Former ESRB Rater's Article Now Available Online

March 15, 2008 -
GamePolitics readers may recall our recent coverage of former ESRB rater Jerry Bonner's criticism of the video game industry's content rating board and its practices (see: Ex-Game Rater Dishes the Dirt… ESRB Boss Fires Back).

At the time we were only able to cite excerpts from the April issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly. However, the full article, including a rebuttal from ESRB president Patricia Vance (left), is now available on 1up.

It's definitely worth a read.



things that really stuck me about the article. the writer is obviously ignorant. (in no specific order)

1. if people know how the game is rated, they will obviously try to poke holes in it and make up excuses to force a certain style of rating.

2. Hire more people to play games to completion? and who's exactly going to pay for that? the devs? the esa? maybe you? and what about online games and others with replayability?

3. competition? I think not. take a look at the UK where the PEGI and BBFC are both "competing". I don't want that anymore than any other gamer does.

4. reboot the system? nuhuh, modify it maybe, but to restart the entire system means hundreds if not thousands of games must be rerated and re-released with their correct stickers.

using yer brains is fun!

The ratings of Sci-fi games are a pure example of the silliness of the ESRB. This is a pure PG-13 scifi adventure with the gore level of an episode of Star Trek. The TV-14 antics and gunfights of Battlestar Galactica are far more explicit than any of the "virtual orgasmic rape" or killings in Mass Effect. Do you really think these games should be restricted to 17+? Honestly?!

Come to think of it, I haven't heard anything abotut Brownback and the ESRB, or any of his other half baked scemes.

The so-called "rebuttal" doesn't address any of the points directly. Rather it is a ra-ra PR piece. Too bad, I was hoping she would actually address the issues head-on.

I can't speak for all of the rater's allegations, but I have submitted multiple titles to the ESRB. I've only seen this process from the outside, but I do want to talk briefly about my experiences.

Over the last decade, the ESRB rating system has become much more predictable. Predictability in ratings is a GOOD THING. The quality of your content doesn't matter; only the experience itself. Crudely modeled mass slaughter will be rated the same as highly detailed mass slaughter if both are meant to convey the same experience.

That said, it would be helpful if the ESRB would play at least a small portion of the game, even in a pre-release state, prior to assigning ratings. The ESRB is the only rating system worldwide that does not play the game at least in part before assigning the ratings.

That isn't to say they don't play the games. They pick games at random after release and verify the questionnaire and video properly represent the final product. Games that don't line up can get fined, re-stickered, etc.

Regarding ratings "tweaks," they do happen, but there are reasons why the raters wouldn't be involved. Publishers and developers work with representatives at the ESRB as part of an appeal process and many times we'll get a higher rating or a descriptor because of a single item on the questionnaire or in the video. We will negotiate via phone to decide what needs to change in order to get a lower rating or lose a descriptor, we'll make the change, the publisher will sign a sworn affidavit saying the content or code was removed, and then we get the changed rating.

My only problem is Elder Scrolls Oblivion. It doesn't matter if you have hired 30 people, to get 100%, or to have experienced all the material in the game including NPC lines would take over a month easily. The play all the way through would stiffle this type of game just because of this.

Here is something that I have a severe problem with:

And if the day does come when the ESRB drops the curtain, then the general public would be in a position to offer its own ideas on improving the system as well.

I would rather not have the general populous telling the ESRB how to rate games. You know that the PTC, NIMF, CCFC and politicians will jump at the chance to nit pick the ratings process.

Also this:

Who says that the ESRB has to be the only game in town? The threat alone of a competing ratings entity would force the ESRB to take a long, hard look at how they are doing things and, in turn, make the necessary changes to move forward.

He kind of defeats his own point here. He says that he wants more competition in ratings and then talks about competing rating systems that the ESRB has beat. He says that we need competition.

My thoughts are that we had that process. We had the competition and the market chose the ESRB. To introduce another rating system would be a bit counter productive at this time.

I don't think that a start up system would be embraced by the game industry. CSM has been giving age ratings to games for years now and yet no game company has even approached them for an "official" rating.

Now let's go through his points and see if they are addressed by Patricia:

1. Reboot the system: Addressed partially. She did mention that the ESRB is willing to change and has changed. There was really no reason to address the AO thing as that is an on going debate and is most likely on the agenda at every board meeting.

2. Play the game: Addressed. It is not a matter of time or resources. It is a matter of seeing all pertinent content. As has been mentioned may times, even if someone were to play a game they may not see every thing in the game.

3. Forget Parity: Addressed. A game that is part of a series is judged on its own merits.

4. Drop the curtain: Addressed. It is important to protect the integrity of the ratings process and the privacy of the raters.

5.Let the Raters Rate: Addressed. The raters opinions are used and most often are the final rating. The time Bonner spent at the ESRB was a time of training and many decisions made by the new raters were not consistent with prior ratings.

