It will only make things worse.

    Why do I think this? Look at the game playing issue. It is well known that the ESRB does not play the games it rates. But just because it is know does not make any of the controversy go away. Every watch dog group and politician who have commented have nit picked that point and demand change.

    Now imagine that the whole process is revealed. Wow look at the exponentially larger number of things for these same people to nitpick and demand changed. They won’t say, “Oh. that’s nice. Thanks for showing us.” They will say, “Oh! I don’t like that. You need to change it. Oh, and that too. While your at it, that is totally unacceptable and should be changed to this.” And so on and on.

    The current controvers ywill nto go away. It will only get worse if they reveal the ratings process. That is what they are trying to protect. They don’t want or need the filthy meddling hands of watch dogs.

    The current process works. Some of us may not like the final result, but the vast majority of us do.

  12. 0
    Spartan says:

    The Catholic Legion of Decency reborn gets hood pulled back (a little). Kudos to the lady!

    Anyway please remember the first X-rating for movies required a person to be older then 16 years of age to watch. How times have changed…

  13. 0
    Steve T. says:

    Having read this article myself a while back I did feel as if Patricia Vance was mostly reading the same press statement she reads every time someone comments on the ESRB ratings system. She addresses issues that she says are inaccurate or misleading, although we have no way of actually knowing, by basically saying, “Wrong.”

    Personally, I have felt that Ms. Vance and the ESRB have constantly just been giving the same answer over and over and mostly never touching on detailed points, especially when it comes to specific critiques about the process that no one has the ability to see.

    If the ESRB wanted to avoid some controversy they should reveal their entire process. They don’t have to show who the raters are but give us a step-by-step process of how it works and even let the media and/or watchdog groups witness the process. That would hurt nothing, unless they do have something to hide, and would allow them to openly address any critical issues or false statements leveled at them in the media.

    I think the ESRB ratings system is pretty good, and I have yet to play a game in which I disagree with the rating. But for their own sake they should be more open.

    Of course, the ESA and ESRB have yet to shown any kind of proficiency in dealing with political and public relations issues. Just repeating the same line over and over will not convince anyone that they are doing their jobs. However, showing everyone how they do their jobs might.

    All that said, I hope they keep doing a good job. I can only hope they find a new spokesperson or someone new to handle their media relations.

  14. 0
    janarius ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I sense hypocrisy about the current ESRB rating process since video games are different from film and yet the process is similar to rating films which is total nonsense.

    I haven’t read all the comments before me, so forgive me for repeating. Thinking outside the box and using analogies, the ESRB gives a grade based on the final exam only and not the process before it. Which is a pain in the ass for developers receiving no feedback whether they can tell they are doing great or being naughty.

    Since the ESRB are much like university professors who gives lectures and no feedback until the end, it becomes a slow and inefficient process. what we need are high school teachers who give periodic quizzes in order to tell them how they are progressing and what areas they’d like to improve in order to get their desired grade. What I mean by quizzes: become a guest beta tester and give an ESRB grade, discuss with the student and move on to the next student. Repeat the process until the game finally graduates.

  15. 0
    squigs says:

    Game developers already know what the rating is going to be, usually before any code has been written.

    They don’t simply develop the game, submit it to the ratings board and get a rating. They write the game to target a specific rating, with full knowledge of what the criteria are. It’s primarily a self-certification system and that’s all it’s meant to be. They submit the videos to the ESRB to confirm that they actually are within the target rating.

    Maybe it should be a proper third party rating system, but that wouldn’t be a simple improvement. It would be a complete change to a different organisation.

  16. 0
    Pichi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Point 1: We need the “AO” rating. Like others say, what of games that go further? I see politicians wanting to stomp all over “M” if “AO” is gone. Don’t see why we need another teen rating, to be honest. I understand the “E” and “E10” more reasoning.

    Point 2: Impossible to play “fully”‘ I suggest to play “some” instead. Games are different from movies in that you can’t play a long game in a short amount of time. Not to mention there are many types of genres and I doubt the ESRB could find raters with different abilities of gaming not be biased. Like many other, they don’t think that games can be as long and think all are short.

    Point 3: I don’t find that statement true at all. Maybe for shovelware games, but that is a stretch.

    Point 4: They are just like the MPAA, so why is it that the ESRB have to tell all and not the MPAA? Either they both or none reveal at all. This sounds like someone wants the government to jump right in.

    I feel that the ex-game rater does seem to be a bit disgruntled, but I have not read the EGM article. Not sure if he went into specifics on his issues, but this is how I felt.

  17. 0
    i hate esrb hooplah says:

    It is not hard to rate a game! It is practically a NO BRAINER. I can look at a game and KNOW what it is rated without even playing it. It is COMMON SENSE.

    The ratings are not the problem. The ESRB has a rating system that works. They mimmic MOVIE ratings directly. It is the idiot politicians and parents who blame games for ruining the kids even though movies with the same age requirements show far worse.

  18. 0
    Jarod says:

    This is so stupid. Ratings should be like movies. They play the entire games, they follow suit of movies, which is a standard, sex is rated R, but certain rules on genetailia makes it NC-17. Violence rarely is over Rated R’s rules. Some beheading could be. Either way, violence should be Rated R and sex and nudity as long as it isn’t genetailia showing. And the thing is, movies have real PEOPLE showing their goods, and in a game, it is all fake. So the rules should be even lessoned. WhoTF are these people? Let it go…

  19. 0

    In my opinion, the vast majority of t-rated games could be rated E, and the vast majority of m-rated games could be rated T. I would give Portal, which is T, to an eight-year-old.

