Editorial: The Terminator vs. the Constitution

February 1, 2011 -

An excellent editorial appearing in the February 2011 issue of Reason Magazine explains quite plainly why it is ridiculous that California is fighting for the 2005 law written by Leland Yee and signed into law by then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Writer Jacob Sullum starts the article by pointing out the irony of Arnold signing into a law a bill that bans violent media.

This from the same guy who starred in movies like Eraser, Commando, Terminator 1 and 2, End of Days, Last Action Hero, Predator, Total Recall, The 6th Day, and many more. Most recently, he did a cameo in The Expendables - an ultra violent action movie starring an all-star cast of aging action stars.

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Teen Op-Ed: California Game Law Should Be Upheld

January 10, 2011 -

Not every teenage boy backs the video game industry when it comes to banning the sale of violent video games to children in California. Take 16-year-old Daniel Willens, a junior at Sonoma Academy -- a preparatory school in Santa Rosa, California, for example.

The teenager penned an editorial in the Press Democrat called "PRO: Minors shouldn't be allowed to buy violent games." Daniel sounds like many of the other supporters of the 2005 law written by California State Senator (D-San Francisco). Daniel opens with the following statement:

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ESRB App Gets an Update

December 15, 2010 -

The ESRB has released an updated version of its app that makes it easier to look up ratings on a particular game while shopping. The free mobile app lets users snap photos of video game boxes to find out what the ratings mean. By taking a photo and using the app, consumers can get deeper content descriptors and information on the age-appropriateness of every game sold in stores. This is particularly useful for parents that may not be familiar with what is appropriate for teenagers and younger children.

The app is available on iPhone and on Android devices. You can grab it from the ESRB's mobile site or by searching for "ESRB" in the Apple Store or Android Marketplace.  

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Ex-COPA Commissioner: Parents > Age Gates

November 10, 2010 -

In response to Microsoft’s recent Xbox Live dashboard update, which added the ability for parents to limit non-game content such as downloaded movies and television shows on a per-user basis, CNN took a look at the current state of other measures designed to keep kids from viewing content that perhaps they shouldn’t be.

The article focuses mainly on “age gates,” or content that is hidden behind a screen in which users must input their birth date. Obviously such obstacles are easily overcome by any mouse-wielder, regardless of age.

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Yee: Supreme Court Will "Provide Direction" for Future Game Laws

October 29, 2010 -

In an interview with GameSpot, Leland Yee, the California Senator who penned the state’s violent game law, expresses hope that the Supreme Court will uphold the law after hearing oral arguments next week.  But if it doesn’t…

“At the very least, I believe that the Supreme Court is going to provide some direction to legislators who are interested in limiting the sale of violent video games to children. That's because this law has been struck down twice already--there was an injunction on it which we appealed and lost. Then we went to the federal appeals court and we lost again. So I am hoping the Supreme Court will look at this issue and at least provide some guidance as to what might be possible within the framework of the law.”

Yee also discusses his lack of faith in the ESRB.

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Duke Nukem Dev Says Game Legislators Are "Bullies"

October 23, 2010 -

Duke Nukem Forever is scheduled to launch next year and it’s bringing all the guns, violence, blood, baddies, babes, and boobs it can to make sure the decade-plus wait was worth it.

But what will the various ratings bodies such as the ESRB and PEGI think of Duke?  Will they slap him with a sales crippling rating?

Developer Gearbox Software’s big cheese Randy Pitchford revealed his thoughts to CVG:

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Games, DVDs, may be Subject to New CPSC Rule

October 11, 2010 -

According to a report on the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance, a new rule from Consumer Product Safety Commission may make it so that packaged media like DVDs, videogames, and other products aimed at children will have tracking labels attached to them (PDF).

Part of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), the rule was meant to satisfy a congressional mandate for safety recalls on children’s products related to things like lead levels from toys and other products from China.

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Saints March in for ESRB PSA

September 28, 2010 -

For its latest public service announcement to promote videogame ratings awareness, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has employed a pair of Super Bowl champions.

New Orleans Saints wide receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson appear in the spot, in which they inform a clueless consumer buying a game for his son that he should check the rating on the game before purchasing it. The commercial was launched via a press event at a New Orleans area GameStop, with State Senator Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie) and State Representative Jeffrey Arnold (D-New Orleans) in attendance.