6. Competition: Not addressed. There is no reason to address this point. Is the ESRB supposed to come out and say "Please someone compete with us."? No. They have beaten all competition to this point. There is no reason to bring in more.

Those are my thoughts.

Well....... lets not forget what the thing was about Oblivion the dark alters and gruesome scenes they misinterpreted from th start..or there was a break down in communication between the pub and ESRB, dose anything know if they ran a 5 day testing period at 4 hours a day a game that in 15ish house of play you would run across it?

I really think the ESRBs system is near perfect it just needs alil polishing.

1. Reboot the system
Predictability is good, but do you toss the baby out with the bath water because you are so inflexible?

The ESRB really needs to change the teen/adult tiers,add a 16 or 15 T level and use it for the brunt of barely R rated games (halo,ect), drop AO altogether and use M17 for everything "M" class and let the console makers actively refuse games.

2. Play the games
You do not need to play it to rate the content I am sorry this is assinie, however making sure all the mature content is shown so they can gauge a max rating on it is fine they need to add larger fines and penalties to make sure the pubs cough up all the harder content of a game.

Because if the ESRB is forced to reevaluate a game it should come out of the devs pocket.

4. Drop the curtain
Why? dose the MPAA let people see the inner working of their copyrighted process?
There is no need for 90% of the population to see how a sausage is made,and as long as it works the 10% left should not care either.

The main reason for the secrecy is that you have alot of trademark/CP/IP stuff going about and you don;t need a backlash of any kind if parts of a game were tossed out or whatnot theres just no need under normal circumstance to see the sausage being made... and when the circumstance comes that it needs to be seen you me and a sht load of others should not be the ones seeing it.

5. Let the raters rate It seems to me you still do not know what your job is/was, the ESRB works off opinions based on the raters thus the opinions of the whole directs the direction of the final rating and discritors, a individual rater is merely a cog in the machine, not the machine itself....

6. We need competition
I have 4 words for you
Government Censorship

I am going to ignore Vacnes reply its a long winded caned response, the ESRB can not do much to change itself there is no focus or desire to thus there is no need to annoy/belittle them..however I wish you could mail them a proper email the limited comment system they use for blows......

I'll be posting this in the forum here

@ Zippy

Ratings = Sausages. :lol:

E. Zachary Knight
what can I say its a process a annoying sometimes vague sometimes stupid one but 80% of the time tis done without issue.(issue can be a of or odd descriptor or Halo gets a M for language when tis not worse than a PG13 flick )

The ESRB should work harder to be a solid ratings system not some infelxable board thats 3 sheets from being a government censor bot.

competition is a scary thought,you'd have every other fundie state calling PG13 games AO.

When it comes to the PEGI and BBFC the BBFC is a acquainted backasswords board that should not rate games let alone normal media......

HALO didn't deserve an M.

By this I meant Halo*

I do think we should keep the AO rating only so we can keep the politicians in line other wise they will complain about a kid by a porn game that was mixed with normal games. I do agree we need a T15 rating for the barely M-rated games. Maybe a few more content descriptors so we can be more specific.

JB: I think some of the reasons that Halo gets rated M and vice versa, is that they think that player controlling the amount of violence that can happen is worse then just watching it. they view holding a controller and holding a gun as the same thing when they are totally different.

I honest do believe that the rating system is fine right now. The ESRB rating system closely mimics the Movie rating system.

Therefore the ESRB can say would you let your child go to a rated R movie? Then why did you buy a game that is rated M which is equivalent to a rated R?

Then parents and mainly politicians cannot complain about the ratings since it closely mimics the Movies. Therefore if they act on ESRB, the ESRB can say well we based our rating system on the movies so why are you not attacking them? This creates attack both media types or attack none. By creating a different rating system the ESRB does not have that ground and can be constantly criticized since lets say having aT15 rating would opinionated and argued that the T15 rating should have been rated M. This would leave the ESRB standing on their own ground and can used to single out the ESRB from the different rating systems. (yeah i know this paragraph is verbose).

I do like the idea of the T15 rating but it will not work for now. Maybe when Video games become more integrated with in our society and stopped being used as a scapegoat is when the changes can happen.

F**ked Up

well T15 can be a ratings moving forward like E10 they found a hole in the pants and fixed that PDQ but are ignoring the bear tits up top its quit annoying o see this gaping error.

I agree with JB in terms of everything except playing through each game. It just doesn't seem feasible under realistic time constraints. Other than that I completely agree, for the most part, with the those ideas.

There needs to be public knowledge of the process that takes place, the AO rating is an effective ban and can be considered censorship. Without the AO rating console manufacturers could still prohibit any game from being released on their console. Without the AO title they would still retain the right to determine which games can or cannot be released on their machine. The entire argument for the AO rating being important absolutely breaks down after understanding this fact.

