Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Torn on Ratings

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 26, 2012

I have two problems with ratings (of the parental guidance variety) for indie games:

#1 – The industry standard ratings system was unreasonably painful and expensive for small, indie studios. In a field where the median iPhone game makes less than $1000, spending hundreds or thousands on a rating doesn’t make much sense.

#2 – There’s a tendency for governments and lawyers to use self-policing industry ratings against them.

Here in the U.S., problem #1 has gone away. The ESRB has now added a free, self-service rating approach for games distributed through certain major online platforms.

On the one hand, yay! This was an unreasonable hardship for indie games, especially when the median iPhone game is going to make only a couple thousand dollars in revenue – and the average XBLA game makes (I think) far less than that. I applaud this initiative on the part of the ESRB to become more indie-friendly.

But this also makes it reasonable for digital distributors to require ESRB ratings for the games they sell. I’m not so keen on this part.

And finally, once most major distributors have that “voluntary” requirement, we end up with more problems from #2: It’s a lot easier for greedy lawyers and politicians with a need to pad out their sponsorship and voting records with lousy legislation with benevolent-sounding titles to give this helpful, self-policing, customer-friendly system the weight of law or civil liability. They’ve tried many, many times, and will try again – SCOTUS decision granting video games some protection under the First Amendment notwithstanding. This will have a chilling effect on the industry. I’m not so keen on that part.

So I’m a little bit torn.

Filed Under: Biz, Politics - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Robert Boyd said,

    Isn’t the whole point of the ESRB to prevent government censorship? We police ourselves so you don’t need to.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    At one point, Senator Lieberman did threaten the games industry that if we didn’t police ourselves, the government would, yes.

    Since then, there’s been a ton of legislation (unsuccessful so far, in THIS country) to give ESRB ratings the weight of law – if you sell an “M” rated game to a minor, you could face stiff fines and possibly jail time. That kind of thing. In fact, here in Utah, there was legislation that passed the House (fortunately, didn’t make it onto the Senate schedule) that would have made *PARENTS* subject to jail time for letting their children play “M” rated games.

  • Albert1 said,

    Ah, ratings!
    Forcing certain investors to invest only in AAA certified companies has come a long way, eh? Sure, the fact that some of those star companies were rotten as hell was only a lil incident.

  • Mike said,

    C’mon Jay, “It’s for the children!”

  • Attila said,

    Unrelated rant…have you noticed that games are being made more and more unfinished? It’s ridiculous at this point. I’d love to see you make a post about this in the near future.

    I recently purchased two games: Xcom: Enemy Unknown and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.

    Xcom is filled with bugs and there are many seemingly simple tweaks the team could make to give many of the fans what they want. Well they just announced new DLC…I haven’t touched the game for 2 weeks waiting for a new patch!

    As for Chivalry…whoa boy…I’ve never been a beta tester, but this game makes me feel like one. There are major, major bugs. Instead of offering support, they ask you to post on the forums so that the whole community can work it out. The servers randomly don’t show up and you have to restart the game…they have a list of achievements, but you can’t actually get any of them yet…plus many people with high end computers are having major performance problems, myself included.

    Why bother buying games when they’re not finished? It feels like the companies put these games out so they can get a bunch of extra beta testers, or so they can just make the money off the franchise (Xcom) and milk it for everything.

    Rant done. Thanks.