Matthew Roszak

In The Press Blog

What naughty stuff will get your video game into ratings trouble? (NSFW)

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The Entertainment Software Ratings Board came up with a questionnaire today that it hopes will address the need to provide appropriateness ratings for the growing number of downloadable online games. Now game developers will have a better picture about what is OK to submit in terms of racy, violent, or other potentially offensive content.

The issue is an important one, as objections to game content could slow down the growth of the industry, and because the video game industry has a big case on game violence before the U.S. Supreme Court.

We’ve now had a look at the questionnaire — which generates an automatic rating of a game for a developer — and we’ll show below some of the interesting examples that, by our own inferences, could get a game into hot water with the ratings board.

The new ratings apply to games submitted to Microsoft’s Xbox Live online game service as well as the Nintendo Wii Shop and DS Shop and the Sony PlayStation Network store. But it’s quite possible the automated system could eventually extend beyond that.

To get a downloadable console game rated, game makers fill out the questionnaire in a lot of detail. Then a computer program will determine the rating for the game, based on the best intelligence on past ratings for games by the ESRB. Thanks to the automation, it is possible — but not absolutely certain — that the new ratings system wil eventually be applied to all sorts of games, including mobile games, social games, and online web games in addition to the online console content for which it is intended today. Online or mobile game makers who thought they could forever escape the more restrictive ratings system of the consoles might find themselves in hot water one day soon.

Patricia Vance, president of the ESRB, said in an interview there is no guarantee the system as devised will be extended to mobile and online games. But the system has been designed to scale up to a much larger number of ratings requests. Vance said that the ratings board came up with the words and types of scenes mentioned in the questionnaire through 15 years of experience rating games. It basically means the questionnaire is a peek into the minds of parents and others who want to protect our kids.

Here are some interesting things to know about the questionnaire: The big touch points are realism, violence, sex, gambling, drugs, and bodily functions. These are the categories of game play that parents are usually concerned about, Vance said.

When it comes to violent games, the questionnaire gets quite sophisticated. For instance, it takes into account a lot of factors, such whether or not a game is played from a first-person or third-person view, said Vance. A game is more likely to be objectionable based on graphic violence if it uses a more gut-wrenching first-person view.

“Perspective is a huge factor in video game ratings,” Vance said.

Continue reading: http://venturebeat.com/2011/04/18/what-naughty-stuff-will-get-your-video-game-into-ratings-trouble-nsfw/

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