  20. 0
    Aliasalpha says:

    Personally I see no need for such stringently categorised rating systems. Would it not be simpler to replace the entire system with a simpler “recommended for ages X and above” and then list the contents (blood, sexual themes, diabolical laughter etc)?

    That seems to me to be a far more flexible way of doing things and would avoid the “ooh it might be a bit strong for teens but not quite strong enough for mature people” debates that probably take up a lot more time than saying “sod it, make it 14+ instead of 13+ then”

  21. 0
    TBoneTony ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    From being an Australian with no R rating in my country, trying to scrap the AO rating in American ESRB is not going to solve anything…

    It only says that all the Hentai games sold in selective Anime stores should be banned because of the lack of an AO rating.

    Looking at a Canadian Gamer Magazine, I could see that the Hentai games sold in various Anime stores in Canada are not rated by the ESRB, so perhaps that is a good thing considering the pressure of the US Government

    For the playing the games all the way though, anyone who says that needs to understand how long did it take THEM to get though all of an RPG, and EVEN though all the Side Quests that 1 out of 1,000,000 pissibility to have hidden material (lets say kinda like GTA Hot Coffie for example but in a more higher quality form)

    It is almost impossible at ask Adults over the age of 30 or 40 to play though an RPG in just a couple of days because of their lack of game experience and also the lack of gaming knowledge…

    Also hiring more people will confuse the ratings process because many people have different opinions of what should be rated T and M from what I understand.

    All of these issues needed to be addressed before anyone ever really thinks of changing what the ESRB does to rate games or else it will be a mess created by radical change without even thinking how things are going to work.

    The ESRB is not perfect, nothing ever is perfect, but with the AO rating here as an option, it is much more better than the BBFC or the OFLC in Australia.

    Also how can people tell the difference between a T-13 and a T-16 rating???

    It might be ideal for parents but it makes it hard on the ESRB.

    With T means for Teenagers and M means for mature audiences, I fully understand them well and find it hard to see if any more changes related at age restrictions on certain titles would ever change that…

    what people don’t understand is that Mature means Mature, NOT Adults only….

    We can’t get that confused…

    I feel that many parents have a hard time trying to find what is Mature and what is not Mature rated in a game because of the lack of gaming experience,

    Mature is knowing that the things that happen in this game are ONLY meant to be in the game and not suitable/desirable for real life situations…but still ok for Older Teenagers to view/play.

  22. 0
    Phillip Wessels ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I stand by my previous conclusions:

    AO rating is flawed, something needs to change. It’s either:
    -Change the AO rating so that it is more reasonable (contemporary community standards my ass)
    -Get rid of the AO rating altogether in favor of something like mentioned
    -Get retailers and console companies to consider content ratings rather than age ratings

  23. 0
    Dog Welder ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Jbonner — I have read the entire article, and read your response here, and you still come across as a disgruntled ex-employee. Your reasons for leaving do not matter in that assessment.

    Then you hit comments like this:

    “2. Do I have more to say about the ESRB? Yes. A lot. And they know that.”

    And now you sound like a disgruntled douchebag.


  24. 0
    Coravin ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The secrecy being necessary for integrity thing is much more believable than some people seem to think. Even though the CIA has aspects everybody knows about, it also has aspects nobody knows about…well, that they can tell anyone, anywhere, ever. And the reason is functionality. If certain methods, people, or material are leaked, it inhibits their ability to do their jobs.

    Think about it:

    if the ESRB regularly gave consumers and politicians information on the people who worked there, nobody would want to, or the employees would have to deal with bribery and blackmail just as regularly;

    if the ESRB consistently leaked little details about game content that publishers wanted secret, publishers would find it necessary to go around them, such as through another rating system

    if the ESRB exposed the whole rating process using only previous employees, methods, etc. to avoid endangering anyone or spoiling anything, they would be called out for “problems” that have since been rectified;

    if the ESRB showed current methodology and personnel and subject matter to the public, regardless of the aforementioned problems that would be extant in such a situation, then idiots who know nothing about either politics or videogames (i.e., politicians) would still complain about every little detail and be heard and force changes that anyone more informed on the subject or on our Constitution would have realized were asinine and counterproductive and useless, but which would nevertheless become the new ESRB methodologies because of politics and stupidity–thus, yet again, forcing the industry to cobble together a new, working, and not corrupted ratings system with which to bypass the emasculated ESRB.

    Obviously the ESRB has their own spin on anything that gets out about them, but in a nation where politics is tainted with corruption and liberties are constantly under assault in “little” ways, it’s hard to imagine an organization like the ESRB managing to maintain its independence and trustworthiness as a ratings system if they had to be open and transparent enough to let politicians and other businesses get ahold of their inner workings, methodology, personnel, etc..

  25. 0
    Cheater87 ( User Karma: 1 ) says:

    Just let games come out unrated for crying out loud. Then add an option to block unrated games for the parental controls for all the systems like they have for unrated movies. Taa daa problem solved.

  26. 0

    […] EGM Magazine’s current issue has a must-read article about fixing the ESRB. Now, I think that the ESRB works, assuming people pay attention to it, of course – but there’s little question about room for improvement. This insider’s perspective is a fascinating read and offers valuable insight into the inner workings of the ratings board. While the piece isn’t really negative in tone, and offers positive solutions, ESRB president Patricia Vance isn’t happy about the veil being pulled back. Nevertheless, the issue of game ratings is going to become a larger one this year, as politicians ramp up their campaigns and start pulling out every tired old cliché in their playbook. […]

  27. 0
    Stinking Kevin says:

    @Mike T
    That’s a fair point, that NC-17 DVDs will play in all standard DVD players (although NC-17 DVDs are not necessarily sold or rented by all of the companies that sell or rent “G” – “R” rated — or, ironically, “unrated” — DVDs).

