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).