Another T rating would also be important because there is a huge difference between 16 and 13, even a big difference between 13 and 15 for many teens.

The ESRB does have the best rating system but it is FAR from perfect. PV just doesn't want to admit the flaws that are clearly presented. It is all public relations garbage.

ESRB is not for parents and children. It is for parents, children, seniors, teens, and non-parent adults. In other words it should be for ALL VIDEO GAME CONSUMERS. Right now I feel as if the ESRB is geared toward parents and children and that is a disservice to the video game consumer.

"The author also fails to mention the unique and limited nature of his six-month tenure at the ESRB, when a wholly new staff of full-time raters was being hired and trained. Using that period as a basis for overarching statements about our system for assigning ratings is, at a minimum, highly misleading."

Yeah, because actual experience should never trump a public relations campaign, right?

[...] Adam Thierer Offers Reaction to Former Rater’s Criticisms of ESRB March 18th, 2008 | Category: Gaming News Recently, former ESRB game rater Jerry Bonner penned a critique of the video game industry’s subject matter rating system for Electronic Gaming Monthly. [...]
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Andrew EisenAnd again, you keep saying "accountable." What exactly does that mean? How is Gamasutra not accounting for the editorial it published?07/28/2015 - 11:47pm
Andrew EisenMatt - I disagree with your 9:12 and 9:16 comment. There are myriad ways to address content you don't like. And they're far easier to execute in the online space.07/28/2015 - 11:47pm
Andrew EisenMatt - Banning in the legal sense? Not that I'm aware but there have certainly been groups of gamers who have worked towards getting content they don't like removed.07/28/2015 - 11:45pm
DanJAlexander's editorial was and continues to be grossly misrepresented by her opponents. And if you don't like a site, you stop reading it - same as not watching a tv show. They get your first click, but not your second.07/28/2015 - 11:40pm
TechnogeekYes, because actively trying to convince advertisers to influence the editorial content of media is a perfectly acceptable thing to do, especially for a movement that's ostensibly about journalistic ethics.07/28/2015 - 11:02pm
Mattsworknameanother07/28/2015 - 9:16pm
Mattsworknameyou HAVE TO click on it. So they get the click revenue weather you like what it says or not. as such, the targeting of advertisers most likely seemed like a good course of action to those who wanted to hold those media groups accountable for one reason07/28/2015 - 9:16pm
MattsworknameBut, when you look at online media, it's completely different, with far more options, but far few ways to address issues that the consumers may have. In tv, you don't like what they show, you don't watch. But in order to see if you like something online07/28/2015 - 9:12pm
MattsworknameIn tv, and radio, ratings are how it works. your ratings determine how well you do and how much money you an charge.07/28/2015 - 9:02pm
Mattsworknameexpect to do so without someone wanting to hold you to task for it07/28/2015 - 9:00pm
MattsworknameMecha: I don't think anyone was asking for Editoral changes, what they wanted was to show those media groups that if they were gonna bash there own audiance, the audiance was not gonna take it sitting down. you can write what you want, but you can't07/28/2015 - 8:56pm
MattsworknameAndrew, Im asking as a practical question, Have gamers, as a group, ever asked for a game, or other item, to be banned. Im trying to see if theres any cases anyone else remembers cause I cant find or remember any.07/28/2015 - 8:55pm
Andrew EisenAs mentioned, Gamasutra isn't a gaming site, it's a game industry site. I don't feel it's changed its focus at all. Also, I don't get the sense that the majority of the people who took issue with that one opinion piece were regular readers anyway.07/28/2015 - 8:43pm
MattsworknameDitto kotaku, Gawker, VOX, Polygon, ETC07/28/2015 - 8:41pm
MechaTama31So, between pulling a game from one chain of stores, and forcing editorial changes to a media source, only one of them strikes you as being on the edge of censorship, and it's the game one?07/28/2015 - 8:41pm
Andrew EisenHave gamers ever tried to ban a product? Can you be more specific? I'm not clear what you're getting at.07/28/2015 - 8:41pm
Mattsworknamethey should have expected some kind of blow back. But I didn't participate in that specific action07/28/2015 - 8:41pm
MattsworknameAndrew Youd have to ask others about that, I actualyl didn't have much beef with them till last year, so I can't speak to there history. I simply feel that gamesutra chose politics over gaming and chose to make enimies of it's prime audiance. For that,07/28/2015 - 8:40pm
Andrew EisenI'm still not clear on how Gamasutra was lacking in accountability or what it was lacking in accountability for.07/28/2015 - 8:38pm
MattsworknameAndrew: You and I agree on most of that. I don't diagree that there should ahve been other actions taken. Now, I do want to point something out, casue Im not sure if it's happened. Have gamers ever tried to have a product banned?07/28/2015 - 8:37pm

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