    It is true that the three major console manufacturers will not license “AO” games for play on their systems, just as all major retailer chains (including Wal-Mart and even GameStop) currently refuse to stock “AO” rated games.

    Yet from this, I do not follow the logic that the “AO” rating is holding developers back in any way. I could agree that MS, Sony, and Nintendo are holding developers back, and that Wal-Mart and GameStop are holding developers back, but I do not see why removing the AO rating would change any of that.

    The “M” rating would mean something different that it does now, were it changed to comprise games that include what is currently considered “AO” content. I don’t think it is unfair to assume that retailers and manufacturers would treat “M”-rated games differently, if “M”-rated games suddenly included the sort of violent content found in the original cut of Manhunt 2, or the sexual content in the uncut versions of Singles or Leisure Suit Larry.

    In other words, I think the idea that removing the “AO” rating would magically resolve all the issues the market currently has with “AO” content is shortsighted. It’s almost sort of like saying that if the “Speed Limit” sign is taken down, we’re all suddenly allowed to drive as fast as we like.

  28. 0
    Thad says:

    I think they both make some good points. Vance’s rebuttal is solid in places, but her talk about secrecy as protection for the integrity of the ratings board doesn’t hold water, and she doesn’t even address Bonner’s best point, his suggestion that the AO rating be removed.

    I just watched This Film is Not Yet Rated a couple of months back, and the parallels are pretty clear. The ESRB hasn’t just copied the MPAA’s rating scale, it’s also copied its lack of transparency and accountability. I still, to this day, have not heard a satisfactory explanation of why Hot Coffee was the difference between an M and an AO; if similar content had been in a movie it would have been R rather than NC-17.

  29. 0
    BmK ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I agree with him partly on the ratings solution but in a different manner then he says.
    IMHO i say just leave the AO rating only for sexually explicit (pornographic) video games and have M as the highest rating for everything else. Then place a MT15+ for Mature Teens 15 and up in between the T and M rating. This rating could accommodate the higher end T rated games and the lower and medium end M rated games.

  30. 0
    IllegallyMindedJohn says:

    The first point (re-organizing the ratings & dropping AO) is a great one. Having a T13, T16, and 18+ would be better for the industry and take away ammo from the politicians that wish to sensor the industry. Lite-M rated games would be dumped into T16, and the more realistic, racy or violent ones would get the 18+… saturating the 18+ like this would also distance it from the “porn” stigma that comes w/ AO, meaning that major stores will hopefully sell it.

  31. 0
    JBonner71 says:

    I have a few things to say here, but please understand that I am extremely hampered by a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement that I had to sign to work at the ESRB in the first place. That is a big reason why there aren’t any real specifics or examples in the article and some points aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be. Before submitting the article to EGM, both the agreements I signed and the article itself were reviewed by a corporate, contract law attorney with 30+ years experience, so I wasn’t flying blind here.

    Ultimately, you can liken this to being in a bare knuckle, steel cage match with both hands tied behind your back and then, and only then, will you begin to understand the difficulties in writing this piece in the first place.
    Now, onto my points:

    1. I was not fired by the ESRB. I left of my own accord and on good terms. The ESRB will verify this. My leaving was more in relation to the 4 hour daily commute (2 hours up and 2 hours back) that I had to deal with to work there in the first place.

    2. Do I have more to say about the ESRB? Yes. A lot. And they know that.

    3. Can I or will I say/write anything else about the ESRB? No. Recent events in my life have shown me that all of this matters little in the grand scheme of things. Don’t get me wrong, I love video games and the “gaming lifestyle” with a sincere passion and hope to write about other video game related topics everywhere and anywhere I’m asked to (if I’m ever asked to…) again.

    4. If that response was written by Pat Vance then I am the King of Siam. The ESRB employs PR/Marketing people and lawyers and the like, whose sole purpose on this planet is to “spin” things. Remember, I’m just one guy with an informed opinion. I do not consider myself “disgruntled” or “angry” in any way. Things just didn’t work out at the ESRB. So it goes. I would suggest that you read the entire article (not just the synopsis that is posted in GP), which is exceptionally fair and balanced, before throwing words like that around.

    5. I have one, other thing to say in regard to the ESRB’s response (in which, they basically call me a liar) to what I wrote: if my comments are so “misleading,” “inaccurate” and “misrepresentative” then why aren’t they suing me (for libel or breach of contract or whatever…) into oblivion right now?? Food for thought, eh?

    I truly appreciate all of the thoughtful comments and the intelligent debate this article has sparked. I was never a big fan of the “X-Files” but I’m going to borrow that show’s mantra here: the truth is out there. This article is just the first step on a much larger journey to obtaining that truth. For various reasons, I can only take this first step…but I do wish a hearty “Godspeed” to those who decide to take up where I leave off…

  32. 0
    Mike T says:

    @ Stinking Kevin
    You mention about how NC-17 hasn’t held filmmakers back isn’t a very fair comparison. An NC-17 rated film will work on any projector and any player of that format.
    An AO rated title will NOT be approved by the 1st part manufacturers for printing. PERIOD.
    Now, if a store doesn’t wish to sell a product, that’s their prerogative, but I find it hard to swallow that the console manufacturers will dodge blame of the video game witch hunters with “well, it’s just a game and our machine is strictly a player” yet they don’t want to give us “strictly a player”.

  33. 0
    F**ked Up says:

    I find that Game Guides really help in telling the content and narratives stories of many games. It wont work for many games like say MMORPGs but I say Game Guides should be used, just look up a game on http://www.gamefaqs.com read a guide. But of course this out of the Scope of ESRB.

    Maybe the ESRB could have the companies submit the narrative, but then with all the leaks that abundant now a days, it might not be such a good idea.

