Recently I read an article about how ESRB ratings are “not required” and how they could eventually be ignored. This is entirely possible because many industries have done it at one point or another. Comic books were being completely killed by third party ratings, which forced companies like Marvel to create their own “third party” rating system to allow more leverage on what content they provide. Of course movie’s have probably the strongest rating company out there, but ESRB has yet to reach that point.
The issue with ESRB isn’t the fact that they are restricting content, but the price point of getting the littler ESRB sticker on the game. Yes companies have to pay the ESRB to get a rating on their game. No rating means no stores (excluding some digital networks such as Steam) will carry your game at all, and the big three console makers will completely ignore the fact your game even exists. Pretty big political debacle to be had there, right? Well the price to get that little sticker on your box is 800 dollars all around.
This is the big deal to me. It is 800 dollars no matter what your game is or who made it. For a company like EA, 800 dollars is change in the pocket. They will make it back within an hour of release. However what about someone like you, or me, or that small studio with ten people working? It doesn’t work for the indie group of people. They are already on a strict budget, and 800 dollars might be more money than anything they have spent to make the game to begin with. This is a big deal, and its just one of the many loops indie developers have to jump through.
Moving to consoles there is no “Steam” or indie network for them. In order to get their game noticed they need to spend the money on an ESRB rating, get it approved by Sony or Mircosoft, and then spend the fee’s required to either get the game on the digital store or into retail outlets. It isn’t cheap at all and this is why indie titles are not expanding on consoles at all. You jump on PC and you have a lot of the major blockbusters, but you also have 100’s of indie games that are extremely good and made by talented people. As a gamer, this is extremely fun to see and is a great chance to jump into new worlds and original gameplay.
This is something I really feel the consoles need to improve on and there has to be a solution availible to help make that happen. Cheaper prices based on the studio and game at hand. If an indie studio goes to the ESRB to get a rating, they should be met with a price point they can handle. There should be parameters in place for the lower tier of pricing. For example how many people are working on the game, does it have a big publisher signed to it, how much did it cost to make the game, where do they plan to release it, and what is the content on hand? One big factor that could come into play is “how much profit/sales did the previous game make” for the studio or group of people. Basically you are asking them if they can afford the original price point or not.
One major reason I think the ESRB needs this change is so another rating system doesn’t take them over. Right now Apple and Android markets are absolutely exploding with content, but none of this content has ratings on it at all. After browsing the market myself, and letting my little brother browse the market, I noticed all kinds of content that could be in the “inapropiate” range. It would help to “filter” content by rating and be allowed to put parent locks or content locks on the devices just like consoles do. I’m not saying everything needs a rating, but these locks could easily prohibit anything without a rating.
The issue is a lot of the apps are coming from individuals, or small companies, and asking them to pay 800 dollars to get a rating is a bit much. Especially when you take into account how many of them are going to get the stereotypical E (for Everyone) rating for casual experiences. This is where the tier pricing will come into play, allowing the ESRB to help in the area without hurting the market at all. Perhaps something free is needed, because the bigger the phone markets get the stronger the devices become. Already games are pushing mature content, they just don’t have the horsepower to make it anything realistic….yet. Eventually “parents” and Fox news will see the target and begin taking shots. Will the ESRB be asked to step in? Or will Apple and Google create their own rating systems like Marvel?
The ESRB was touting the fact that they rated over 1200 games in 2011 (it currently says it on their site as well) and the only price point they have is 800 dollars from what I can find. That’s over 960 thousand dollars…..they have plenty of money to help get more ratings out there and to re think their business plan a little bit. Two key areas of the game industry could be fixed and improved if they do.