Last week, IGN created a nifty little flow chart detailing the ESRB’s rating process. GP veterans are no doubt familiar with the process but newer readers may look at the chart and think, “Wait a minute, why doesn’t the ESRB play all the games it rates?”
ESRB media relations guy, Eliot Mizrachi explained to IGN:
"Although it seems logical that one would play a game to rate it, there are lots of reasons why we don’t. For one, when games are submitted to ESRB for rating they may not have been finalized or fully tested yet. As a consequence, these games may still be buggy, making it difficult, if not impossible, for a rater to play the game from start to finish. Secondly, we assign over a thousand ratings each year and many games can take 50+ hours to play through. So it’d be extremely time-consuming. More importantly though, it’s crucial that the raters see all of a game’s "pertinent content" which includes not just the obvious (the game’s context, missions, storylines, reward system, etc.), but also its most intense content.
Having raters play the game — and make their own choices as they do so — would not guarantee that they see everything they need to in order to assign a rating. Check out this FAQ on our website for a fuller explanation that we hope will make it clearer as to why we require publishers to fully disclose content to us."
And don’t worry about publishers being less than honest when it comes to content disclosure. The ESRB can fine a company up to $1 million plus require the relabeling of an already manufactured or shipped game so it’s in their best interest to be forthcoming.
AE: An interesting bit of trivia: after the Hot Coffee fiasco, the ESRB adjusted its ratings process to require that publishers disclose all pertinent content on a game disc, whether it’s accessible by the player or not.
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Correspondent Andrew Eisen