Unable to deal with the number of games released on Xbox Live, PSN, and WiiWare and DS marketplaces, the ESRB will automatically rate games based on criteria submitted by publishers.
The game ratings system implemented in 1994 by the ESRB in response to public outcry against violence in games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap is still very successful in deflecting perception of games as a potential problem in society. And even though the Supreme Court is currently debating whether a Californian law which would make it illegal to sell M-rated games to minors is Constitutional, publishers must submit games to the ESRB and pay a fee in order to receive the rating. Unfortunately, with the rise of smaller downloadable markets, there are now too many games released each year for the ESRB to put human eyes on all of them.
Beginning today, publishers of games sold through Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Store, the Nintendo Wii or the DS Shop must answer a comprehensive survey of the game's content and submit it via computer. Downloadable games will now be rated based on calculations made from publisher's answers to these questions. This change is meant to reduce the costs associated with employing more full-time videogame raters.
"The ESRB rating process that has been in use since 1994 was devised before the explosion in the number of digitally delivered games and devices on which to play them. These games, many of which tend to be casual in nature, are being produced in increasing numbers, by thousands of developers, and generally at lower costs," said ESRB president Patricia Vance. "This new rating process considers the very same elements weighed by our raters. The biggest difference is in our ability to scale this system as necessary while keeping our services affordable and accessible."
The new plan calls for an ESRB employee to check a game after it's publicly available to ensure that the publisher was forthright with its survey submission. If a publisher is found to be negligent in reporting the real context of sex and violence in its game, the rating will be corrected in the online store. And if the ESRB sees evidence that it was deliberately deceived, the game will be pulled altogether until it is resubmitted.
One could argue that most downloadable games are family-friendly fare anyway, and the few outliers of mature content doesn't offset the costs of reviewing each little platformer or board game. On the other hand, putting more of an onus on the publisher to answer questions appropriately might not assuage some of the worries of anti-gaming activists that the ESRB isn't tough enough on violence.
I'm kind of on the fence about this one. What do you guys think?