    As for playing a game through, umm yeah, not such a good idea. I want to see People play World of Warcraft to Completion, or Sim City, aka Games with no end. And just because one person played through the game doesnt mean they saw all the content. Video games these days are not linear, games allow for choices and well with the complexity of the games now a days its practically impossible to make every choice and do it in short time period. I do say maybe offer Demos to be played, just to get a feel for gameplay. (Although I think the person wanted to play the game through completion just so he gets to play the game before everyone else. Hell if I knew that I could play Super Smash Bros. Brawl to completion by working as a rater, where the Hell do I sign up?)

    As for the ratings, they closely mirror the MPAA ratings so, I am not so sure changing will help. Right now, if the ESRB mirrors the MPAA, they can show the similarity between teen and PG-13, M and R rated content. If you are fine with the movie content why are you not fine with the video game content.

    As for transparency, well that is a touch issue. There is a point at which transparency is ok. But then Vance is right, if people knew who the raters are there is no telling what shady deals could be going on. Maybe after the game is released like maybe 3 months after, they can release the materials that were used to rate the game. Right now I cannot see how that will hurt the ESRB.

  34. 0
    kurisu7885 says:

    “I would strongly suggest having the raters play the games to completion”

    Explain how that will be done with online games such as MMOs.

  35. 0
    Andrew Eisen ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    What’s wrong with Lula 3D having an M (recommended for players 17 and older) rating? It would still have the following content descriptors:

    Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Violence

    Doesn’t that tell you every thing you need to know?

    Andrew Eisen

  36. 0
    TJLK ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    Without an AO rating, console manufacturers can simply restrict developers what content they are allowed to include in their game in which are granted a license to produce said game. Last I heard you have to get permission to make a game for a console and you have to follow what the console manufacturers say or else that game isn’t going to be on their system.

    Retailers can also choose what products they put into their store. Not having an AO rating would not effect the rights of a retailer in the slightest. They still have a choice if they want to carry a product or not.

    Sorry anonononomous, I can’t agree with the accuracy of your claims.

  37. 0
    Anonononomous ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This whole thing about removing the AO rating is ridiculous as well. There clearly are games that should be rated higher than M. Not using AO would make games like Lula 3D have the same rating as Halo, and that’s just dumb. The problem with AO is that many retailers won’t sell them and that console manufacturers won’t allow them on their consoles. Saying that AO shouldn’t exist is like saying that because some stores won’t stock CDs with the parental advisory label on them the label shouldn’t exist. Clearly, it should and the stores that won’t sell the CDs are the ones at fault, not those informing people of their content.

  38. 0
    Ken ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “The ESRB’s current pool of fulltime raters… does not actually play the games that they rate. They just watch submitted videotapes or DVDs of someone else playing the game…”

    You know how backlogged they’d be if they had to play through every single game and note every single thing?

  39. 0
    Andrew Eisen ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    1. Drop the AO rating.

    Yes. The AO rating is useless to consumers and serves only to circumvent the ESRB’s own mission statement. It needs to go the way of the dodo.

    2. Play the games.

    Unnecessary. You don’t need to play a game to determine its rating. Video is enough. And you certainly don’t need to play any game to completion. 10 minutes is usually enough to figure out any game’s rating.

    Andrew Eisen

  40. 0
    Anonononomous ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    All you people complaining that the ratings process is completely secret are just making things up. Pat Vance did an interview with Gamasutra in October (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1970/this_game_is_not_yet_rated_inside_.php) where she went over the process in a good amount of detail. Also, and I can’t recall where, she said that raters do actually play test games after they come out to make sure the the publishers properly disclosed the content of the games. They also fully play through specific games if complaints are brought up by consumers.

  41. 0
    KpC ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “My solution to that is simple: Hire more people.”
    Because the ESRB is just *swimming* in money, that they can pay to likely triple their employees. This guy has no idea how businesses work

  42. 0
    TheNino85 says:

    About Oblivion:
    The topless mod was brought to the attention to the ESRB, and that caused them to open an inspection into the game. In fact, if memory serves, only the PC version the game had “teh boobies lol” art file. It did not cause the change to the M rating. What caused the change to M rating for all versions of the game was the realm of Oblivion, and that would explain why the later PS3 release of Oblivion still carries a M rating, despite the fact that the art file would definitely have been removed from that version.

    If you remember the realm of Oblivion, it’s pretty gruesome stuff. I normally don’t pay attention to ratings, but I remember specifically thinking “This game is Teen?” while playing through the realm of Oblivion. Mutilated corpses, burning corpses, a general super-evil atmosphere, that kind of thing. You have to go into the realm of Oblivion at multiple points in the game, so I don’t know how Bethesda didn’t show it to the reviewers. In the 200+ hours I played that game, I’ve seen other things that merit a M rating as well, but that’s beside the point.

    I do agree that Hot Coffee was an overreaction on their part, but the Oblivion rerating was deserved. I’ve played through far less mature M rated games than Oblivion. For the record, I support an institution like the ESRB (because it’s either them or Hillarycare 2.0, now protecting the thoughts of innocent children!), but I’m undecided on whether I support the ESRB specifically. Really though, it’s not their fault that merchants refuse to stock AO game, and blaming the ESRB for the AO ban is stupid as far as I’m concerned. Drop the AO rating, and the merchants will probably start banning the M games. The actual rating doesn’t matter; it’s that it’s the top rating (“the dirty rating”) that matters. That’s something that the ESRB, as a rating body, can’t solve, and blaming them for the AO ban is like blaming Mexicans for factory closings. Yeah, they’re directly involved, but they can’t be blamed for what is essentially not their fault. It’s the factory owner’s (or the retailer’s) fault.

