ESRB to institute $1m game-ratings fine

Industry ratings board raises the maximum penalties for publishers who fail to disclose objectionable content.

by

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling on its nearly yearlong investigation into the "Hot Coffee" sex-minigame scandal concerning Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The FTC concluded that the game's publisher, Take-Two Interactive, "failed to disclose important information about the game's content to consumers," and said it would fine the company if it did so again.

The FTC isn't the only group deceptive publishers will have to answer to, as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has raised the cap on what it can fine companies for deception and lack of disclosure.

In her opening statements to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection hearing on violent and sexually explicit games today, ESRB president Patricia Vance told lawmakers that the ratings board has "enhanced" its enforcement system, and will soon be able to fine companies up to $1 million for failing to disclose objectionable content during the game-ratings process.

On top of that, repeat offenders could have their ratings services revoked entirely. Not carrying a rating can be a severe impediment to a game's success as well: Most major national retailers, such as Wal-Mart and GameStop, will not carry unrated or AO for Adults Only-rated games.

Discussion

94 comments
Merl57
Merl57

So all this hub ub because some old people politicians are upset because someone might see some fake computer generated boobies? Are you kidding me?

Merl57
Merl57

Um. This will never end.

chrisdojo
chrisdojo

that's quite the incentive not to hide any hot coffee code....

ewjim
ewjim

Here, in Russian Federation, we can play in what we want! 8) I work in shop that sold games... even parents buy games with game-ratings "older 14" (Postal 2) for ten year children...

ranglah33
ranglah33

(Disclaimer: I am 30 years old, been gaming for 20 years, enjoy sex with women (my wife), and am a huge GTA fan) If it's true that most major retailers, mainly Gamestop/EB, won't carry AO games, San Andreas should've shipped at launch in M rated version and AO rated version. Those 17+ folks who wanted the play the game at launch and were not interested in the Hot Coffee mod, such as myself, could do so. And those "Adults" who were in dire need of the AO version for the Hot Coffee mod, perhaps in a lue of actually having sex themselves, could work a little harder to track down a copy. Maybe they shipped it without disclosing such information because most major retailers will not carry AO games, therefore their cash crop would take a quick and hard hit in the sales department. Or maybe they just thought it was funny. Regardless of the reason, it is a sh***y kick in the nutz to ESRB, their fellow developers and publishers, and the entire industry. Our beloved hobby and industry is under CONSTANT! scrutiny from the politicians, the FTC, the worthless parents (who don't have proper relationships with their kids or instill good moral values or take responsibility for properly raising their kids), and the fearful parents (those who do nothing more than listen to the worthless parents). The one way the industry can remain legitimate (as in stay on the professional side of the argument) and still keep its creativity and integrity is by disclosing the content of their games and submitting it all to a rating system. If anything, not disclosing the full content of the game just gives those worthless parents a reason to yet again blame the industry. This way they can say, "Well I thought since it was rated M for Mature it would be okay for my child. They clearly lied to me when I read the label. It's all their fault." And then those worthless parents would be right. And that, my friends, sucks.

jimbo102671
jimbo102671

Please take note, that's up to $1M only from the ESRB. I'm sure the FTC can levy fines as well, as the "per game" threat to T2 on future infractions should imply.

digitalheadbutt
digitalheadbutt

This seems a bit much to me. Who is going to determine what is objectionable? Some Jack Johnson type with no soul and no interest in anything but kittens and fluffy clouds? With fines like this developers are might be pushed into teh same crap that movies are in right now. There are many movies that I have seen in teh last like 7 years worth of PG13 drivel that would have been better films if they had been allowed to add some content that wasnt sheethed in cotton so as not damage our fragile perceptions. I want have the choice to see/play something based on my own criteria not have something so creatively hamstrung as to make it a waste of time, money and engery to even have been made. Start fining the filthy parents who raise kids so detached from reality that they mow down friends and teachers. I am 30, my entire life has been submerged in media worship, I was raised by the televison and the arcade. My parents didn't even attend college or anything and they stil had the sense to spend enough time with me to make sure I knew what was real and what wasnt.

Thrasher91604
Thrasher91604

Only a million? What a joke hand slap. ERSB needs to get serious and make it 20 million. Then companies will pay attention.

