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Apple and Google ignore ESRB ratings

Thu 01 Dec 2011 8:56am GMT / 3:56am EST / 12:56am PST
MobilePolitics

Two largest app stores opt out of US age-rating system

Apple and Google will not take part in the ESRB ratings system for games and apps in the US.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, usually associated with the console gaming business, wants all developers and publishers to submit details of in-game content, which will then be judged by the group and rated for age groups accordingly across all formats.

But both Google's Android and Apple's iOS services will continue to use their own ratings system, leaving the ESRB without the support of the two largest mobile formats.

"We've put a lot of effort into Android Market's rating system, which now works well globally," a spokesperson for Android told Digital Trends.

"While we support other systems, we think it's best for Android users and developers to stick with Android's existing ratings."

24 Comments

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
There's no limit to how much I dislike companies creating their own standards. Seen how the gap between mobiles and more conventional platforms is closing (Unigine is also available for mobiles, to name an engine), this will mean that a given game Super Adventure of Someone is going to be rated differently depending on if you buy it on play.com (so the UK), your local store or Amazon, ebay (so maybe the US or Australia), if you get the Japanese version, if you get it for mobile or PC, or if it's an online game. Sometimes you even get fancy labels on the box, like "not for sale in the UK", likely because the game was banned or something. I'm not even sure if PEGI is unified among european countries.
How is someone supposed to understand and trust a tag that may be contradictory among countries (see the Starcraft 2 issue) and that follows some random custom convention? No wonder if parents are uneducated about ratings, kids are playing 18+ games and newspapers blame videogames everytime there's a crime.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Gabriel
Engine Programmer

18 8 0.4
I agree with you Michele. Since when do Google or Apple have the proper in-depth knowledge to have their own rating system?. It should be an independent body and definitely not a private company that has monetary interests on the product that is being sold.

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Barrie Tingle
Live Producer

337 102 0.3
Submitting to a retings board costs too much and takes too long when you have the number of games that they push out on iOS and Android. Adding them would bump the price of mobile gaming and delay releases, also for a rating system like ESRB which has no legal weight behind it, there is little to no incentive for Apple or Google to ever adopt another rating system over their own.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Lucas Laib
Editor

1 0 0.0
@Gabriel: The ESRB is no independent body, it's a self-regulatory organization funded through the money publishers pay to obtain a rating. The people deciding over the rating also do never play the game but base their rating solely on footage and a questionnaire submitted by the publisher. The actual qualification of the raters is also kept secret. So this system is far from perfect, but probably still better than Apple's/Google's application process (esp. Google doesn't even seem to have security issues under control).

@Michele: PEGI is not unified throughout Europe, especially the major German market has a different rating system (USK). While their rating results are sometimes controversial (sexual content is treated more lightly than in the US, but "violent" content almost too automatically creates 18+ ratings), their selection process is better as they actually play the game in its entirety and only after that the raters (mostly trained pedagogues and social scientists) decide on the rating. The German system also is legally binding for retailers (this does not directly apply to digital downloads, but all major platforms like Steam abide by these ratings).

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Chris Morley
Lead Designer

1 0 0.0
@Barrie Tingle - agreed. I wouldn't be surprised if ESRB aren't too bothered either, if they had to sort through hundreds of thousands of homebrew mobile game apps before they are submitted I'm sure it would colg things up and have a knock-on effect on the AAA titles as well, which would delay things further and cause even more friction.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Rafael Brown
Lead Designer

22 0 0.0
@Gabriel - Do your homework, the ESRB is not an independent body anymore than the MPAA is. They are self regulating bodies.

@Michelle - You realize that there is no global ratings system? If you create a PC/console global release you could be submitting to 10 different ratings bodies easily. There will always be regional differences. Different countries want their own ratings systems.

By asking for one system you completely ignore _why_ Apple and Google want to control their own ratings. Small developers may not have the time or money to submit to multiple ratings systems. Apple and Google are providing an actual unified ratings system for their platform. This is a first. They're doing what you asked for, better than the PC/Console space. Why are you criticizing?

And Apple and Google technically sell in more markets. Apple iTunes sells in 126 countries. All ratings systems combined cover less than half of those countries. What do you suggest Apple does for the other 60-80 not covered?

Mobile development can be fast in pace and some of the developers are quite small. Asking a garage developer of two people to submit to the same regulatory body run by EA, Acti, Ubi, MSoft, Sony, Ninty, etc ignores that garage devs can't afford to.

Apple and Google are thinking of the range of developers that develop on their platform, of that I'm thankful. As for complaining about what sticker is on the box... digital games have no box. Please learn about a platform before you make random complaints about it.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Christopher McCraken
CEO/Production Director

106 240 2.3
Time was, the ESRB was necessary to get onto a retail shelf. But, retail shelves are not relevant here, and neither is the fight for control over them. The Apple and Android retail shelves are out of reach of people who want to label everything based on secret votes, secret rules, and what amounts to a star chamber for games. To wit: he ESRB is a total farce. It's the same kind of rating board you see with movies. Don't believe me? Look up some games you think could be innocuous, such as Puzzle Pirates, which got a T for Teen. Why? The Drinking Puzzle Game. It does not stop there either.

