2 & 1/2 Months later ESRB responds to J: Get Lost!

by Alphaville Herald on 20/03/04 at 8:03 pm

Some time ago our contributor J published an Op/Ed piece arguing that the ESRB rating system for MMORPGs was broken. This was part of a research project that he was doing on the ESRB Rating system. As the comments following that essay show, most readers found his analysis thoughtful and careful. When he was doing research for that project he also wrote to the ESRB asking them about their established policies for evaluating MMORPGs. It took them over two months to reply, and shockingly all they could say was that “we are unable to research your question(s) for you.” What makes this response shocking is that all he was asking them to do was to explain what their policy was. Why would they have to research anything? Why not just tell him what the procedures are for evaluating MMORPGs? Unless, of course, there are no set procedures…

J’s correspondence with the ESRB is appended.

7 Responses to “2 & 1/2 Months later ESRB responds to J: Get Lost!”

  1. Mr-President

    Mar 20th, 2004

    Wow. It seemed as if she didn’t even read the letter, lol.

  2. daryl

    Mar 21st, 2004

    An interesting note: on midnight club II for the ps2 by rockstar games, the ESRB issues an additional warning descriptor: “This game is rated T for Teen; however, game experience may change during online play.”

    I’m not sure if it was rockstar or the ESRB responsible for coming up with that message, but it seems fairly responsible, atleast showing that the industry is thinking about the problem.

  3. Tory

    Mar 21st, 2004

    Interesting. When this was brought up 2 1/2 months ago, I, too, contacted the ESRB to get some more information about the rating system for MMORPGs. I actually got a much better and more detailed response from them than did J.

    *My original submission/question:

    Please describe your complaint, comment, or concern:
    I have a question about ratings in general. Basically, what I want to know is how the ratings are determined for MMORPGs where the content is wildly varying and the constant influx of new players and playstyles can change on a regular basis. Also, what would prompt a change to a MMORPG’s rating, once established? Thank you.

    *The reply I received on 3/19/04:

    RE: ESRB Consumer Online-Hotline – Questions about a rating

    Thank you for contacting the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and we apologize for the delayed response.

    The ESRB does its best to ensure that the rating process is meticulous and thorough. At least three specially trained raters review actual footage from each game submitted to the ESRB. The raters examine the game’s most extreme content, evaluate its context and overall intensity, and use their own good judgment to recommend the rating they believe will be most helpful to consumers.

    In the case of, Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s), certain online games permit players to add content of their own, such as text and/or voice chat, skins for characters or maps for background images. All publishers of online games that have been rated by the ESRB and permit player-generated content are required to add an Online Rating Notice to the game’s packaging (if it exists), as well as the opening screen. The Online Rating Notice states “Game experience may change during online play.” This is our warning to consumers, in particular to parents that other players may be able to add content that has not been rated by the ESRB.

    I hope this explanation helps in your understanding of our rating system. In the end, no rating system can account for the enormous range of tastes and values in America. ESRB does its best to provide reliable information about a game’s content, but we also encourage parents and all consumers to do their own independent research, via game packaging, websites, magazine reviews, and other sources, to see if a game is appropriate for their family. Ratings can only be a guide and we are sorry that you did not feel the rating issued by ESRB was helpful. We hope you will continue to use the system and share your comments and concerns in the future.

    Additional rating and descriptor information can be found on our website at http://www.esrb.org in “Game Ratings and Descriptors Guide,” after clicking on the “ESRB Game Ratings” button. You can also do a “power search” (to search for list of games, by publisher, rating, genre, etc.), in the same section, by clicking on “Search for Game Titles and Ratings.”

    Thank you again for your correspondence.


    Christine Seddon
    Marketing Associate
    Entertainment Software Rating Board

    I find it interesting that I asked for less details to begin with, but got a more detailed answer in return.

    Go figure.


  4. Maria LaVeaux

    Mar 21st, 2004

    It seems the answer is simple, they could not respond because they

    A) Do not actually HAVE ant criteria for judging on line games.


    B) Even they have to admit that whatever criteria they DO have is Grossly insufficient to the task, and they are reluctant to make it public.

    Plain enough to me.


  5. urizenus

    Mar 21st, 2004

    Thanks for posting the reply you received TJ. That is very interesting indeed. It would have been a simple matter for them to send J exactly the same response they sent you. Perhaps the detailed nature of his inquiry scared them off? And then maybe Maria has the answer to why it scared them off “the criteria they DO have is grossly insufficient to the taks and they are reluctant to make it public.” It’s almost like the analytical nature of his questions shamed them into shutting up.

  6. Greg

    Mar 23rd, 2004

    I’m not sure about the box or anything [I couldent find mine] but it dose say on the sims online webpage: TEEN, and at the bottom, Game Experience May Change During Online Play, so maybe they just get the “Teen” from the content in the game, but you never know what you might see people actualy doing with that stuff.

  7. urizenus

    Mar 23rd, 2004

    It’s on the box, but it is *really* small fine print. Clearly it’s legal CYA stuff and not there to help the parents make an informed decision about the content of the game.

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