Are Automated ESRB Ratings the Future for Games?
The ESRB has been scrutinized in the past for changing box art, modifying logos, and threatening to slap Adults Only ratings on games. The board will now be experimenting with a new method of rating games. They're looking to move away from having employees rate titles (you know, the job they get paid to do) and will instead task computers with doing the work for them.
A questionnaire system will be used. Publishers will be responsible for answering a set number of questions broken into various categories (including language and sexuality), which will each be divided into different subcategories. Based on the answers, a computer will determine whether the game is suitable for an E, T, or M rating. Penalties will be enacted for nondisclosure, so publishers won't be able to falsify answers.
This system has emerged because of the increased number of releases that are hitting both retail and digital video game markets. (Can't they just rate most of the WiiWare content released G for Garbage?) According to reports from The New York Times, the ESRB rated approximately 1,600 total games last year, 30 percent of which were online titles.
This new rating system will be tested out on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and WiiWare downloads starting this week. Of course, since it's a fairly new practice, employees will still be overlooking the process to ensure it works correctly (or at all, for that matter). "All games rated via this new process will be tested by ESRB staff shortly after they are made publicly available to verify that disclosure was complete and accurate," said the ESRB.
This type of approach seems problematic. Kudos to the ESRB for attempting to find a way to work less, but we can all expect the group's employees to ditch this system once they realize it doesn't work well and get back to doing the job they're paid for.