ESRB Opens No-Cost Ratings Service for Digitally Distributed GamesS

Downloadable games sold through the three console makers' online services will be rated by what the Entertainment Software Ratings Board is calling a "streamlined, no-cost service," in a statement released today by the ESRB. The new "Digital Rating Service" gives developers and publishers access to a "brief but detailed online questionnaire" to define a product's covers downloadable games on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Nintendo's eShop and Wii Shop Channel, and Windows 8.

"The ESRB, expects to broaden adoption of its ratings among game providers of all types," said a statement from the board, "The resulting ubiquity of ESRB ratings will ease a parent's job by presenting a single ratings standard across the many platforms on which their children access games."

Notably absent from the release (pdf), however, was a mention of Steam or the iTunes or Android app stores.

The new Digital Rating Service involves a "brief but detailed online questionnaire to assess not only a product's content and age-appropriateness, but also interactive elements, including the sharing of personal information or physical location and exposure to unfiltered user-generated content," says the ESRB.

John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts, and Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, both made statements in support of the new digital initiative, available through the news release at the link.

ESRB Extends No Cost Rating Service to All Digitally Distributed Game [ESRB via Game Politics.]

The new service will be used first on downloadable games available on Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation Certified devices, Nintendo eShop, Wii Shop Channel and Windows 8, with other digital content aggregators, online game networks, streaming and download services to follow. Presumably it will not include games on Apple's, Amazon's, or Google's Android marketplaces.

"Consumers have grown accustomed to using ESRB ratings when making decisions about the appropriateness of the games their families play. With the explosion of devices from which consumers can access games today, our goal is to ensure that those same tools are available everywhere games can be found," said ESRB president Patricia Vance. "More recently, parents' concerns have begun to extend beyond just content to include the sharing of their kids' personal information or location and interactions with other players. ESRB's Digital Rating Service now offers all digital platforms, storefronts and networks the opportunity to empower their customers with consistent, credible, familiar and useful upfront guidance no matter where their family chooses to play games."

The most notable part of the new ratings system is that it highlights games that share information or private data or that may give access to "unfiltered" or "unrated" downloadable content.