ESRB: content ratings help protect creative freedom

Tuesday, 26th February 2013 01:13 GMT By Brenna Hillier

ESRB president Patricia Vance has said the rating body isn’t so much a censor as a guardian of creative freedom in games.

“From an industry perspective, the ESRB has helped protect creative freedom through effective self-regulation,” Vance told GamesIndustry.

“By successfully fulfilling its mission to ensure consumers have the information necessary to determine which games are appropriate for their family and that game publishers responsibly market their product, the industry has been able to fend off the prospect of onerous legislation or other threats of regulation.”

Vance said that the ESRB constantly works to make its systems quicker and cheaper, so that it imposes fewer problems on creators, but that its still seen as an inconvenience.

“Although not the majority by any means, certain developers view the ESRB as a censor, imposing limitations on the content that game creators can include in their game. We feel that effective content labeling can actually foster creativity,” she argued.

“Generally speaking, where there is an absence of an established, credible rating standard, retailers, storefronts and platform holders tend to impose their own standards. These aren’t always especially transparent or clear, nor are they consistent. This kind of ambiguity and variance can result in developers self-censoring to avoid problems.

“Utilizing a credible third party like ESRB for ratings makes the process much clearer for developers and allows them to create their content more freely by providing a uniform, third-party standard that both platforms and developers can support and defer to.”

The ESRB is the US’s primary ratings body for video games, a product of the ESA and backed by most trade organisations. It is somewhat equivalent to Europe’s PEGI and Australia’s Classification Board.



  1. salarta

    Not mentioned in the article is that the ESRB was mainly created because of games like Mortal Kombat being freely available for all ages in retail outlets, and the threat of regulation because of it. Until around that time, games like Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Atari were kept out of the public eye and had to be asked for specifically.

    While the ESRB rating system could technically restrict dissemination if its rating is too high, I think it actually improves it. As Vance says, it makes stores more likely to put out games that they might have hidden away without a rating system, but I think assurances of type and level of content also play a role. A parent knowing a game is appropriate for kids may buy the game for the kid, and we always have some teenagers that think they need to play “mature” games and might overlook ones they assume are for kids despite their quality without a rating to tell them more of what the game’s like. There are also some cases where the ESRB review hints at content, and that content could lead people on the fence to buy it.

    The ESRB could be a restriction and censorship body, but I think under its current implementation, it’s actually doing a lot of good.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Brenna Hillier

    A good point. Thanks salarta.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dragon246


    Off topic, but has someone seen a “early childhood” rated game?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Phoenixblight


    Early children would be rated E nothing goes lower than that.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Dragon246

    Exactly. So whats the point of it then? For toddlers? :D

    I may just be interested in such a game :P

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Phoenixblight


    “Exactly. So whats the point of it then? For toddlers? ”

    I would imagine so.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. salarta

    @2: Thanks for the thanks!

    @5: EC games exist, but if it reaches that level, companies usually try to bump it up to Everyone same as how companies will take content out to go below AO. A rating of EC tends to be seen as on par with the game being a baby’s toy, while Everyone implies no limits for age interest.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Dragon246

    I checked it on Amazon and Reddit. They are toddlers games indeed.
    Now if you will excuse me, I am going to pre-order some :)

    #8 2 years ago
  9. The_Red

    Yeah, they will hand out AOs to games so that they won’t get released on PS3, 360 and Wii U so the artists are forced to CENSOR their own games. This is the definition of CREATIVE FREEDOM!

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Phoenixblight


    They would get released on the consoles the issue is the physical stores won’t sell the games.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. The_Red

    They won’t. MS and Sony have policies against granting certifications to AO rated games. Not sure about Nintendo but there is no way they are gonna allow an AO rated title on Wii U or 3DS.

    ESRB has been using the AO rating as a bully batton on games for years. From what I understand, two titles in particular have suffered a LOT because of that stupid system. Why can’t games have the “Unrated” option like DVDs? There are a lot of horror films that get “unrated versions” that stores will sell PUBLICLY.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Phoenixblight


    Then That is MS,SOny and Nintendo choice then. I have played plenty of games that were pretty ballsy so that would have to make me wonder what would be an AO game. Manhunt with AO patch wasn’t that bad.

    Unrated movies can’t and won’t be sold in stores like Target or Walmart.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. The_Red


    That’s the problem. ESRB says “Hey, we will give it AO but we won’t stop you” and console makers say “Hey, we’re cool with ESRB and support freedom but we can’t allow AO games”. It’s not about individual parts of the system. In the end, the current systems results in censorship.

    And it’s not always about extreme content. It’s sometimes about the volume. Still, at least movies HAVE the choice of unrated version. Look at Farenheit / Indigo Prophecy. They had to release a PC-only director’s cut in states instead of the one ESRB / console makers censored… Even then, what was on the director’s cut (AO) was way tamer than most R rated movies. AO games are mostly on par with R movies but are treated as NC-17 stuff Look at the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It got an R rating and made more than 100 million dollars at US box office. If it was a game, they would have DESTROYED it with AOs and controversies and crazy stuff like that.

    As for unrated movies, I understand that such places aren’t allowed to sell unrated flicks but at least there are a LOT of proper stores for them. Why can’t we have unrated games in select game stores? Why can’t I get the original, unrated version of Condemned 2 instead of the one ESRB butchered?

    #13 2 years ago

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