Google and Apple Won't Adopt New Mobile ESRB Rating System

ESRBEarlier this week, GamesIndustry.biz reported that both Google and Apple will not be adopting the ESRB’s new rating system for mobile games. This new system would reflect the current rating and submission guidelines used for consoles and PC games.

Currently, games are given their ratings when game developers fill out a survey about the game, covering things like foul language, drinking, etc. They then submit this to the ESRB, who evaluate the survey and demo the game for consistency before releasing their final rating to the developer.

The current ESRB system is as follows: E for Everyone; E10+ (Everyone 10+) for ages ten and older; T (Teen) for ages thirteen and older; M (Mature) for ages seventeen and older; and AO (Adults Only) for ages eighteen and older. This creates a consistent rating system across all retailers. A spokesman at Google had this to say about why they will not adopt this new rating system:

“We’ve put a lot of effort into Android Market’s rating system, which now works well globally. While we support other systems, we think it’s best for Android users and developers to stick with Android’s existing ratings.”

Among the many comments are Rafael Brown’s, a design leader at id Software, who stated his view on why Google and Apple have decided to keep their own rating system:

“@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.”

Those currently supporting this new rating system are Microsoft for Windows 7 smartphones, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, U.S. Cellular Corp, and T-Mobile.


Analysis: As much I loathe and like the ESRB for many different reasons, I know they make things hard on developers for a rating, especially for AAA games after the whole San Andreas hot coffee incident. I can appreciate that Apple and Google want to keep an internal rating system, especially since they have put a whole lot of time and money into it. As far as I can tell, Apple and Google do not share the same criteria for rating a game. I’m a parent, and if something is rated for Teen on Apple’s and Mature on Google’s, who’s rating should I value over the other?

This is where the line gets blurry with Rafael’s comments. He’s talking about a company’s or an independent’s efforts that need to go into submitting a review and not considering the needs of those at the end of the day, the parents’. They are the ones who are looking at a game’s rating and deciding if that particular game is appropriate for their child. When you have a company wanting to put their own standards into a rating a system, but then others don’t agree to it, it means they’ll make their own system. We as parents have to put trust into dramatically different systems, causing us to put more time into something that should be uniform.

I do not agree a company should govern itself in this matter; they should be governed by a third party for a games rating. I do agree that every region is going to want to have their own rating system, especially based on ethical and religious beliefs in said area, but that is the name of the game when you want to release a game in any region. What we should be doing here is working towards a more uniform or dynamic system that can be agreed upon by multiple rating entities in as many regions we can get to work together. I know it’s like trying to stack marbles in a corner; it’s going to be hard as hell to do it, but it can be done.

The fact Apple and Google are not going to be participating is troubling for the ESRB and informed parents alike. If these companies are not on board with this new system, then they should suggest a better system for them to implement or a strategy that would make it beneficial for their companies to adopt it. Better that than giving the impression (at least to me) they’re just giving them the finger because they don’t like it. We need a uniform system, we need it for all games, and we need it now, because at the end of the day it’s the parents who should have confidence in their choices for their kids and no one else.

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About Brandon Mietzner