  43. 0
    Stinking Kevin says:


    It’s fine for you to argue that only the game elements you can access through traditional play should be considered part of the game, but that’s not how the ESRB sees it. Playable or not, narrative elements of Hot Coffee mini-game, which did indeed involve sex, were part of the GTA:SA game, according to the way the ESRB has decided to define “game.”

    You could also argue that the ESRB’s decision to consider unplayable content as part of the “game” was unduly influenced by outside forces, such as loudmouth lawyers, culturally fascist assemblymen, and 2008 presidential hopefuls. Even if this is the case, however, the decision is still not arbitrary, just a little corrupt.

    Furthermore, if you were going to make the argument that only playable content should be considered for ESRB rating, you need to come up with a different ratings system that strictly defines “playable.” I’m not sure that would be so easy to do. You’d also have to account for the possibility that, technically, publishers could fill up extra space on an E-rated game disc with “unplayable” pr0n .JPGs that are only accessible through a third-party image viewer. I’m not sure why any publisher would do something like that, but I’m not quite sure why Rockstar left the Hot Coffee code on those game discs, either (or lied about once it was discovered).

    I don’t know if you’ve considered these possibilities or not, but I am convinced that the ESRB did. The board’s decision was not arbitrary. Personally, although I acknowledge the controversy, I’ve even come to believe the decision was correct.

  44. 0
    tollwutig ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’ve always maintained that the ESRB needs more transparency, and Vance’s argument that it protects the raters from corruption is a straw man fallacy. Opening up how the process is completed does not mean you need to reveal personnel data to the outside world. In fact it is illegal in most states to reveal personnel data unless the person signs off on it. The identities of the raters could still be protected even if the processes by which ratings are assigned are opened up some.

    Secondly playing some of each game would be beneficial. Would you catch everything by playing them some? No, but you would catch some stuff that may get passed up on the video submittal. Everyone likes to mention Oblivion as impossible to play all the way through for a rating. This is correct, technically Oblivion is a never ending game. However, if the Raters had actually played some of the content, say the Assassin Quest line they would have seen most of the worst gore in the game. The Assassin Quest line was playable in 2 hours or so, and even quicker with cheat codes.

    Speaking of transparency, I have also suggested that the ESRB make public a portion of the Video Submittal for each game via their website. Taking the worst of the worst from the Video Submittal and creating a 5 min video to view online would go a long way in helping the public understand why a video game received the rating it did.

  45. 0
    KayleL ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    There is no parity. SSBM is rated T while the first two were rated E, Manhunt 2 was going to get an AO, Fatal Frame was rated T and now rated M, etc.

    I do not think we should remove rated AO because companies like Rockstar do not know there is a limit. But I do agree there should be T-16.

  46. 0
    Artifex says:

    Why are people sticklers on this ratings process “transparency” issue?

    Making the process entirely transparent allows for the establishment of clearer rules that cannot be changed. Clearer rules make for less flexibility in the ratings process, and less flexibility makes change and progress in the media (and its content) very difficult.

    Artistic and Creative progress is made by those who bend/break the rules and make headway for others to follow suit. Making the ratings process transparent would handcuff the ESRB to making certain decisions no matter the artistic merit of the content. Ultimately it would stiffle the medium of games.

  47. 0
    Rob ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    SA Did *NOT* have a sex game that didn’t get reviewed.

    Pick up a controller, and a Hot Coffee version of SA, and a stock PS2. Kindly get to the game for me.

  48. 0
    Loudspeaker ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @ Dog_Welder

    I agree.

    Every system in existence can be improved and no system is fool proof. His comments came off as a disgruntled employee to me as well.

  49. 0
    PeterWDawson ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I guess she’s considering the rating modification and actual playing since there isn’t a direct response to those suggestions. But the ESRB is hardly like the CIA, and even they let people film movies inside their buildings occasionally. Heck, there’s a few informative videos out there on the ESRB that shows the rating process.

  50. 0
    E. Zachary Knight ( User Karma: 2 ) says:

    @ Rob

    Dictionary.com defines arbitrary as:

    1. Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle: stopped at the first motel we passed, an arbitrary choice.
    2. Based on or subject to individual judgment or preference: The diet imposes overall calorie limits, but daily menus are arbitrary.

    Neither of those definitions really describe what the ESRB did during for those situations. GTA SA had a sex game that was not reviewed. They looked at that and considered the decision to change the rating to AO. So it really an impulse decision without reason. Neither was it up to anyone indivdual judgement. It was a business decision.

  51. 0
    Rob ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    That may apply *after*, but it certainly didn’t before. Hot Coffee itself was completely arbitrary, especially given the modifiers that were already on the rating.

  52. 0
    Stinking Kevin says:

    The one major precedent that Hot Coffee set is that the publisher is responsible for disclosing all content on the game disc, not just the playable content. Not on a case-by-case basis, but always. You may disagree with this policy, but it’s not arbitrary.

  53. 0
    Corey says:

    It might actually be a good idea for raters to play games. Not all the way through of course, but take some time to get a general feel for the game. It takes no more than an hour or two to do so for most games. And then in addition to this, they have the videos with the most extreme content. Its all about compromise people. It’s unreasonable for a full playthrough but it’s equally unreasonable to refuse to any playtime at all.

  54. 0
    Stinking Kevin says:

    I agree, that a government-commissioned review board would probably be more an infraction in spirit than in practice of the ESRB’s private sector independence. But I still don’t like it. I still see it as a first step onto a slippery slope of government involvement with the ESRB process. And I don’t think it would help anything anyway.

    I think that the ESRB’s primary responsibility should be directly to consumers, not to (or through) the FTC, and I believe the ESRB already does go to parents’ organizations and other consumer groups for feedback, and for ideas on how to improve the system for its purported users.