The PSA will run on GameStop’s in-store network nationwide, appear on the video board at Saints home games and also run on television and radio stations throughout the state of Louisiana.
Colston added, “I play a ton of video games, and while most of them are OK for kids, some of them are clearly intended for older players.”

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ESRB Success in Chart Form

September 16, 2010 -

If you know anyone that thinks that it is easier to get videogames than any other form of media and you don't want to take the time to rattle off a bunch of numbers, then I recommend you look at this simple chart at Ars Technica. This chart shows the percentage of youngsters that have been successful in buying Mature-rated games at retail from 2000 - 2009. That stat line in the chart is contrasted by other stat lines for R-rated movies, music, and DVDs.

What is the shocking conclusion? That video games are harder for children to get than DVDs and music with parental advisory labels. They also have an easier time getting into an R-rated movie, than buying and M-rated game. So where did this data come from? The Federal Trade Commission.

The government - like the State of California - think they can do a better job than what the game industry already does using the ESRB as a guideline, but how can they possibly do better than what the chart shows - according to the FTC?

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Fun with ESRB Stats

September 16, 2010 -

Who doesn’t love stats?

The ESRB has compiled a slew of video game industry statistics into a swank infographic entitled, appropriately enough, Video Game Industry Statistics.

Here are a few fun facts guaranteed to impress your sweetheart:

-The average age of a gamer is 34

-Only 25 percent of gamers are under 18

-93 percent of the time, parents are present when games are purchased or rented

-86 percent of the time, children receive their parents’ permission to rent or buy a game

-64 percent of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives

-48 percent of parents play video games with their children every week

-Parents report always or sometimes monitoring their children’s gameplay habits 97 percent of the time

 

Check out the rest of the numbery goodness here.

-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics Special Correspondent Andrew Eisen

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ESRB Blind to BCC Email Option (Update)

July 13, 2010 -

Upset with Blizzard’s temporary implementation of a Real ID system on its official forums, which meant users would have to utilize their real names in order to post, around one thousand users complained to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).

The ESRB promptly responded to those who complained via an email, but, according to WOW.com, sent an electronic communication with all the complainer’s email addresses fully visible in the “to” section of the message, neglecting to use the BCC or blind email option.

The email to those who complained thanked them for contacting the ESRB, noted that Blizzard had reversed the policy and offered:

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Mortal Kombat Returns

June 10, 2010 -

Mortal Kombat, one of the games responsible for the formation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), thanks to its bloody fatalities raising the ire of politicians like Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, will return to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2011.

The title will be published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and is in development by NetherRealm Studios, which is wholly owned by the WB. Legendary Ed Boon is helming the project and promised, “This game really is a response to what players have been demanding: mature presentation, reinvented 2D fighting mechanic and the best, most gruesome fatalities ever!”

In a nice bit of timing, Gamasutra today is running an excerpt from the book Replay: The History of Video Games by Tristan Donovan that focuses on the uproar violent videogames caused in the 1990s.

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“Experimental” Videogame Theme Park and Resort Planned

May 25, 2010 -

While it sounds a bit like the setting of the old television series Fantasy Island, a website has popped up today that teases the eventual launch of an “experimental videogame theme park and resort.”

While we initially pictured a virtual-reality type of offering, the Game Nation website states that “In the next 12 months, Game Nation will be deciding the best location for the Experimental Theme Park.” 

A description of the park entices, “As you pass through the gates, you leave behind all worldly stereotypes. You’re now one of millions, all equal, separated only by your skill, wit and achievements, which will be proven.”

Background art on the Game Nation website contains images of roller coasters and other rides, so the park, if ever realized, may contain typical theme park essentials in addition to an interactive element.

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ESRB Pulls Inappropriate Ratings Summary

February 3, 2010 -

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) removed an online ratings summary of the content in Dead or Alive: Paradise for PSP from its website today in response to inquiries as to the appropriateness of the summary.

While the ESRB is mostly known for providing ratings on game boxes (such as the familiar "E for Everyone" or "T for Teen" ratings), the organization's website also provides more detailed synopses of a game's content intended to "explain in objective terms the context and relevant content that factored into a game's ESRB rating assignment."