Then look up the word Bible. Every one of those is rated "E" for everyone. Without turning it into a debate about belief systems, I think we can agree there is some seriously violent items in The Bible.

At the end of the day, if you want to take control of this, we need to encourage parents to ... parent their children, or not have them. If you're unwilling to look into the stuff your kids want to buy, if you don't want to research games for your kids, (which can be as easy as looking at youtube these days, not like the old days where you probably had to wait to have it in hand) then don't have kids.

I'll take 10 informed, or willing to get informed parents over a loud minority 1 or 2 who wants to look at a sticker on a box and make a choice, based on the notion that everyone else needs to look out for them, because their unwilling or unable to parent their children. Plainly: if you don't want to do the work, don't have them. We live in a modern society where there are plenty of options for not having children.

Just my $0.02. Disclaimer: I am the father of an 18 year old daughter, and you bet I evaluated the games in conjunction with my child, and her demeanor. Did she play GTA at 8 years old? No. At 12 or 13? Yes. Would I have let her do so if I knew she was ripping the heads off dolls? Probably not. I parented my child, and I did my homework in learning about my kid, and the things I exposed her to.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Johan H. W. Basberg
CEO / Lead Designer

9 0 0.0
Of course they do. Barrie Tingle hit the nail on the head. Using such a rating system would also likely mean using PEGI for European releases, likely increasing the direct/indirect cost even further.

But I would like to see an improved user rating system on the App Store and Android Market; I like how Nintendo has at least two additional score sliders: Everyone vs Gamers and Casual vs. Intense. Maybe Apple and Google could replace either of these with a "Young vs Mature" to provide even better help to parents?

As a side note; for user ratings to be really helpful - I would love to see both Apple and Google aggregate a representative average for the games and apps offered whenever possible using scores from multiple regions. In Norway, being a small market, most apps lack a local rating, but plenty are often available globally (possibly keeping both separated).

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Mario Tommadich
Technical Requirements & Compliance

32 28 0.9
In my opinion rating boards should be publically financed institutions that cannot make a profit on the rating scheme. The rating scheme should not be mandatory either. Currently all rating boards accross the globe make a killing by providing a mandatory service with way too high fees in order to profit from each and every commercially released game. I find it outragous how they put their hands into the pockets of developers and publishers alike and suddenly take ownership of your game and dictate to you to whom you may or may not sell your game or where or if you may sell it at all.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Gabriel
Engine Programmer

18 8 0.4
@Mario - That is what I tried to say in my previous post.

Yes, mobile games and small developers have problems with the current system, but that doesn't mean we have to accept private companies dictating what is good and what is bad for children. There is no perfect solution YET, but we should try to push to find one if we want this industry to mature in a sensible way.

I really don't have in-depth knowledge of how Google/Apple rate their products but how do they handle different cultures, values, etc across different countries?. They claim to have a system that "works well globally" how do they manage this? (I am truly asking, not ranting).

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Cori Myers
CEO/Owner

20 1 0.1
We have been saying this for years and had contacted the ESRB many times regarding this. The general answer is that they just don't have the man power to do so.

We also did an experiment a few years ago on how retailers like Walmart do not have ESRB ratings posted for customers and STILL there is no change. The community really needs to get after these people and strongly encourage them to follow industry standards, otherwise when something goes wrong, WE get blamed. Not Android and Google.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Tyler Moore
Game Designer & Unity Developer

51 14 0.3
It's a weird issue. The ESRB was never really meant for small independent app developers. In fact, the ESRB is one of the barriers that actually pushes the talent towards more accessible distribution platforms. What indie is going to go through that cost red tape to put a game out there?

A better question, how did the ratings system work for flash games that appeared on Kongregate and Newgrounds? I remember in my high school days going to those sites strictly to find mature-level content because the game experiences were unlike anything else that had that ESRB "branding" on it.

Personally, I am completely against censorship in all forms (like it or not, ratings systems do in fact impose indirect censorship on a lot of media), but parents do have a right to know what media their kids consume. Maybe we should accept that letting a kid download games on their phone is the same as letting them browse the web. Educate, monitor and protect.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Franz Hess
Executive Producer & Managing Director

7 0 0.0
what barrie and rafael said

even pegi isn't used in all of europe (and that's actually what it was intended for).. i can't blame google and apple to stick to their own scheme

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

953 804 0.8
Google and Apple thrive on volume, ESRB costs money, hence limits the volume, hence limits business, nobody is allowed to tinker with Apple's and Google's business; ask Samsung about it.

