Agony Avoids Adults Only Rating By Shifting Content To Optional Patch
Agony, a kickstarted survival horror game, has adjusted some of its content to avoid a higher rating while offering a patch to restore that content on PC.
The game has a number of violent kills that the ESRB, the ratings body that applies the content ratings on game boxes, has deemed excessive for a Mature rating. This is not surprising, as the game's Kickstarter promised that it would be the most disturbing game of all time, so some degree of brutal violence has been sold as part of the package.
Developers PlayWay have stated they have worked with the ESRB to reframe the camera to ensure the spirit of the violence stays, but the game get to avoid an Adults Only rating. As the game is coming out on consoles as well as Steam, all of which refuse to certify or sell AO-rated games, and most stores refuse to carry any, the changes had to be made to get the game released.
PlayWay assures players miffed by the changes, though, that the PC version will have an optional patch to restore the original content and camera angles that would have gotten the game an Adults Only rating before the changes. The announcement is public, so the ESRB is aware that this is what's happening, but the version being released still retains the M rating.
This is not uncommon on PC titles, especially those sold on Steam, where adult content is freely available and discussed in the game's forums to be patched in. Obviously, this method does not work on console versions, but it has seemingly become accepted practice on PC for circumventing store rules around ESRB ratings.
Agony releases May 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
It is definitely a weird situation where the ESRB knows its ratings are being subverted, but it's not breaking any rules. That said, I could also see the reverse being a slippery slope of mods counting against a game's ESRB rating, which has some precedence in isolated instances. I don't necessarily think there should only be M-rated versions, the whole dance is just strange to me.