The entry for Dead or Alive: Paradise, however, went a step beyond "objective":

This is a video game in which users watch grown women dressed in G-string bikinis jiggle their breasts while on a two-week vacation. Women's breasts and butts will sway while playing volleyball, while hopping across cushions, while pole dancing, while posing on the ground, by the pool, on the beach, in front of the camera.

 

There are other activities: Users can gamble inside a casino to win credits for shopping; they can purchase bathing suits, sunglasses, hats, clothing at an island shop; they can "gift" these items to eight other women in hopes of winning their friendship, in hopes of playing more volleyball.

 

And as relationships blossom from the gift-giving and volleyball, users may get closer to the women, having earned their trust and confidence: users will then be prompted to zoom-in on their friends' nearly-naked bodies, snap dozens of photos, and view them in the hotel later that night.

 

Parents and consumers should know that the game contains a fair amount of "cheesy," and at times, creepy voyeurism—especially when users have complete rotate-pan-zoom control; but the game also contains bizarre, misguided notions of what women really want (if given two weeks, paid vacation, island resort)—Paradise cannot mean straddling felled tree trunks in dental-floss thongs."

ESRB spokesman Eliot Mizrachi released a statement on the issue today:

The rating summary for Dead or Alive Paradise was posted to our website in error, and we have since replaced that version with the corrected one.  We recognize that the initial version improperly contained subjective language and that issue has been addressed. 

 

Our intention with rating summaries is to provide useful, detailed descriptions of game content that are as objective and informative as possible.  However they are ultimately written by people and, in this case, we mistakenly posted a rating summary that included what some could rightfully take to be subjective statements. 

 

We sincerely regret the error and will work to prevent this from happening again in the future.

GP: While some might be quick to condemn the ESRB for overstepping their boundaries, it's important to realize a couple things. First, there's nothing technically wrong with their original position: the ratings, after all, are voluntary, and the ESRB itself is an industry body. Second, they were quick to admit error and replace the synopsis with a more objective one -- when was the last time we heard the MPAA admit they were wrong?

Dan Rosenthal is a legal analyst for the games industry.

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Survey Indicates High Awareness of ESRB Ratings

January 14, 2010 -

70.0% of parents pay “close” attention to videogame ratings when making a purchase for themselves or their children according to a new study from Activision Publishing and The Harrison Group.

The survey was conducted as part of Activision’s Ratings Are Not a Game initiative, which is designed to educate parents and consumers further on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating system.

Additional survey statistics showed that 63.0% of parents with children consider themselves a gamer, with that number increasing to 83.0% for parents 35 years of age and younger. Additionally, 82.0% of gamers indicated awareness of ESRB ratings, as did 75.0% of children.

76.0% of adults surveyed indicated they were comfortable with videogames being a part of their family’s activities.

Gamers also spent an average of 32.0% of their free time on entertainment, with 19.0% of that time spent on videogames.

Mike Griffith, Activision Publishing President and CEO, added:

Parents rely on and value the ESRB ratings in helping them decide which games to allow their children to play. Our 'Ratings Are Not A Game' education initiative underscores our commitment to helping parents better understand and utilize the ratings system as they select age appropriate games and determine the best way for the entire family to enjoy the gaming experience.

Research was culled from 1,201 online surveys of videogamers, and their parents, between the ages of 6 and 44.

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Game Industry Scores Well in FTC Report

December 3, 2009 -

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) seventh report on Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children (PDF) contains good news for the videogame industry.

The FTC review labeled the games industry the "strongest” of the three entertainment sectors (games, music and movies), when it came to self-regulation. The Commission added that the game industry “did not specifically target M-rated games to teens or T-rated games to younger children.“ Additionally, compliance with the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) code within the videogame industry was “high in all media.”

Undercover shopping stings run by the FTC reported that retailers were “strongly enforcing” age restrictions for M-rated games, with “an average denial rate of 80%.” GameStop and Target were labeled as top enforcers. Toys R Us however, was specifically labeled as trailing when it came to enforcement, with only a 56% denial rate. The report called the use of gift cards to buy games online a “potential gap in enforcement.”

On the advertising side, the FTC found that game companies demonstrated a “high degree of compliance” when it came to television ads, with only a “few instances” of non compliance over a more than two-year period. The same description was used to depict compliance with videogame print ads.