GCN49
GCN49

i'm glad to see the ESRB stepping up to the plate here. The ratings system is a good tool for parents to use. You have to remember, most parents are "outsiders" when it comes to video games and the video game industry. Everyone who posts on this site is serious enough about video games to actually spend time to read news stories, formulate opinions, and post them. Most parents don't, most people don't. What the ESRB is doing is trying to bridge the gap a little bit so that parents can have a better feel for what their kids are playing. Now it's the parent's job to step up and do some parenting.

coolcool23
coolcool23

Makes sense. Although one of the first people pointed something out that I agree with, If you make millions off of the game sales, then whats a measly $1 million fine?

sonicsam6
sonicsam6

I don't think a lot of games would get fined. Rockstar better not slip up again or else! They made fun games but I can live without Rockstar and their adult games....Manhunt sucked!

i_like_evil
i_like_evil

ESRB... I guess.... but I do like the point made on the first page though. Yep, parents are the ones overseeing most of the transactions but it doesn't cross their mind that they should look at the content. Then again most parents these days are 16 year old alcholics on drugs who live on benefits. ^ No offence about that one, just having a rant. Phew that's better...

quietguy
quietguy

Actually this is good in a way that a $1M fine wouldn't do much to heavy weight developers. Plus it keeps Jack Thompson away... far away, as ESRB can demonstrate the capability to regulate the gaming industry itself. Here's a better picture of what I'm saying: Who do you want to regulate the game ratings for us? 1. ESRB 2. Federal Government Pick one

Sabooya
Sabooya

Stupid people just trying to make money...

sasuke55
sasuke55

This is good maybe now they will disclose all content so we can keep the Jack Thompsons away. I do think however they need to have a clear understanding that not neccessarily on consoles but with PC games hackers can get into the code and change things to make obscene material. its in every game.

spon000
spon000

It shows how powerful organizations like the ESRB can get if not put in check. A 1 million dollar fine is excessive for anything! Plus, there's no way to challenge the penalty through anyone but the ESRB. The ESRB is not a government institution! This penalty is not based on what the FTC decides. It's based on what the ESRB decides and there are no decent checks and balances there. I believe Take Two's penalty and fallout from that penalty was more than enough punishment for that company this past year. Changing the rating to an AO for GTA:SA was in itself enough for Take Two to lose lots of money in sales. Don't you think they learned their lesson? I don't a believe a 1 million dollar penalty is necessary.

Inv_Machine
Inv_Machine

You know what, I did wonder why ESRB has had a lot of content slip through its fingers in the past. Trust me, I have some games that should be or have already been re-rated themselves. (like how Starcraft and its expansion is rated T on the box, but later becomes M-rated) To be honest, I think Take-Two shouldn't get most of the heat over the hot-coffee incident since the content really wasn't an official part of the game, I believe. I think the best thing everybody should do is to ease out of the M-rated market and focus on games that just about everybody could play.

metdevthegamer
metdevthegamer

Only a million dollars? That's only pocket change for video game companies. I guess revoking their ratings systems is the part of the punishment that actually makes it feel like one. Still, glad to see the ESRB is doing something about this.

rencie
rencie

The ESRB rating system is supposed to help parents make the right choices when selecting/buying games for their children. Game makers can still make the games that they make whether there is a system or not -- they know fully well what demographics and age group their games are targeting and appropropriate for. For a game maker to go out and deliberately not disclose questionable content goes to show their lack of responsibility. Why should they hide content when they should not be making a game around the rating system. Just make whatever game they wish and see what happens.

crazytank
crazytank

ESRB is short of money i guess

MVBDX
MVBDX

This is very good.

MVBDX
MVBDX

This is very good

kaosprince
kaosprince

Oh yeah, this is actually a good thing. It really does show that the industry can regulate without Clinton getting involved.

kaosprince
kaosprince

Just make all games 21+ and lets forget about this!!!! ugh! So much trouble for immature kids who play what they are not supposed to ! . Kids are ruining everything! Acutally that would be the parents who are ruining it for they, are letting their kids play these. A 21+ rating would be a very bad idea because most 21 year olds are very busy with college and work, unless that 21 year old is still in highschool. Therefor, most of them don't play videogames anymore.

SocaWarrior
SocaWarrior

I think this is actually good. I mean, stop sellin Socom to these damn 10 year olds. It is better than charging the parents who don't know wuts going on. I think that it helps, but i guess some ppl would like to kill me cause the games might not be appropriate for them to be playing. Hate on hataz.

neerajkumar_4
neerajkumar_4

well thats good! the company should disclose the games content!

NRIAgent
NRIAgent

is it a harsh fine for the crime or a very good deterant? Can't you hear them at rockstar now "Hey Bob, are you SURE you didn't put anything stupid in GTA4? Remember what happened with that 'joke' for SA?" Hopefully the fact sheets will be strait from now on and we don't need our wonderful industry in the midst of another "Hot Coffee" like event

DrKill09
DrKill09

I think the publishers should protest by not submitting the game for rating. Just release them without a rating. Marvel comics did that to get around comic book rules. ;)

