Starting today, North American video game ratings system ESRB revealed that it will start using a computer-based program to determine ratings on some games. According to a New York Times report, the ESRB has developed a computer program designed to take developer input to create a rating for their games. This will be used first with downloadable games on platforms such as Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and WiiWare titles.
Game developers will fill out an online questionnaire to find out what "violence, sexuality, profanity, drug use, gambling and bodily function" that might be considered questionable by players. The submissions would then be reviewed by the new ESRB software and a rating would be issued. A submitted game won’t be reviewed by an actual human until after release.
As C&VG points out, this system is similar to one used by PEGI, the European ratings system. Much like the ESRB’s new system, developers submit what is called a "content declaration." The difference is, instead of using a computer program, the submission is reviewed by a human being.
No doubt this is a way for the ESRB to tackle the steady influx of social and mobile games, though a deal with Apple and Facebook to rate games has not happened yet. While some might be concerned about a "Hot Coffee" incident occurring, it should be noted that a stiff penalty awaits anyone who does not disclose content like that to the ESRB in advance.
But even with a stiff penalty in place, if something slips through the cracks and is controversial enough it could make the entire industry look bad.
We will have to see how the system works in the months ahead..