FTC suggestions aimed directly at the game industry were adding content descriptors to the front of videogames, alongside ratings, and to continue to provide more detailed rating summaries online for parents. Additionally, all three industries were told to pay more attention to compliance within online and viral marketing campaigns.

Entertainment Software Association (ESA) President and CEO Michael D. Gallagher was understandably happy about the report, saying, "Today's FTC report is a strong acknowledgement and validation that industry-led self-regulation efforts are the best way to provide parents and retailers with the resources and support they need to keep our kids' entertainment experiences suitable."

The ESA press release also included a quote from National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) head, Dr. David Walsh, who stated, “We join the FTC in applauding the industry's progress. The advancement in technology including parental controls by console makers, identification checking by retailers, and an ongoing effort to improve ratings illustrates that the members of the video game industry have taken our concerns seriously and continue to make sure that kids enjoy games that are age appropriate."

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ESRB Launches iPhone Ratings App

December 1, 2009 -

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has released an iPhone application that allows users to search the ESRB for videogame information.

In addition to showing a game’s rating, the app also details rating descriptors and provides a full explanation of the content in the title. Game summaries date back to July 1, 2008.

To back the launch of the application, the ESRB has also debuted a new Public Service Announcement.

ESRB president Patricia Vance added, “This new rating search app puts all this information at parents’ fingertips when they need it most, right at the store.  It’s a powerful tool that will help assure parents that the games they give as gifts are not only fun but also appropriate for their children.”

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A2M CEO: Publishers Mislead ESRB in Hunt for Lower Ratings

November 18, 2009 -

Speaking at the recent Montreal International Game Summit, the CEO of a game development company complained that publishers are deliberately deceiving the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) in a bid to receive lower age ratings.

Rémi Racine of Artificial Mind & Movement (A2M), creator of Wet and the upcoming PSP version of Dante’s Inferno, said that publishers who attempt to trick the ESRB are looking for a wider audience—and subsequent profits— for their game.

Edge Online offered the following quote from Racine:

As a developer who has worked with a lot of different publishers, we’re aware of many that have tried to cheat the rating. They say to the ERSB that it’s a Teen rating [13+] rather than an Mature [17+] to try and sell more; you can do this just by sending them a video that doesn’t show the most violent stuff and then you’ll get the rating that you want rather than the rating you should get.

The ESRB’s Eliot Mizrachi addressed Racine’s claims, saying:

We regularly check games post-release to verify that submissions were complete, and it’s very likely that if a game contains undisclosed content that would have affected the rating assigned, we’ll find out about it. In such cases ESRB can actually impose fines up to $1 million as well as require corrective actions like re-labeling or even recalling product, both of which can obviously be very costly.

Racine’s comments came from a panel which discussed the social responsibility owed to consumers by those who make up the game industry. Racine was also blunt in his assessment of the game industry’s effectiveness at educating consumers:

Right now I don’t think the industry is doing enough to educate the audience. The ERSB is supposed to do it, but it feels like we just kind of expect these kind of industry or government bodies to do the job for us. As much as I don’t think it’s the place of EA or Activision to go off and try and inform parents on their own, a more active role needs to be taken by all participants to ensure our artists are free to express themselves and that content can be enjoyed responsibly.

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AO-Rated Manhunt 2 Gunning for PCs

November 2, 2009 -

Rockstar Games’ controversial Manhunt 2 is being released for the PC this week in an uncensored version that carries an Adults Only (AO) rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).

Originally released in 2007 for the Wii and PlayStation 2 platforms, the title drew fire over its content and a perception that using the Wii’s motion controls to enact virtual violence could carry over to real-world violence, despite evidence that eventually emerged to the contrary.

The BigDownload notes that Manhunt 2 will be offered via the digital delivery system of Direct2Drive for $29.95. Purchases are limited to those who live in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.  While Valve offers a full Rockstar Games collection through its Steam service, no mention of the pending availability of an AO-rated Manhunt 2 game can be found anywhere on their site or within Steam.

The ESRB content descriptor for the game states: “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs.”

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Nanny Group Outraged by Dante’s Inferno Achievement

October 22, 2009 -

The International Nanny Association (INA) isn’t feeling overly matronly about an achievement said to be in the upcoming Electronic Arts game Dante’s Inferno.

