Poll: Should the ESRB Retire the AO Rating?

I’m going to keep this brief because I have very strong opinions on this one and it’s difficult not to fill this post with arguments supporting my position on the subject.  (In fact, I just deleted three paragraphs worth.)

So, the Adults Only rating.  Do you think the ESRB should keep it?  Currently, it prevents games with explicit sexual content and extremely graphic violence from making it out onto the market.  Is that the way it should be?

Or should the ESRB instead retire the rating and allow M (17+) to handle even the highest levels of sex and violence?

Perhaps you think the AO rating should be reserved solely for pornography or maybe you have an even better idea that you’d like to discuss in the comments or email to SuperPACPodcast@gmail.com.  I can’t wait to read your takes on this one and discuss the whole shebang on next week’s Super Podcast Action Committee.

"vote label" © Tribalium / Shutterstock. All rights reserved, used with permission.

-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Contributing Editor Andrew Eisen

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  1. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Refused Classification seems good, and if its porn like its automatically enforced unlike NC-17 and "UNREATED".

  2. ChuckLez says:

    Keep it.  Not for "there are some things that just shouldn't be played", but for political sake.  If you retire it, one of two things will happen:

    • Refused Classification.  
    • Political re-intervention of Brown v. EMA.  This decision will get overturned in a heartbeat, now that you thrown porn games in with Halo.

    I agree, it basically is a "ban" rating.  However,  I do firmly believe this would be a decision that would be highly used for political gain with anti-game crusaders.  And here I was enjoying not reading about Jack Thompson all the time.

  3. locopuyo says:

    They can sell them anywhere adult movies are sold.  I haven't really looked, but isn't that where they sell them now?

  4. Bigman-K says:

    I'm probably in the minority, but I think we should get rid of the age based rating systems altogether. I feel they are inherently arbitrary on an individual based level.

    A better idea would be something like the Recreational Software Advisory Council in the late 90's. Rate the violence/gore, sex, foul language, substance use and other objectionable material on a level of 0 to 4 and let the individual parent's decide whether it is or isn't appropriate for their children.

  5. Farseli says:

    To repeat what some have said, 17+ should just be moved to 18+ and AO eliminated altogether. Then there won't be any rating difference and thus the rating won't be used as any kind of ban.

  6. GrimCW says:

    and very few others (such as Manhunt 2 did make it to D2D before it died out)

    hence i only said 99% of DD sites. though without the advertising (pretty much anywhere), it really doesn't help much.

    even a simple game mod/TC can get more advertising and download mirrors than a game rated with AO. and thats WITHOUT funding, where an actual game would have at least some.

  7. Andrew Eisen says:

    "To be fair, the AO rating doesn't prevent a game from being brought to market – it just prevents it from being sold by a very vast majority of retailers."

    True.  My wording could have been more accurate (and it was in the initial draft) but I don't think "red herring" is entirely fair either.

    In addition to not being sold by every major retailer and most of the small ones, the games are not allowed on any of the consoles or handhelds.  That means it's PC only but again, they won't be sold in stores.  Digital distribution is great but AO games won't appear on any of the major platforms.  You'll never see them on Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft's stores.  I'm certain AO games aren't welcome on Steam, Origin, UPlay and any of the other major publishers' platforms and you won't see them on retailer websites either.  You might find them on GOG and possibly Amazon, the later if only through resellers (but where will they get them?).

    What does that leave?  Pretty much just the developer's website and with almost no other distribution options, good luck getting a publisher to back an AO game.

    So yeah, while you can make an AO game and you can get it to those who know where to look for it, your options are so incredibly limited, it's not financially feasible for most developers.  Sure little indie devs can do what they want and might be okay but they probably aren't going to the expense of getting their games rated anyway.

    So, while it's admittedly inaccurate, I don't think it's entirely unfair or disingenuous to say the AO rating (or more specifically, how it's treated) pretty much does prevent AO games from being brought to market.


    Andrew Eisen

  8. GrimCW says:

    maybe so, but not being sold in major retail locations and on 99% of DD sites is pretty much a death sentence to any decent game, it also prevents any advertising on/in most locations, and forces them to crank up pricing just to compensate for loss of sale and advertising.

    it also prevents games from "pushing" their limits due to those reasons. leaving us often with the risk of meaningless contraversies that could spell the end for some games just because someone in the ESRB or part of some crazed activist group doesn't like the games content for whatever reason

  9. jedidethfreak says:

    To be fair, the AO rating doesn't prevent a game from being brought to market – it just prevents it from being sold by a very vast majority of retailers.  However, digital distribution easily circumvents this issue, as does selling physical copies over the internet.

    Saying that AO means it's "prevented" from being broght to market is just a red herring.

  10. Kincyr says:

    I answered "Retire the rating"

    as it is, the ESRB needs to rate a game for it to even be on the market (unlike movies) so the 'AO' rating is akin to 'Unrated'

    besides, most 18+ games, such as dating sims, often have a self-applied 18+ label not unlike that of the ESRB's

  11. Thipp says:

    I could go either way with either getting rid of it completely or limiting it to just pornography. I think the M (17+) should be able to handle everything else because with that label it is pushed into the realm of content for adults and adults should be able to choose for themselves what adult content they are interested in viewing or not. AO as a weapon against developers and subjects has got to go.


  12. GrimCW says:

    bump MA up to 18+ and go for it.

    not really any difference at that point given all.

    the AO rating was literally just a "ban rating" to throw around on games they disagreed with or had public rage against (such as Manhunt 2.. ever played it uncensored? its less graphic in many ways than most things in GTAIV or even spec ops. its limited GFX wouldn't allow it to do much) the AO rating is pretty much a bane on everyone at this point.

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