    The only advantage I see to relying on FTC-ordained feedback would be the very fact that the FTC it has the authority of the government behind it, and any such governmental influence is exactly what I think the ESRB should always try to avoid — in spirit AND in practice.

  55. 0
    Rob ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @EZK: “Both reratings came from content not accessable through normal gameplay.”

    Doesn’t that go against what Ms. Vance said above? “He implies that we arbitrarily change ratings after the raters have done their jobs. This is not the case”. Unaccessible content sounds pretty arbitrary to me.

  56. 0
    E. Zachary Knight ( User Karma: 2 ) says:

    @ JB

    I stand corrected. We have two games that have been rerated. Yet neither one would have been different if they playtested the game. Both reratings came from content not accessable through normal gameplay.

  57. 0

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  58. 0
    JB ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @ EZK
    Actually ESIV: Oblivion was re-rated “from Teen (13 and over) to Mature (17 and over). In their press release on the decision, the ESRB called attention to the presence, in the published edition of Oblivion, of game content not considered in the ESRB review. The content included more detailed depictions of blood and gore than had been previously considered, and “the presence in the PC version of the game of a locked-out art file that, if accessed by using an apparently unauthorized third party too.”


  59. 0
    Cron-Z ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    #3 debunked – The Ratchet & Clank series got T ratings, but the two last iterations got E-10. Jak & Daxter got an E rating, while the rest of the series were rated T, AND Daxter (PSP) got E-10.

  60. 0
    Jabrwock ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @Stinking Kevin

    I wasn’t suggesting “shackling” them, sorry if it came across that way. I meant that the next time the ESRB is looking for “suggestion for improvement”, and they need some analysis done of how their system currently works, they could ask the FTC for a recommendation of an audit-type group to do the job.

    It doesn’t shut down the calls of “it needs to be more open”, but it does throw a wrench into things, since the retort could be “well we asked the FTC who they trusted to look into things, and went with that company for recommendations”.

    It also doesn’t shackle the ESRB to a government institution, because it would still be up to them to hire this group, and the group would be bound by Non-Disclosure Agreements. The FTC would take part only up to the point of recommending the firm to use, nothing more.

  61. 0
    Demontestament ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I am sorry, but all this sounds like to me is an angry former employee who go fired from a job and is now trying to get revenge on the company he lacked the skills to competently work for. I wouldn’t be surprised if some if not all his statements were false and only said out of spite in hopes to punish those who fired him.

  62. 0
    sqlrob ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “He implies that we arbitrarily change ratings after the raters have done their jobs. “

    San Andreas. ‘Nuff said.

    @E Zacharay Knight: “Of all the games I have played, I have never found anything that I felt would change a game’s rating.”

    I’ve found some. God of War had a large amount of toplessness and had sex minigames. Why was that not deserving of an AO where Hot Coffee (which already had “Strong Sexual Content” modifier) was? What about the offensive nationalism in Sly Cooper 2, why weren’t the ESRB and moronic PC groups all over that?

  63. 0
    E. Zachary Knight ( User Karma: 2 ) says:

    @ Goliath

    You’re right. No amount of play testing could have found Hot Coffee. As far as I know, GTA SA was the only game to ever have its rating retroactively changed. Sure some games may have had a new content descriptor assigned, but none have ever had their rating changed.

    So where is all this damning proof of corruption that only play testing the game can fix? I can’t find it. Of all the games I have played, I have never found anything that I felt would change a game’s rating.

    Playtesting a game is pointless. Fo one, not everyone has the capability to play every type of game. I could never beat most FPS games. I just suck at them. So how am I supposed to play them through all the way?

    I wish people would give up on the play testing thing. If they think it is possible, maybe they should give it a try and play through all the way every game released in a year within a years time.

    See if it is possible and finacially feasible. I would be currious how much the cost of a rating will go up if playtesting was implemented.

  64. 0
    mogbert ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’m reminded of an argument not long ago where a mother was upset at a non-nude sex scene in a PG-13 move. She felt it would be fine for her seven and eight year old children because “Jim Carrey was wearing a tutu.”

    See, the thing that needs fixed isn’t ESRB, it’s stupid parents. If parents didn’t have the ESRB, they could tell if a game was too violent in about 15 seconds on Google. The fact that they don’t want to use these 15 seconds indicates that they aren’t that concerned about it.

    I hear a number of sheep that bleat “I want the government to tell me what is OK to give to my children!”

    How about this question for parents:
    How well is the government rating movies?
    A. They are rating them too high, most R’s should be PG-13. cake
    B. They are rating them too low, most PG-13’s should be R’s. lie
    C. i liek mudkip, and the government is rating them fine.
    D. The government doesn’t rate movies.

  65. 0
    Rabidkeebler ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    My only problem is playing a game all the way through. Every time I hear this I think of Elder Scrolls Oblivion.

    This is a 300+ hour game depending on how you go about it. There is no official 100% measurement stick, but to do all the missions, find all the caves, talk to every NPC through every conceivable script would take months just to accomplish.

  66. 0
    Stinking Kevin says:

    Sorry — my second comment in that last post was meant to be addressed to Jabrwock not Cheater87. My apologies. My last comment was intended for Cheater87, but i see he or she already beat me to the punch with that insightful follow-up about being stuck with “T” games.

  67. 0
    GoliathWins says:

    Has there EVER been a rating issue that could have been prevented if raters had played the games? A hundred people playing for a hundred hours would not have discovered Hot Coffee.

    This is a complete non-problem. They’re just actively trying to find faults in the ESRB rating system.

