ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

April 10, 2012 -

In a freshly-posted interview with Gamasutra, the ESRB's top executive talks about making the voluntary ratings system used by the North American video game industry a universal ratings system, among various topics including how to deal with getting consistent ratings on mobile and portable platforms such as Android and iOS devices and the challenges related to digitally distributed games.

The most important part of the interview in our estimation is about a universal ratings system and if it is even possible given that in some countries the government controls how games are rated. Here's what Vance had to say about synchronizing ESRB ratings with the system PEGI uses in Europe:

"Well, I think what conceptually we're working with is having one form where everybody agrees on the same set of questions, and that form creates a specific rating in each territory. So it wouldn't be the ESRB rating in Europe if you're downloading that app or that game from a European distributor storefront; you'd get the PEGI rating. In the U.S. storefront you get the ESRB rating, if you get it in Japan you get the CERO rating.

So we'd be working with all of these rating bodies to create a system where we all agree on the same set of questions, but it actually is programmed to take into account differences in cultural norms and standards, and to create marks that are recognizable in each of those territories. And a lot of them are government operated, too, so it's important to be able to work within a regulatory framework as well.
"

Also of interest is what the ESRB thinks of Apple and Google sticking with their own ratings systems for their mobile platforms. You may recall that last year the ESRB announced a partnership with the wireless trade association CTIA to create a ratings system for mobile apps on various platforms. Unfortunately the bulk of the apps sold are on Android and iOS devices. These systems remain under the control of their respective owners. When asked about the importance of Google and Apple getting on board with a universal ratings system, Vance said the following:

"I think it's important, but I think we need to develop global solutions that are appropriate for those types of storefronts, so that's why this is an important issue for us."

You can read the interview here. Gamers should care about what the ESRB is doing because the only other option - a government controlled ratings board - would be untenable for most developers and publishers - and a lot more restrictive when it comes to content that is controversial like violence and sex...

Editor’s Note: The ESRB is owned and operated by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

Source: Gamasutra

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Comments

Re: ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

Anything moving closer to a universal rating also makes me increasingly worried that governments will want to use those same ratings to govern who can play. Leave all media alone, and I do include movie, books, comics, games and even porn into that. Just, you know, let the parents do the job. And if you think some parents can't do a good job, I'll still believe the average parent will do a better job than a governing body over time...

Re: ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

Let me see if I've got this straight.  We're going to rate these games on various factors — violence, sex, drug use… — and then compile these ratings so that each national system can apply a culturally appropriate rating.  Is that right?

And if so, why not just give the raw ratings?  "This game got a 'PG-13' on sex, a 'PG' on violence, an 'R' on language…"  That's what I miss about the RSAC rating system that never really took off.  They told you what you were going to see, instead of unilaterally declaring, "15-year-olds should not play this game!"  That's not really up to them to decide.

Re: ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

The ESRB does pretty much the same thing on the back of the box with its content descriptors.  Instead of Violence Level 1 or Violence Level 2, it uses the more descriptive Cartoon Violence, Fantasy Violence, Intense Violence, Sexual Violence, Violence, and Violent References.

And the age on the front is merely a recommendation to be used as a guideline.  Nothing more.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

I personally like and appreciate games on Google Play (Android Market) and iOS market flying without ratings from the ESRB. I also feel they should be separate. The less market penetration the ESRB has beyond the primary console manufacturers and PC, the better in my opinion.

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Papa Midnight

Re: ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

Madworld and L.A. Noire were CERO Z in Japan, which is equivalent to an AO rating in the US.  Would that mean game retailers would start carrying AO games in the US?  How well will that go over?

Re: ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

I still don't get why 18 games are allowed in every other country (soon to include Australia) but NOT the USA by the big 3.

Re: ESRB's Patricia Vance Talks About a Universal Ratings System

Based on how Vance described the way it works, both CERO and ESRB would agree on a list of questions then evaluate the results separately. So while the ESRB would evaluate the responses out to an M rating, CERO would evaluate them to a Z rating. 

 
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