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ESRB age ratings to be automated online

New digital questionnaire to help U.S. age rating board with online titles

The American Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has implemented a new automated questionnaire system for determining age ratings.

According to a NY Times report the system went into use today and relies primarily on a series of detailed questions on a game's content, including levels of violence, sexuality, profanity, drug use, gambling and bodily functions.

The questionnaire is completed by the game's publisher, with undisclosed penalties for any company that does not indicate content accurately.

The system has been implemented initially only for downloadable titles on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, WiiWare, and DSiWare - directly as a result of the explosion in content on these online services.

Currently this translates to around 650 games a year, which compares to around 850 movies rated each year by the Motion Picture Association of America. In 2010 the ESRB rated around 1,600 games.

The ESRB already uses video captured footage of games provided by publishers, a system previously employed by the BBFC in the UK. Companies submit a DVD featuring all the game's most questionable content, to avoid the ESRB having to play through every inch of a 60+ hour title.

Despite the increasing automation of the system an ESRB statement insists that, "All games rated via this new process will be tested by ESRB staff shortly after they are made publicly available to verify that disclosure was complete and accurate."

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