As gamers we should be happy. Less ESRB, more indy stuff. Age ratings do not protect kids from games, they protect large publisher's shelf space from competition.

Posted:2 years ago

#14
Apart from the cost issues, these are global platforms. They wouldn't just have to support ESRB - they would have to support every ratings system, in every country. This would limit releases per country, and make release costs untenable. This is one of the key factors (IMO) that helped killed WiiWare - we certainly would have released more titles if it wasn't for Nintendo's rating policy.

Posted:2 years ago

#15

James Berg
Games User Researcher

122 107 0.9
It can't be stressed enough that the ESRB don't even PLAY the game when it's submitted - they go entirely based on developer-provided screenshots, videos, audio transcriptions, etc. The process is a complete sham.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

714 491 0.7
ESRB use is voluntary, but ignoring it will provably bring problems for the two companies sooner or later... Fox News and the APA's (Angry Parent Attacking) to begin with...

Posted:2 years ago

#17

gi biz
;,pgc.eu

341 51 0.1
@Rafael: so you're telling me that it is a good idea to add yet two more rating systems? Keep in mind that the lower the raitng is, the larger the market share. And I see a clear confict of interests here, as Gabriel pointed out.

Posted:2 years ago

#18

Craig Tongue
AI Programmer

5 0 0.0
@Alfonso Do you really think anyone takes what fox says seriously when our comes to games?

I think all the comments above summarise well both the problems with self finding 'regulatory boards' and their complete inappropriateness when it comes to international deployment of global apps. Considering Google's considerable experience with data mining and classification algos I would not be at shocked if their tool did a better job than the agencies anyway.

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Jamie Leece
SVP Business Development

7 0 0.0
The cost of being rated by ESRB in both time and money makes it extremely challenging for indie developers. It would be near impossible for a garage developer to make games for the ApStore if they had to go through the hoops that ESRB has setup for games like GTA but then apply it to the 90% of products on the ApStore that make less than $1000.00 in revenue. Technically even free apps with no in game transactions would need to go through the rating process. I think regulation is important and trust in the ratings process is extremely important.

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Rafael Brown
Lead Designer

22 0 0.0
@ Michael, nope I'm saying that Apple has a global ratings system for all iOS games. Google does the same with Android. They currently do a better job of simplicity, coverage and consistency than any of the regional ratings systems like ESRB, PEGI, USK. They exist outside of those and don't overlap in any way shape or form. They also cover several orders of magnitude more applications than the console/PC ratings systems. This is not a case of adding two more ratings systems. This is a case of Apple and Google having accessible, global ratings systems for their ecosystems, hundreds of thousands of apps on their systems. What does that have to do with the ESRB in any way?

And I don't think you can correlate lower rating with market share? Not in the mobile space. What is your information based on? And what conflict of interest? You want more regulation and red tape? Google and Apple make ratings a simple process and give global coverage. You realize that the only option for global coverage would be some bizarre United Nations ratings system? There is no possible way to unify ESRB, PEGI, USK, Cero, etc. What is your option for fast, simple, global coverage? Other than a laughable utopian ratings nirvana that would likely turn into 1984. Any system has to be fast, simple and cheap to accommodate a range of developers. I honestly don't know what you're complaining about. Having used multiple ratings systems in the last 15 years, I wish more systems are like what I've seen with Apple and Google in recent years. Its a lot less hassle for medium to large developers not just for small ones.

Posted:2 years ago

#21

Rafael Brown
Lead Designer

22 0 0.0
The single biggest reason why ESRB and similar ratings systems will never be used? Timing through submission. Apple and Google combine certification with rating for a faster turnaround. ESRB and such require submission for updated content. Some mobile app developers update content once every few months, once a month or even once a week. Apple Cert is set up to handle this, again for global distribution. Google is in process with the same. Can you imagine trying to queue up multiple submissions of iterated mobile content for the frequency that the mobile market expects new content? The ESRB and similar bodies can take weeks or months. Until they learn to adapt to rating smaller sections of content Apple and Google have no choice. Beyond a mobile app developer having to submit to 10-20 ratings bodies that would only cover 30% of the world they can sell in, this ratings process could easily take a month or two every time. That doesn't mesh with a monthly content update schedule.

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

415 110 0.3
Time to market is awful for BBFC over in the UK an I cant imagine it being much better in the US. When the business model no longer just makes big titles for big prices but now makes little titles for 99p that have a short ttm and are updated with nnew features on a weekly basis then what. Not to mention fees, I doubt its free to be certified by a governing body, and those.cost could stop bedroom coders and indie publishers from even getting thier stuff in the app stores. That would be a tragedy imo

Posted:2 years ago

#23

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
I actually applied for a job at the ESRB a long time ago. let's just say the interview process was... interesting. To quote Forrest Gump" And that's all I have to say about that..."

Posted:2 years ago

#24

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