ESRB looks towards automated rating system

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, founded in 1994 to monitor the contents of videogames, is beginning to look towards computers in order to increase the board's overall efficiency. Having graded over 1,600 games during 2010 alone, the ESRB is well known among retailers and customers alike for the ratings it assigns to different games. Currently, the process of rating a game relies mainly upon members of the ESRB viewing a collection of the most offensive or graphic scenes from the game they intend to rate. Based upon what the candidates see, they assign a rating to the game. While this system does work, another problem has arisen for the Entertainment Software Ratings Board: how can they effectively monitor downloadable titles, such as those on the Playstation Store, WiiWare, and the Xbox Live Arcade?

The solution to this issue, at least in the ESRB's view, is to require each game developer to complete a form relating to their titles. The quiz appears to be quite substantial, and requires the company responsible for the game to inform about content of a graphic or sexual nature, as well as multiple other fields of information. According to Seth Schiesel of the New York Times, the questionnaire is extensive in what it asks. He has the following to say on the topic:

Offensive language, for instance, is broken down into six subcategories: minor profanities, epithets, scatological vulgarities, racial obscenities, sexual vulgarisms and a final category devoted to one particular three-letter word that refers to both a beast of burden and, colloquially, to a part of human anatomy.

Once a publisher has completed the necessary form, it is processed by an ESRB computer, which then can apply a suitable rating to the title. While the system does appear to work in its concept, it will prove interesting to see how effective it is in comparison to the original system, used with console games. The questionnaire requires the developers to be truthful about their product, but this already seems likely enough to happen: few developers are going to spend time creating a game only to have it removed for the content contained within clashing with their description of the title. It is interesting also to note that the ESRB will be double-checking the accuracy and honesty of the original questionnaire by playing the title when it releases to the public. While the system will not be used with console games - at least not yet - it should prove effective in monitoring content released to the different online stories, though these areas of each respective online service tend to be quite closed in what they accept.

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