According to UGO, the “Bad Nanny” achievement is designed to reward players who slaughter “a yet undetermined number of unbaptized infants,” leading INA to say that the game component was “created out of poor taste and bad judgment.”

The group continued:

INA is opposed to video games that promote and encourage players to "kill" babies, even in fantasy play. It is our opinion that this type of play may promote violence towards children. The name of the trophy or achievement, "Bad Nanny," is offensive to our association in that we strive to promote and educate the public regarding the selfless work nannies do to support families by providing quality in-home child care."

INA urged its members to email the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) with concerns and complaints. The ESRB responded, noting that the game has not yet been rated, before adding:

…it should be understood that our job is not to censor potentially tasteless or objectionable content nor dictate to publishers what type of content they may include in their games. ESRB’s role is to objectively evaluate a game’s content and assign age and content ratings that will be helpful in allowing consumers to make informed choices.

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New Challenges Ahead for ESRB

October 13, 2009 -

An article on The Escapist traces the origins of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) from an institution initially created in order to avoid government regulation to where it is today.

While noting that the ESRB has made huge advances in connecting with its primary clientele (parents) and has even won over The National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), the article begins to detail “unaddressed challenges” from today’s videogame market that “pose serious threats to the ESRB's newfound relevance.”

Among these challenges is the ESRB’s current disinclination to rate online interactions (i.e. Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB):

The organization is missing out on a great opportunity to provide parents and children with a resource that enables informed choices beyond the enforced restriction of filters, a noble cause given that children play more online games than any other format.

A shift from brick and mortar retail outlets to digital distribution also poses “an immediate threat to ESRB compliance rates” says the piece’s author, Sara Grimes, who worries that this means that “the ESRB must rely on console manufacturers and mobile service providers to act as the system's new wardens.”

In summation, Grimes writes that “it’s almost as if the Board is orchestrating its own obsolescence.” She continued:

It's abstaining from involvement in significant game trends, failing to provide guidance where it is arguably needed most and handing over key governance responsibilities to certain members of the game industry while leaving others to fend for themselves.

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Delaware Pols in ESRB PSA Campaign

October 1, 2009 -

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has drafted a pair of Delaware politicians for use in its holiday PSA drive.

State Representative Helene Keeley (D) and State Senator Bethany Hall-Long (D) appear in print, radio and retail ads designed to urge parents to check ESRB ratings when purchasing or renting a videogame.

Representative Keeley, (whose ad is pictured left) said:

Virtually all video game retailers have voluntary store policies restricting the sale of Mature-rated games to anyone under the age of seventeen. Parents can show their support for companies that have and enforce these policies by shopping for games at those stores.

Ads will run in Delaware shopping malls and radio stations beginning this month and running through December. The ESRB will also distribute a ratings education brochure to participating retailers for additional consumer education.

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PSPgo Features ESRB Ratings Guide

September 18, 2009 -

Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) President Patricia Vance used her PlayStation blog to reveal that Sony has embedded an ESRB Video Game Ratings Guide directly on its PSPgo.

The guide offers a walk through of ratings categories and descriptors, along with a tutorial for setting up parental controls on Sony’s new handheld.

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Video Game Biz Does Well in FCC Report on Content Ratings

September 3, 2009 -

As GamePolitics noted last week, the Federal Communications Commission has floated the idea of a universal content rating system which would span various forms of media, including video games.

While lobbying group ESA quickly raised objections to the concept, the video game industry did quite well in an FCC report on parental controls issued to Congress on Monday. GameCulture has more:

Members of Congress who will receive the FCC's report will find almost nothing negative about the game industry's handling of parental control technology and ratings. Common Sense Media's concern about unrated online content and user-created content is noted but countered by the ESA, which points out that "no rating system or control device can anticipate the extemporaneous world of the Internet..."

While the FCC says it intends to launch a Notice of Inquiry specifically for games, this first round is a clear victory for the industry.  At this rate, even if regulators decide to pursue a "universal rating system," it could end up looking a lot like the system developed by the ESRB.

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PC Version of Manhunt 2 May Carry an AO Rating, But How Will It Get Sold?

August 26, 2009 -

As noted by Joystiq, the ESRB is currently listing the upcoming PC version of Manhunt 2 with an Adults Only (AO) rating.

