Exclusive: The ESRB discusses its new rating system for digitally distributed games

esrb discusses new rating system

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, the independent organization responsible for assigning ratings for commercially sold video games in the United States, announced a significant change to its services on Wednesday. The Digital Rating Service will now be used to assign an age-appropriate rating for games sold or distributed through digital channels. That means any game sold through Steam, the Windows 8 Marketplance, the Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo eShop, iTunes, the PlayStation Network, and any number of digital-only distribution channels will use the new system. Publishers and developers will fill out a questionnaire online, and that will be used in determining not just the game’s age appropriateness but also what digital information the game records and shares about the player.

These aren’t the biggest changes to the ESRB’s process, though. The biggest change is that the Digital Rating Service will be free. This will not only make it markedly easier for independent game developers with limited funds to get their games on multiple platforms, it will also streamline the process of bringing older games released before the ESRB was established to digital platforms.

“If a game is to be distributed by digital means only then it can utilize the Digital Rating Service,” the ESRB’s Eliot Mizrachi tells Digital Trends, “This includes games that are direct downloads to a console or PC, browser or mobile games, or even streamed games. Only if a game is to have a packaged component does it need to undergo the traditional process, which includes a fee since it involves raters reviewing content.”

The ESRB has charged for ratings for nearly twenty years now. Why change to this new free format after so long? Mizrachi explains that the board’s process was past overdue for a change considering how dramatically the video game industry has evolved in recent years.

“The ESRB must evolve along with the rapidly changing industry it serves and the Digital Rating Service is reflective of that reality. The goal is to foster consistent, reliable rating information across the various platforms on which consumers access games and apps. The system makes it easier for developers by streamlining the process to obtain a rating.”

While the new rating system will most benefit small game studios that couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars necessary for getting a game rated by the ESRB, it will also make it significantly easier to release legacy content. Part of the reason Nintendo’s Virtual Console has been so sparsely stocked on Wii and the Nintendo 3DS over the years is that publisher’s saw little merit in uploading an old NES game that would sell to only a small audience when it would cost so much to have it rated for distribution. Niche NES, Sega Master system, and many other games from before the ESRB’s founding in 1993 now have a better chance at making it to digital distribution platforms since rating them will be totally free.

 “Previously rated product does not need to obtain a new rating when it is ported to a new platform provided that its content remains the same,” says Mizrachi, “If it is unrated and will only be distributed digitally then it may obtain a rating using the Digital Rating Service.” 


Mercedes-Benz predicts cars will evolve more in the next decade than ever before

Mercedes-Benz lead designer Gorden Wagener needs to push the company's design language further without diluting it. Digital Trends sat down with Wagener to gain insight into how Mercedes-Benz design will evolve as cars become more…

You're not a true fan without these Nintendo Switch exclusives

Who doesn't love a good Nintendo game? If you're looking for great first-party titles for your Nintendo Switch, take a look at our list of the very best exclusives available right now.

Take some time to reminisce with the 25 best Sega Genesis games of all time

Although the company has since fallen into obscurity, Sega was an indisputable titan throughout the '90s. That said, here are 25 best Sega Genesis games that helped define its fabled decade.

This gaming PC rig costs less than most smartphones. Here's what we put inside

Building a great gaming PC doesn't take as much time or money as you might think. We've put together a list of great gaming components to build a budget gaming PC for under $500.

I'm canceling my backlog for Apex Legends. Be back never

Live service games like Fortnite and Apex Legends are eating up everyone's time, leaving other games out in the cold. While my backlog continues to grow, it seems the gaming industry is struggling to keep up as well.
Virtual Reality

Getting into VR is spendy. Which headset is truly worth your hard-earned cash?

Virtual reality has finally gone mainstream, but how do you find the best VR headset for you? Check out a few of our favorites, whether you want the best of the best or a budget alternative for your mobile device.

Buy a new Switch console and get a $35 eShop gift card at some retailers

Multiple retailers are currently offering the Neon Blue and Red Nintendo Switch console with a free $35 eShop gift card. The system still costs the standard $300 and includes Joy-Con controllers and the dock.

Become a champion with our beginner's guide to Apex Legends

Jumping into Apex Legends for the first time? Need help becoming a champion? Our Apex Legends beginner's guide has 15 tips and tricks that will hopefully help your team make it into the champion's circle.

Thrive in the nuclear apocalypse with our Metro Exodus survival guide

Metro Exodus is a difficult shooter, especially if you're new to the series' blend of stealth, action, and scavenging. Here is what you need to know to survive the nuclear apocalypse.

Here's where Xur is and what he has for wares this week in Destiny 2: Forsaken

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.

How do the revised Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles stack up?

Microsoft's new Xbox One S and Sony's PlayStation 4 "Slim" have bucked the generational gaming console trend. But which of these stopgap systems is worth spending your paycheck on?

Here's our Champion's guide to picking the best character in Apex Legends

Apex Legends' use of heroes with different abilities helps separate it from other battle royale games. To help you choose your legend, we've put together a legend guide detailing their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

Transport your Nintendo Switch in style with these nifty cases

The Nintendo Switch, which boasts both wired and handheld modes, needs a good case to ensure it doesn't get beat up while you're on the go. We scoured through dozens of Switch cases to bring you the best ones.

These are the best weapons for taking down mutants and bandits in Metro Exodus

Metro Exodus is a very difficult game, and choosing the right weapons is key for surviving the post-apocalyptic Russia that 4A Games has created. These are the best weapons in Metro Exodus.