ESRB explains why it doesn’t play the games it rates

Saturday, 5 February 2011 18:59 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

ESRB representative Eliot Mizrachi has shed some light on how ratings are handed out to videogames, and it has nothing to do with the body playing the games and experiencing the content for themselves.

According to Mizrachi, there are many reason why the ESRB doesn’t play the games it’s rating, and one of the most obvious reason has to do with time constraints.

“When games are submitted to ESRB for rating they may not have been finalized or fully tested yet,” he told IGN. “As a consequence, these games may still be buggy, making it difficult, if not impossible, for a rater to play the game from start to finish.

“Secondly, we assign over a thousand ratings each year and many games can take 50 plus hours to play through. So it’d be extremely time-consuming. More importantly though, it’s crucial that the raters see all of a game’s ‘pertinent content’ which includes not just the obvious (the game’s context, missions, storylines, reward system, etc.), but also its most intense content.

“Having raters play the game — and make their own choices as they do so — would not guarantee that they see everything they need to in order to assign a rating.”

Mizrachi also said the ESRB requires publishers to sign a contract regarding submitted content, which “empowers ESRB to enforce its rating system, including the ability to fine publishers if it’s determined that they failed to disclose content during the rating process.”

“If a rating does have to be changed because previously undisclosed content is discovered, we can not only fine a company up to $1 million, but more significantly require re-labeling of a product that’s already manufactured and shipped, or even recalling it — either of which can be extremely costly and is a significant disincentive for a publisher to not fully disclose their content.”

Hot Coffee anyone?

Mizrachi pointed out that should anyone have questions regarding the rating process, there’s an FAQ on the ESRB’s official website.