GamePolitics readers will likely recall that the console versions of Manhunt 2 generated a major controversy in the summer of 2007 when the game was banned in Britain and tagged with an AO here in the States. Rockstar subsequently released a toned-down version that earned an M (17+) rating for the U.S. market.

That was a critical milestone, because the Big Three console makers won't license AO-rated games for their systems, which makes it tough for a publisher to earn a return on its investment. That's why you don't see any AO-rated console games. While the open architecture of the PC negates licensing concerns, an AO-rated Manhunt 2 would still get thumbs-down from major retailers like GameStop and Wal-Mart.

That means that Rockstar is either planning a digital distribution campaign for Manhunt 2 or that it will edit the PC version - as it did with the console editions - to earn an M from the ESRB. Of course, there is a third scenario: Rockstar could ship an M-rated version to retailers while distributing an AO-rated version online.

We wonder how Valve might react to handling an AO game if its Steam service, which currently distributes Rockstar's GTA IV online, is under consideration as a potential digital distribution source for Manhunt 2.

Upcoming RPG Risen Smacked by Australian Banhammer

August 10, 2009 -

The upcoming role-playing game Risen has become the latest victim of Australia's flawed game content rating system.

Refused Classification reports that Australia's classification board has declined to assign a rating to the game, which is being developed by Piranha Bytes. The board's action makes Risen the third game of 2009 to be RC'd Down Under; the others are 1C's first-person shooter Necrovision and something called Sexy Poker.

In the U.S. market, Risen has been rated M (17+) by the ESRB. Australia, however, has no rating higher than MA15+, which means that any title judged not suitable for a 15-year-old is effectively banned. Australian gamers have been lobbying their government unsuccessfully for an R18+ rating for several years.

The classification refusal might not be the final word, however. Risen could be edited by its creators enough to slip by Australian censors. This approach has worked for other games, most recently Necrovision.

Risen is scheduled for October release on Xbox 360 and PC. The website R18+ is a useful source for information about the ongoing Australian content rating debate.

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Happy Birthday ESRB: Game Biz Unveiled Rating System to Congress 15 Years Ago

July 29, 2009 -

It was 15 years ago today that the video game industry introduced the ESRB rating system to Congress, reports Wired's This Day in Tech blog.

The move came in the wake of Congressional criticism of game violence, particularly the original Mortal Kombat, which seems laughably tame by today's standards. Wired's Chris Kohler writes:

The [Congressional] hearings were largely a response to the popularity of... Mortal Kombat...

Nintendo chairman Howard Lincoln and Sega vice president Bill White took potshots at each other during the hearing. Lincoln said that the Sega CD game Night Trap, another photorealistic, occasionally violent game that the company had rated MA-17, “simply has no place in our society” and testified that “small children” had bought it.

Meanwhile, White’s position was that Sega was more responsible than Nintendo, because his company had [its own] rating system in place...  [Connecticut Sen. Joe] Lieberman would later express his shock that the two executives went after each other with such ferocity.

Lieberman's threat to regulate game content via legislation persuaded the game biz to get its act together. The IDSA (now known as the ESA) was formed and quickly set up the ESRB, which went into operation on September 1st, 1994.

Alabama Attorney General Backs ESRB Ratings

July 21, 2009 -

Alabama Attorney General Troy King (R) has become the latest high-ranking state official to endorse the video game industry's content rating system.

In a press release issued yesterday, King announced a public service ad campaign designed to raise parental awareness of the ESRB rating system. The PSAs featuring King will air on radio and TV.

The A.G. commented on the campaign in yesterday's press release:

I know parents face tough decisions these days about the media they allow into their homes. There’s simply no substitute, though, for parental involvement and responsibility, and it’s important that parents play an active role in choosing games for their children. ESRB ratings are an effective and informative resource that allows parents to decide if the video game their child wants is appropriate, and rating summaries provide even more insight into exactly what a parent would want to know about in a game. I’m proud to be educating parents in our state about the tools at their disposal.

As GamePolitics has noted in the past, such campaigns are a sweet deal for the politicians involved. The ESRB picks up the cost of production for the spots and elected officials get a chance to show voters that they are concerned about children.

