ESRB introduces streamlined, free rating system for downloads

The Entertainment Software Rating Board is attempting to streamline the release of downloadable games, announcing a new rating service specifically targeted at XBLA, PSN, eShop, WiiWare, and Windows 8 downloads. The no-cost (!) service relies on a brief online questionnaire through which developers self-identify the adult content.

Most relevant to the digital market, the new questionnaire also rates games in terms of their information sharing and user-generated content, with the ESRB introducing the new content descriptor images above. "Shares info" means that the game sends some user information to a third party; "Shares Location" means that your physical location is visible to others (or can be), and "Users Interact" means that the player may communicate with other people in the game, or interact with user-created content.

Sony may be ahead of the curve on this initiative. These self-reported ratings closely resemble the system that Sony is already using for PlayStation Mobile games, as detailed in a Fantastic Arcade presentation. Sony has already worked out similar programs with Japan's CERO and Europe's PEGI in addition to the ESRB.
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New Digital Rating Service Enables ESRB Ratings to Become Consistent Standard Across All
Game Platforms; Includes Guidance on Interactive Elements
NEW YORK – The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the non-profit self-regulatory
body for the video game industry, today announced a streamlined, no-cost service for assigning
ratings to all digitally delivered games. ESRB's new "Digital Rating Service" utilizes a brief but
detailed online questionnaire to assess not only a product's content and age-appropriateness,
but also interactive elements, including the sharing of personal information or physical location
and exposure to unfiltered user-generated content. This newly streamlined service will first be
put into use for downloadable games available from a number of computer and video game
platforms including Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation
Network, PlayStation
Vita, PlayStation™
Certified devices, Nintendo
eShop, Wii Shop Channel™ and Windows 8, with other digital
content aggregators, online game networks, streaming and download services to follow.
"Consumers have grown accustomed to using ESRB ratings when making decisions about the
appropriateness of the games their families play. With the explosion of devices from which
consumers can access games today, our goal is to ensure that those same tools are available
everywhere games can be found," said ESRB president Patricia Vance. "More recently, parents'
concerns have begun to extend beyond just content to include the sharing of their kids' personal
information or location and interactions with other players. ESRB's Digital Rating Service now
offers all digital platforms, storefronts and networks the opportunity to empower their customers
with consistent, credible, familiar and useful upfront guidance no matter where their family
chooses to play games."
The streamlined rating process makes obtaining an ESRB rating fast and easy by assigning a
rating immediately. By simplifying the process and eliminating the cost to developers, the ESRB
expects to broaden adoption of its ratings among game providers of all types. The resulting
ubiquity of ESRB ratings will ease a parent's job by presenting a single ratings standard across
the many platforms on which their children access games. Increased adoption of ESRB ratings
also means that developers will no longer be subject to differing and oftentimes conflicting rating
systems and standards for their digitally delivered games. ESRB's Digital Rating Service
complements the CTIA Mobile Application Rating System with ESRB, a program launched last
year through which ESRB assigns ratings to mobile apps using a similar process.
"The ESRB's Digital Rating Service is the most sensible way to implement ratings across the
many platforms on which we now publish games," said John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts. "A consistent standard is in the best interest of publishers and consumers alike, empowering
parents with the information they need to make informed choices for their families."
"Today our customers expect to be able to play their favorite games across a wide range of
different devices, in home and on the go," added Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony
Computer Entertainment America (SCEA). "We believe our developers will greatly appreciate
how easy this new streamlined system is to use and our customers are certain to benefit from
having broader access to ESRB ratings across all of their game devices."
Ratings Go Beyond Content
Consumer research shows that at least two thirds of parents consider it essential that a rating
system provide disclosure about the collection and/or sharing of personal information with third
parties, the sharing of a user's location, and the ability to track a user's location, and consider it
just as important as being informed about content and age-appropriateness.* As a result,
ESRB's Digital Rating Service not only assigns the familiar ESRB Rating Category and Content
Descriptors that consumers already know and trust, but also generates standardized notices,
called "Interactive Elements," which include:
 "Shares Info" indicates that user-provided personal
information (e.g., e-mail address, phone number, credit card
info, etc.) is shared with third parties;
 "Shares Location" indicates the ability to display the user's
location to other users; and
 "Users Interact" indicates possible exposure to
unfiltered/uncensored user-generated content, including userto-user communications and media sharing via social media
and networks.
In addition to providing critical guidance to consumers in advance of playing a game, all three
parts of a game's rating information (Rating Category, Content Descriptors and Interactive
Elements) can also be mapped to parental controls to restrict access by these criteria. While
adopters of ESRB ratings may choose to not display all three parts, complete rating information
is always available by searching the ESRB website at
"ESRB's rating system has always been an effective means for parents to gauge content, and
its latest evolution addresses the emerging concerns of parents whose children increasingly
access and play games in a digital marketplace," concluded Stephen Balkam, CEO of the
Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). "Information is a critical weapon in the online safety
arsenal, and giving parents tools like the ESRB's new Interactive Elements notices empowers
them to take appropriate action to protect their children in an online environment."
The ESRB Rating System
Established in 1994, the ESRB has become among the most highly recognized and respected
rating systems in the world. The FTC has commended ESRB for having "the strongest selfregulatory code" and applauded tools like Rating Summaries that offer consumers even greater
information by which to choose games for their families. According to the latest research, 85%
of parents with children who play video games are aware of the ESRB ratings and 70% use the ratings on a regular basis (either "every time" or "most of the time") when deciding about a game
for their child. Nearly nine in ten (88%) find the ESRB ratings to be either "very helpful" or
"somewhat helpful" in choosing games for their children.*
* Online survey of 509 parents with children who play video games. Conducted May/June 2012 by Peter
D. Hart Research Associates and commissioned by ESRB.
About ESRB
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body that assigns age
and content ratings for video games and apps so parents can make informed choices. As part of its
regulatory role for the video game industry the ESRB also enforces industry-adopted advertising
guidelines and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices under its Privacy Online program. ESRB
was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

This article was originally published on Joystiq.