  68. 0
    Anon says:

    Ratings are based largely on the devs/pubs informing the rating board about their game. They need to openly say whether there is nudity or violence or whatever. They must also give examples of everything that may increase the age limit (language, graphics, etc.).

    I think that devs/pubs should be made more responsible and basically rate their own games based on a set of rules.

    Then all the ESRB need to do is check that the devs/pubs have told the truth. This can be done after the game is released, so there is time to do it :)

  69. 0
    Stinking Kevin says:

    As for playing through all the games, this assumes that the ESRB rates gameplay. It does not. It rates narrative elements. Anyone who thinks that playing a game would somehow make it easier to judge the age-appropriateness of a line of coarse dialogue or a suggestive picture is does not understand the point of age-appropriateness ratings in the first place. This would seem to include both Brownback and Bonner.

    The ESRB is an independent agency. As soon as you shackle the ESRB to some governmentally appointed “third-party” committee the ESRB is no longer independent and the government now has a say in how games get rated. Calling for a “Neutral Third Party” assumes that the government, and not the parents, is the ‘second’ party, and I think that is flat out wrong. Why don’t we just ignore First Amendment protections altogether, if the aim is governmentally imposed regulation.

    Before you get rid of the “AO” rating, take a look at Australia where they still have no adults rating for video games and therefore many games are banned outright. How does the AO rating “hold developers back?” That makes no sense whatsoever. How has the NC-17 rating held filmmakers back? I think you are only considering mainstream sales of games by major publishers, and I find that view far too narrow for a discussion about a content ratings system that is supposed to be more about freedom of expression than it is about lining the pockets of EA or Take 2.

  70. 0
    Eville1 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    She didn’t really answer them. She addressed the issues raised, sure. She reinforces his claims of secrecy. People are right, the ESRB needs more transparency. Hiring more people may or may not work. XBOX testing does it in a similar fashion. You play a game for an hour and pass it to your left. You get the game to your right. This allows for people of different play styles and speeds to attempt the game. If they did this with the ESRB by passing the game with a mem card with the saves on it, that might help a little.

  71. 0
    some guy ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Personally I’m all for dropping the AO rating. I’ve always thought it was silly to have an M rating that is 17+ and then an additional rating above that which is 18+. It makes no sense, and the fact that AO stands for Adults Only automatically gives it the same stigma that pornography has. That’s the one and only reason that the big 3 won’t release AO games on their systems. It has nothing to do with the actual content of said games.
    As for game raters playing games to completion – I definitely agree that raters should play the games, because that way they actually get the context of what they are rating rather than being shown arbitrary clips of the game with no context (this actually can affect how a certain bit of content is rated). However, expecting them to play each game from start to end is impractical. It would take weeks, or even months, to rate some of the longer games. For example, I personally clocked over 300 hours on Oblivion and still did not cover ALL of the content in the game. And hiring more people doesn’t really help that, because in that example it would still take 300 hours to slog through the game.

  72. 0
    Shoehorn O'Plenty ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @ Eville1:

    She did answer the points he made that an answer could have been made to.

    1.Dropping the “Adults Only” rating and and adding a T-16 to go along with the current Teen rating.
    This isn’t a point, it’s a suggestion, and a silly one at that. It just muddies the waters that a lot of dumb parents find hard enough to navigate at the best of times.

    2. About playing the games to completion? Another suggestion, and one that has already been covered several times in many different threads on this site. Depending on the game, this could either be a short job or a colossal task. I’m sure they could hire more testers, if they had the money to do so, but even then the same problems arise with procedurally generated content, etc.

    3.Forget “parity”.
    Ms. Vance explained that just because a game is part of a series, does not mean it automatically gets the same rating as the previous installments.

    4.Be more open
    Think about it, a company wants a lower rating for it’s game so it will sell more. The content will earn it a higher rating than it wants, so it finds out who the testers in the ESRB are. It has a chat with them, some money/concert tickets/etc change hands and suddenly the game doesn’t look that bad! This is the reason for secrecy.

  73. 0
    Dog_Welder ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This guy sounds like someone who got hired with an axe to grind, got disgruntled when the ESRB (the people who hired him and signed a paycheck) didn’t listen to his “awesome” suggestions, and then left in a huff and took his ball with him. I’d put little stock into what this guy says.

  74. 0

    I find the concept of playing through entire games a little funny. Right now, only one ratings board claims to play all the games they rate all the way through and that is the BBFC. But given the fact that they pick and choose the gamesthey rate, it is not that difficult.

    Throwing more people at a problem is never a solution. It usually causes more problems and lag than it fixes.

    The parity thing is an odd acusation. Take Knidom Hearts as an example. The first wsa ratedd E and the Second was rated E-10. It is not uncommon for a game’s sequel to go up or down a rating.

    I am glad to see that EGM gave Vance a chance to put in her two cents before publication. That is a lot better than many main strema news outlets.

  75. 0
    Cheater87 ( User Karma: 1 ) says:

    The only problem I would see is if M was 18 and up then it would be banned like the AO rating. Then we would be stuck with T rated games. :'(

  76. 0
    Nekowolf ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    To me, No.2 makes no sense. Hire more people? I don’t quite see how that’ll hasten the completion of a game. It’s still take much too long to go through the process, extending its release even further.

  77. 0
    Pierre-Olivier ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I don’t think the concept of parity was used as widely as Bonner said (maybe he just saw it a lot). An example of non-parity is Fatal Frame. The first game was rated T, but the sequels (and the sequels were quite more suggestive than the first one) were rated M.


    She did address the point of secrecy and the parity point. Although a comment for the other two points would’ve been interesting.

    All in all, Vance’s position are more, in my opinion reasonable than Bonner’s

  78. 0
    Cheater87 ( User Karma: 1 ) says:

    I agree with getting rid of the AO rating. Its setting developers back and not giving them any freedom and only forces censorship.