Readers can see King's PSA (as well as those made by other political figures) at the ESRB website.

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Boston Mayor Who Forced GTA Ads from Public Transit Now Appears on Buses Pushing ESRB

July 2, 2009 -

It wasn't that long ago that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino forced the removal of ads for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories from public transit vehicles operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. Menino's office also pushed (unsuccessfully) for video game legislation last year.

Thus, there's irony aplenty to be found in seeing Menino's face plastered onto Boston buses, courtesy of the ESRB.

Last month GamePolitics broke the news that Menino was partnering with the ESRB on a public service ad campaign designed to raise parental awareness of the video game industry's content rating system. The bus ads are just a piece of that campaign which also includes TV spots, radio ads and outdoor print ads.

Locally, the Boston Globe and Boston-based Joystiq blogger Alexander Sliwinski have both taken note of the appearance of Menino's mug on local public transit. According to the Globe, the ESRB forked over $43,195 to the MBTA for the three-month bus ad campaign.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Menino is running for re-election this year. Prof. John Berg of the Suffolk University government department commented on the ads:

They can do this stuff, which is no doubt intended to help the [re-election] campaign, but looks very legitimate because they’re taking advantage of their role as head of the city.

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ESRB Wants App Store Rating Content Business... But What About Xbox Indie Games and Other Burning Questions

June 15, 2009 -

The recent discussion concerning the ESA's desire to have its rating organization, the ESRB, evaluate game content for the iTunes App Store brings a number of questions to mind:

1.) Why?

Having watched how corporations, lobbyists and their related entities do business for some time now, I'm too jaded to believe that ESA/ESRB wants to jump into rating App Store games for the good of society or because it's the right thing to do. This would, after all, be a significant commitment of ESRB resources. Generally such things happen because there is revenue to be made or there's power to be grabbed.

Despite its present chaotic nature, the App Store is a rising star in the game space. Getting in on the ground floor would be a coup for the ESRB. Apple has a lot of money, too, and the ESRB is paid a fee by the developer/publisher for each game it rates. Despite my cynicism, ESRB spokesman Eliot Mizrachi told me that it's not about the Benjamins:

ESRB is a non-profit organization funded by the revenue generated from the services we provide the industry.  Given our highly discounted rate for lower-budget games, rating mobile games is not a financially attractive proposition; however we believe making ESRB ratings available for those games would serve consumers well.  Parents are already familiar with ESRB ratings and find them to be extremely helpful in making informed choices for their families.  
 
To be clear, our desire is to see Apple integrate ESRB ratings as an option in its parental controls and display a game’s rating (if it has one, the ratings are voluntary after all) in the App Store or on iTunes prior to purchase, not to require that every game available via an iPhone carry an ESRB rating (just as not every piece of video content available will carry an MPAA or TV rating). 

 

Apple’s integration of ESRB ratings into its parental controls for iPhone games would afford parents the ability to block those video games that carry an ESRB rating utilizing the same tool they are being offered to block video content that has been rated by the MPAA or carries an official TV rating.  It’s about giving parents the same ability to do on the iPhone what they are being offered with other entertainment content and can already do on game consoles and other handheld game devices.     

2.) What would it cost?

I asked the ESRB what it costs a developer/publisher to have a typical console game rated?  Would the cost to rate an iPhone game be less? Mizrachi said:

Our standard fees for getting a game rated cover the costs of providing that service.  However, to make accommodations for lower-budget product like casual and mobile games, several years ago we introduced a highly discounted rate - 80% less - for games that cost under $250,000 to develop.  We believe most iPhone games would likely be eligible for the discounted rate.

3.) Isn't this a lot of extra work for ESRB?

Mizrachi was asked whether the ESRB has the capacity to handle an influx of iPhone games for rating. His response:

ESRB has seen increases in rating submissions each year since its founding and has always been able to keep pace.  We have rated more than 70 mobile games to date and will undoubtedly rate more in the future as the market grows.  Consumers of those mobile games that have been assigned ESRB ratings should have access to rating information, and if parental controls are available, the ESRB rating should ideally be operable within that framework. 

4.) If the ESRB plans to do App Store games, what about Xbox 360 Community Games (soon to be known as Indie Games)? 

