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ESRB to co-create (flawed) mobile game rating system

Gamasutra has the news that the Entertainment Software Rating Board is teaming up with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association to create a new standardized rating system for mobile apps and games. The two organizations announced the upcoming new rating system Monday, with an official announcement event scheduled to take place next Tuesday in Washington, DC.

The ESRB is the self-regulatory organization that rates the content of almost all current console and PC games, assigning them with easy to remember rating categories such as Everyone, Teen and Mature. The existence of ESRB's third-party ratings has been historically important in avoiding state and federal regulation of the content in video games, though controversial titles have still managed to raise the debate again every few years.

No such rating system exists on mobile platforms as of yet. All apps on Apple's App Store have been rated on a scale of 4+ to 17+ (the age ranges appropriate for the app's content) since the 2009 iOS 3.0 update. On Google's Android Market, developers can rate their own apps as containing low, medium, high, or no mature content.

This announcement raises a lot of questions for both consumers and developers while we wait for the details coming next Tuesday. This rating system could increase development costs, as the ESRB currently requires a fee for each title submitted for rating. Whether they will also charge a fee for mobile games remains to be seen, but seems likely. Another question is if such a rating system would even become compulsory for mobile games at all, since it's possible that both Apple and Google won't require developers to have ESRB ratings on their games. This would mean that developers could simply not submit their apps to the ESRB for a rating, bypassing the fee and wait time entirely.

And of course, there's the issue of volume. The staggering amount of mobile games on Apple's and Google's combined platforms easily totals to more than all the games the ESRB has rated in its entire history. A sudden influx of mobile games could increase turnaround for the ESRB a lot if they don't have the manpower to handle it, which in turn could lead to longer development cycles for mobile game developers.

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