We here in the United States have been using the ESRB system for rating games for a while now. Its effectiveness in actually guiding consumer sales can be debated, but it’s still an artifact of the adult gaming industry that has existed since Mortal Kombat scared a bunch of soccer moms half to death. However, the ESRB hasn’t made their mark on many digitally distributed titles, especially in the mobile universe, so they are updating their ratings system.
The old ratings system remains intact. We still have letter grades coupled with descriptors that tell us what the content of a game is like. However, there will now be extra icons detailing the game’s interactive elements, which cannot possibly be rated by the ESRB. Icons have been introduced for games that share user info, share user location, and allow users to directly interact over the Internet. Once again, these interactive elements cannot possibly be rated by the ESRB, considering the masses on Internet can essentially throw profanity around as much as they like without consequence. But at least people will be well aware of these interactive elements before their purchase now.
The ratings system will be streamlined as well. Now, developers will simply have to answer a questionnaire to get their full rating.
Xbox LIVE Arcade, PSN, Nintendo eShop, and Windows 8 will be the first digital distribution platforms to adopt this new rating system. Other platforms should follow as time goes on.