  79. 0
    Martuk says:

    In regards to this statement on the Brownback legislation…

    “I would strongly suggest having the raters play the games to completion and carefully log their findings throughout the playtest. I’ve already heard the ESRB’s argument on this one: “They’ll take way too long and it will compromise our turnaround time.” My solution to that is simple: Hire more people.”

    Given this silliness will take up way more time and resources the ESRB has let me counter by saying the FDA do the same thing. They have to eat food and take drugs (No pun intended) from shipments and test batches to ensure they are accurate. that way when it hits the public after they give it the A-O-K maybe it won’t cause so many health problems or in some cases lead to deaths. Its a shame he doesn’t focus his energy on needed legislation like this but that should be a prime example of what he is asking to occur.

    Developers would have to start shortening games to a couple of hours just to get them approved and then just forget about an MMOG since they don’t exactly end. Once more the political inept show their cluelessness.

  80. 0
    Cron-Z ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @ Rob
    I know E-10 didn’t exist when the first R&C was released. The point is that the ESRB doesn’t base their sequel rating on a preceding game like Bonner states. :)

  81. 0
    Tom ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This is just sour grapes. The guy in question is irrelevant and he knows it so he latched on to the one thing that makes anything about him newsworthy in order to get his 15 seconds of fame. It’s pathetic.

  82. 0
    Jabrwock ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I like the T16 idea, but it seems kinda pointless when compared to the fact that M & AO are 1 year difference. Perhaps if M got bumped up to 18, then a T15 or T16 would make more sense.

    I think the best way to ensure the “privacy” and “secrecy”, would in fact be for the ESRB to sit down with the FTC or some government group, and agree on a 3rd neutral party to come in and examine the system and make recommendations. Someone who could be put under an NDA, ensuring the privacy of the companies and individuals, but who could be trusted to make a careful examination and meaningful analysis of what needs to improve. That way there’s no accusations of a coverup, because the FTC helped to pick the examining party. But then it protects the ESRB from nitpicking, because the examiners would be privately paid-for and under non-disclosure. The FTC would only be involved in the vouching for the examiner part.

  83. 0
    Stinger503 says:

    I think the point from replies of actually playing through a game to get a feel for it not being possible is silly. Consider the MPAA, who reviews hundreds of films a year!

    Or how about video game magazines and websites how apparently can review games by playing them.

    The idea that playing games like Oblivion or Grand Theft Auto isn’t possible is completely wrong. And SHOULD be done. Watching a ‘trailer’ of Grand Theft Auto is the equivilant of being given a picture book and then told to rate a movie.

    Also the “I’ve played 300 hours on Oblivion so that’s not feasible” is silly too. Here’s an example: In the movie the Disney movie Rescuers there is nudity. In 1 frame. A child or parent won’t see this! So it would be rediculous for the MPAA to now go through every movie frame by frame. And using the hot coffee thing as an excuse isn’t true either. What kid that shouldn’t be allowed to see this would actually download a mod or code for it? None.

  84. 0
    Jonathan Janosi says:

    I’m more inclined to believe the game rater. He seemed to be genuine and Vance, who normally I agree with, seemed to be simply argumentative and defensive, while not addressing the real issues.

  85. 0
    TJLK ( User Karma: -1 ) says:

    I agree with 1, 3 and 4. I don’t think number 2 is really needed because it may slow the process. There was a time where I would have agreed with it but I simply don’t think it is the right solution.

    I strongly believe that the ESRB needs to make some changes to not only give an image of responsibility to the general public but to simply have a better rating system. There are several problems with the ESRB and I think they need to address those problems in a productive manner. It really seems as if the ESRB has this illusion that their rating system is perfect and doesn’t need changing. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but perfection does not exist. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for it but it simply does not exist.

    Why would they pass up an opportunity to show the general public and politicians that they are responsible by addressing problems that they have. Its clear that the problems are present so what are they doing to do about it? Nothing? This is dangerous because if they do nothing and claim everything is fine that just seems to play against the effort to keep the industry self-regulated.

    THERE SHOULD NOT BE A LIMIT TO WHAT YOU CAN MAKE A GAME ABOUT OR PUT IN A GAME. EVER. At least not if you wish to belong to a free society. Think about how a free society works for a moment please. No one is going to force you to purchase a game that has content that “crosses the line” in your mind. If you don’t like it, don’t play it, don’t rent it and don’t buy it. Freedom DOES, in fact, work when people understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Just because something pisses you off or offends you doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak out against it but it does mean you shouldn’t seek to prohibit others from seeing or consuming it. And when you start talking about these so called “limits” being obstructed you are playing your cards against liberty…. good luck with that.

    So you don’t like the way Rockstar refuses to limit itself? Fine, don’t purchase their products. That is YOUR choice. Just like it is their choice to determine what they should or should not put into a game. Censorship is absolutely absurd and that is exactly what the AO rating currently plays towards. It is not all due to the ESRB, but they do have something to do with it. This pseudo-censorship is created by three parties. First party is the creator of the AO rating itself, Second party is the console manufacturers and the third party are the game retailers. The ESRB has the easiest path to fixing the issue, just eliminate the AO rating. The other two are more responsible for the problem but since the solution is reliant on the two entities that consist of many different parties; the solution obviously becomes a more complicated one to rectify efficiently.

    So even though the ESRB is less responsible for the pseudo-censorship that is currently implemented through the AO rating they should still be the target in terms of fixing the issue at hand. They need to listen to what the parents are saying but they also need to listen to gamers, game developers and non-parents. I feel as if they are completely ignoring us. It seems I have to have a child before my opinion even matters to them.

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