Video Game Regulation: What Does a Game Rated 17+ Mean?

We all know that most games are regulated by your mom. In case you are grown-up and lucky (or unlucky) enough to get married that could be your wife. But in this article, we would like to talk about the global rules of video game regulation which determine who can or can not purchase (install) a game. 

Who ESRB are?

Do you remember movie ratings? The ones containing sex and violence scenes are apparently restricted for children under 12. The same happens to videogames. There are no any government regulations on video games yet. Actually, we found one pending bill submitted to the United States House of Representatives (HR231 “Video Games Rating Enforcement Act”. Requires certain warning labels to be placed on video games that are given certain ratings due to violent content). But it hasn’t been reviewed yet. 

So makes these ratings? Since 1994 the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) takes care of it. This organization basically assign games with the six following labels:

  • Early Childhood (titles suitable for young children, even 3+)
  • Everyone (suitable for all, but may have some mild fantasy violence or language)
  • Everyone 10+ (ages 10 and older)
  • Teen (ages 13 and older)
  • Mature (17 and older)
  • Adult (18 and older, because that extra year is going to make a huge difference, presumably).

The commission that puts labels on the titles are not videogame experts, they don’t represent any laws and regulations committees. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s official information their staff who decides whether a game is appropriate for a certain audience or not consists of social workers or just adults who had experience with children, worked in schools, etc. They are not supposed to spend hours and hours learning gameplay in order to find something specific. It is enough to review animation and dialogues, and apparently to understand genre and theme. 

Read also: Top-6 Global Video Game Companies with Offices in Ukraine

Nothing criminal

You could be surprised but these ratings are made on a volunteer basis, so if a developer or a publisher doesn’t want to specify the audience they are aiming for, they are free to do it. However, such a decision may turn into a lower profit. For example, a lot of stores (including supermarkets and shopping malls) in the U.S. and Сanada, where games for PC and consoles are sold, require labels. If they are not specified games are not accepted. Although selling titles that contain adult or violent content is not considered to be illegal, this is more about morality and reputation. Retailers normally don’t want to be blamed for anything that could be related to children’s abuse. 

Interesting fact: according to the ESRB, more than 85% of parents understand the system,  and 70% intuitively use it (even if they don’t pay any attention to how games are rated).

Knowing how video game regulation works is crucial not only after the release and for marketers but also before the game is developed (at the concept stage). It helps to define the audience and potential fans. Especially, if you are considering the U.S. market.