RandyAU93
RandyAU93

HappyPeace: Well-written response. I know of BioShock, but I wasn't aware of the segment you mentioned, so I found GS's discussion of it. The ESRB, much like the MPAA does for movies, shouldn't rate games based purely on what content appears in the game. It should also consider the context within which the content appears. Based on my reading of the article, it would seem to me that ESRB wouldn't brand BioShock AO solely on that point. M, sure, but not AO. As a parallel, consider this about movie ratings: Normally, a few four-letter words, even basic ones, are enough to bump a movie from G to PG, regardless of the rest of the content. However, the context of the use can keep that from happening. In "Cars" (yes, the Pixar movie), the word "hell" is used twice, but in the context of being a place that one doesn't want to be in. If a character had said "that was a heckuva race" (replace heckuva as you see fit), it probably would have gotten a PG. Part of what helps BioShock is its blatantly science-fiction story. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the whipping boy for "evil, nasty games," is set in relatively modern times and presents very plausible scenarios. Even it was rated M, until Hot Coffee came along. So I wouldn't panic about Barney Xbox 360 showing up anytime soon ... then again, there is that Viva Pinata.

HappyPeaceGuy
HappyPeaceGuy

RandyAU93: ESRB may very well slap an AO rating on the game, and at that point the producer needs to make a choice. The producer can accept the rating and release the work unchanged, realizing that (a) most retailers won't sell it and (b) the console makers won't allow it, or they can edit down the game enough to get an M rating so it can be sold in those stores. The trouble with that is that we'll end up having awesome games like being altered just so that Ken Levine and his clan can actually make some decent money this time around. The degradation of mature content for sales WILL hurt some of us. I'm not talking about that 'hot coffee' crap either - I'm 32 and mentally stable, I can handle whatever the industry throws at me but what I shouldn't have to handle is when potentially great games have content changed or removed, just so a designer can make a financially viable product. Of course, there will (hopefully) be developers who're still prepared to whether the storm (and probably lower than expected sales) so that they can release games specifically targeted at adults. Here is what I'm talking about - It's a topic about killing children in BioShock - I gurantee that IG alter them in some way, which IMO will greatly deflect from their intentions of making the player make a decision based on their morals: http://www.ttlg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=106916

Valen_Ca
Valen_Ca

I think that this is a good idea , if it can be proven that the company witheld content from the ESRB to get a lower rating I think that they should be fined heavily.

Narroo
Narroo

Yeah. We shouldn't have a rating system, so nobody will know what is going to be in the games. Thats Smart!

playwrite
playwrite

i'm cool with that as long as they don't label super smash bros. brawl Teen.

gnbfd
gnbfd

Yeah!!!!!!!!!! That means 2K sould pay them $2,000,000 from the start. If they don't, then SCREW YOU ESRB.

ZuljinRaynor
ZuljinRaynor

I used to support the ESRB. Now whatever. Bring teh PEGI from Europe to America.

AlexJ-
AlexJ-

I'm really starting to dislike Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Great game, I know, but christ-I'm fed up with the controversy.

ssj4_2004
ssj4_2004

pwnr, I dissagree with your statement. I feel they don't rate things hrsh enough. GTA should have been AO from the start.

pwnr
pwnr

I always thought ESRB sucked. They rate things too harshly.

kriptonzz
kriptonzz

meh...not really a big concern for me.

RoboWizard
RoboWizard

It seems like most of the dolts around these parts didn't even bother to read the news post (though I really shouldn't be surprised by this fact). All they're doing is fining companies for putting things into their games that they don't mention/reference when they submit the game for review. Which, to be honest, I agree with entirely on its fundamental level. If a game gets an E for Everyone rating, but has hardcore gay porn in it if you beat all the levels in under 45 minutes with all the power-ups, then that seems worthy of chastising to me. This isn't really a warning to Take-Two either, though they sparked this whole incident, it's more of a warning to all publishers. Obviously, the ESRB was staring at Take-Two out of the side of their eye the whole time they were announcing this plan, but this isn't a matter of them "just leav[ing] Take-Two alone", it's a matter of better regulating games.

damagooon
damagooon

Just make all games 21+ and lets forget about this!!!! ugh! So much trouble for immature kids who play what they are not supposed to ! . Kids are ruining everything!

K1LLSWITCH
K1LLSWITCH

You have to thank Rockstar and Take Two Interactive for this. You get a bunch of idiots that pulls something like the "Hot coffee" mod, either for laughs or they actually thought they could get away with it, which puts the gaming industry under scrutiny yet once again. It's bad enough that the inudstry is being watched like a hawk by politicians and parents that are too incompentent to raise they're own children, looking for any excuse to sue someone. We don't need developers and publishers to continue to exist if they're not going to be professional, let alone smart in this industry. Now they're affecting us as gamers. More and more rules and laws will be enforced which will be even more difficult to play or distribute "M" rated games. Video games are considered to be worse off than porn right now, which is pathetic. Developers and publishers are walking in a mine field, so to speak, and they need to treat it as such.

tomxizor
tomxizor

Can't they just leave Take-Two alone? It's done and over with.

microsoft4life
microsoft4life

At least its better than what the government would do.