I also asked Mizrachi about the indie games on XBL. Wouldn’t they seem to be a more natural focus for the ESRB before targeting iTunes? Mizrachi said:

Once XNA games graduate to XBLA they are rated by ESRB... ESRB isn't "targeting" iPhone games.


5.) Who would pay for ESRB to rate App Store games?

Not the creators of $0.99 games, for the most part. They are apparently not making significant revenue. Apple has a deep pocket, of course, although they are not the creator of the games for sale on the App Store. Perhaps the larger industry players such as EA, Namco, etc. would foot the bill for their games. They are already accustomed to dealing with the ESRB.

6.) If only some games are rated, why bother?

But then again, if only the commercial game apps from major publishers are rated, how does that stop your kid from downloading Baby Shaker or Hot Dog Down a Hallway? The foundation for the retail employment of ESRB rating is its ubiquity. Major retailers won't carry non-rated games. Thus, parents have a reasonable expectation that their 12-year-old will be turned down if he tries to buy GTA IV. If not all App Store games are rated, such an expectation is not applicable. So, what's the point?

Hopefully we will learn more about the ESRB's plan as we go forward.

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Andrew EisenThe story you just linked to? The story you asked if anyone had seen? Yes, THAT obnoxiousness. I've heard it parroted for nearly two years now.11/27/2014 - 7:57pm
ZippyDSMleeAndrew Eisen: That shes an ex con man?11/27/2014 - 7:54pm
Andrew EisenI've heard the same obnoxious horse poo for years. It's nothing new.11/27/2014 - 7:45pm
ZippyDSMleeAlso anyone see this? http://guardianlv.com/2014/11/anita-sarkeesian-unmasked-feminist-icon-or-con-artist/11/27/2014 - 7:28pm
ZippyDSMleeEvil within is a badly designed game.11/27/2014 - 7:28pm
Andrew EisenSure but you said "widens," hence my confusion. Looking into it, yep, there's a tweak to completely re-frame the image, adding more info at the top and bottom. You apparently need a fairly beefy rig to keep it running smooth when you do that though.11/27/2014 - 6:48pm
Matthew Wilsonthere is vertical fov, not just horizontal fov11/27/2014 - 6:38pm
Andrew EisenWell, you can widen it to 3:1 or even 10:1 but I don't know why you'd want to. From what I understand it's the missing visual info at the top and bottom that some object to, not that there isn't enough on either side.11/27/2014 - 6:36pm
Matthew WilsonI think it widenss the fov, so you get to see more.11/27/2014 - 6:31pm
Andrew EisenI don't see how as doing so would not add any visual information to the top or bottom of the screen.11/27/2014 - 6:04pm
Matthew Wilsonfrom what I read, getting rid of the black bars and stretching it out made for a better play experience.11/27/2014 - 5:59pm
Andrew EisenFrom what I hear, there's a ton of "look up and shoot at the guys above you" stuff in the game that the wider frame doesn't accommodate such actions well.11/27/2014 - 5:55pm
Andrew EisenHaving a game run in scope is not necessarily a bad thing but like any aspect ratio, you have to compose your shots correctly.11/27/2014 - 5:55pm
Neo_DrKefkaThe Evil Within was pretty bad and to make it worse the way the screen size made it hard for you to see even on a big screen it really hurt the game. Being Artistic is great but when you focus on art rather than what sells you run the risk of that happen11/27/2014 - 5:33pm
Matthew WilsonI kinda hope this is not true. http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2014/11/nintendo_might_not_be_making_more_gamecube_controller_adapters_at_the_moment11/27/2014 - 1:34pm
Matthew WilsonI saw that. I wish people would stop preording, but sadly that will never happen.11/27/2014 - 1:26pm
Papa MidnightUbisoft has cancelled the Season Pass for Assassin's Creed: Unity (http://www.reddit.com/r/pcmasterrace/comments/2ni2ac/ubisoft_cancel_season_pass_for_ac_unity/)11/27/2014 - 1:08pm
NeenekoBut now I can use the christmas discount justification too,11/27/2014 - 11:46am
NeenekoI am also sorely temped by Civ:BE, mostly because I have a demo coming up and I know my productivity will tank.11/27/2014 - 11:45am
MaskedPixelanteThe Evil Within is only a month old, right? And it's already 66% off...11/27/2014 - 10:29am
 

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