Today, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the ratings agency for the North American game market, announced it would be using a new procedure for rating downloadable content, including digitally distributed games. The new scheme covers not just DLC for console networks such as Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, and the Wii Shop Channel, but also portable content for the DSi and the PSP.
The ESRB is tweaking its DLC ratings procedure.
The new "streamlined" process will mean that instead of filling out more detailed and abstract forms, the ESRB will be relying on multiple-choice questions, which will "assess content across all relevant categories, such as violence, sexual content and language, among others." The questions on hand will also take into account the game's degree of reality and its visual style, in addition to other factors, such as a player's incentives and perspective. Language, crude humor, violence, and other factors will be taken into account.
The rating will then be automatically generated by an algorithm determined by from "hundreds of factors…based on 15 years of [the ESRB's] ratings experience." The algorithm can generate a rating ranging from E for Everyone to Adults Only.
Comprised together, the publisher's responses will determine a game's rating in an expedited manner. If the rating is contested, the game will be examined by the ESRB to "verify that disclosure was complete and accurate." If the raters discover that there are "egregious cases of nondisclosure," the DLC will be retracted "pending its resubmission to ESRB."
The ESRB will continue to test all full-length games submitted by this process through its usual procedure, which will have three raters rank the game. Every full-length game will still be rated by a "more open-ended questionnaire" with at least three ESRB raters evaluating the content.