The CEO of Artificial Mind & Movement - the studio behind WET and the PSP build of Danté's Inferno - said at a development conference that the ESRB is easily manipulated and that publishers take advantage of it.
Speaking at the Montreal International Game Summit, Rémi Racine of A2M said:
As a developer who has worked with a lot of different publishers, we're aware of many that have tried to cheat the rating. They say to the ERSB that it's a Teen rating [13+] rather than an Mature [17+] to try and sell more; you can do this just by sending them a video that doesn't show the most violent stuff and then you'll get the rating that you want rather than the rating you should get.
Edge Online, which quoted Racine at the Summit, then published this reply from the ESRB's Eliot Mizrachi:
ESRB takes full disclosure of content during the rating process extremely seriously, and companies that submit their games to ESRB know this very well. We regularly check games post-release to verify that submissions were complete, and it's very likely that if a game contains undisclosed content that would have affected the rating assigned, we'll find out about it. In such cases ESRB can actually impose fines up to $1 million as well as require corrective actions like re-labeling or even recalling product, both of which can obviously be very costly. There's no incentive whatsoever for publishers to withhold content from ESRB in an effort to receive a lower rating, and those that would do so risk significant penalties.
I can't think of any titles which exemplify Racine's accusation; of course, my radar is largely fixated on upcoming AAA releases, and games of such a high profile are almost definitely M-rated or not, in the public's mind, before the ESRB gets hold of them. When was the last M-versus-T controversy anyway? Does it even matter? That said, there might be a few marginal titles out there. But which ones?
MIGS: Publishers "Cheat" Age Ratings [Edge Online]