The Entertainment Software Rating Board has confirmed it will cease offering free age and content ratings for video games next month.
Concerns arose on Twitter when developers expressed disappointment that the 'Short Form' ratings process the ESRB currently offers for download-only and online games will be discontinued in June.
The implication is that indie developers unable to afford the cost of 'Long Form' ratings, primarily used for physical/boxed games, would therefore not be allowed to release their titles on key platforms that demand a content rating.
The ESRB's official Twitter feed replied to Indivisible writer Brandon Sheffield, stating: "Developers of digital games and apps will still be able to obtain ESRB ratings at no cost through the IARC rating process. The Microsoft Store deployed IARC years ago and has committed to making IARC ratings accessible to all Xbox developers. So, developers should not be concerned."
The International Age Rating Coalition is a newer system for obtaining age ratings for multiple territories and storefronts with a single process. While ESRB single out the Xbox Store, it is also accepted on Google Play, the Nintendo eShop, and the Oculus Store.
There is currently no word on when this will apply to the PlayStation Store, but an IARC press release in December 2017 said the platform would be "added soon."
It's not clear why the ESRB has decided to drop the digital-only ratings, but the official website detailing the process mentions the "volume of digitally delivered games and apps". With self-publishing on multiple games store increasingly easy for developers, it could be the Board lacks the resources to cope with the number of indies applying for these free ratings.
[UPDATE]: An ESRB representative offered further comment on the issue, saying "We expect that an ESRB ratings solution will be available to all developers of console downloadable games at no cost to them without interruption. Despite what some developers may have heard, we do not yet have a hard date for when the ESRB Short Form process will be retired. We will provide the developer community with concrete updates on this matter as they becomes available."