ESRB Ending Short Form Ratings In June, But Indie Developers Might Have Options
While it was announced a little while ago that ESRB was going to end short form ratings for digital games – that is, a free rating for games that aren't going to ship physical retail copies that is usually used by indie games. The ESRB will be officially ending this program in June, presumably forcing developers to a paid ESRB submission.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board is responsible for assigning games content ratings based on a list of content given to them by the publisher or developer. Most retail stores will not accept games that aren't rated by the ESRB and neither Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft accept games without ratings. Previously, indie developers releasing digitally and couldn't afford the long form rating could use the short form rating free of charge. The phasing out of short form ratings is catching indie developers off guard, evidenced by this tweet by Indivisible developer Brandon Sheffield.
Somehow it slipped past me that the ESRB is going to stop providing free ratings for digital games in June!? How is there not a huge stink being made about this!!! What the heck. Another way to squeeze blood out of the indie stone.— brandon sheffield (@necrosofty) May 17, 2018
The ESRB twitter account replied, saying "Developers of digital games and apps will still be able to obtain ESRB ratings at no cost through the IARC rating process. The Microsoft Store deployed IARC years ago and has committed to making IARC ratings accessible to all Xbox developers. So, developers should not be concerned."
The IARC process referred to is the International Age Ratings Coalition, a process that allows developers to get multiple ratings for games across different regions. While the ESRB tweet pointed out the Microsoft Store, using IARC to get an ESRB rating is accepted by Google Play Store, the Nintendo eShop, and the Oculus Store, as well. There are plans for the PlayStation store, as well, but it is not yet in place.
The answer isn't satisfying developers yet, as the IARC does have blind spots, and is not a full replacement for the short form submission process. An ESRB representative told GamesIndustry.biz that "We expect that an ESRB ratings solution will be available to all developers of console downloadable games at no cost to them without interruption."
They go on to say that there is no hard date for the phasing out of the short form submission, so it is possible it may be delayed past the June ballpark.
Hopefully indie developers can get a process that replaces the short form as well as possible, if not completely. Whether that's through IARC or another free of charge submission process through the ESRB is up in the air, but the ESRB should probably sound less confused about the future plans.