The ESRB has become the de facto standard for rating the content of video games. Well, at least packaged retail games. The ESRB is trying to expand out their rating system to cover downloadable games with the new Digital Rating Service. This provides ratings for downloadable games, including mobile apps, as they integrate their system with the CTIA Mobile Apps Review System. This service will allow app developers to fill out an automated questionnaire and instantaneously receive an ESRB rating for their app. This can all be done for free, opening up the ratings system to developers of all sizes.
However, the problem is that the ESRB ratings are currently not on the App Store, and there’s no real unified rating system out there yet for mobile games. The issue going forward with widespread acceptance will be if Apple decides to integrate these ratings into the store. Right now, the App Store uses Apple’s own ratings, with information that is supplied by the developer as to the content of the app and its age-appropriateness. Apple does implement the standardized MPAA ratings and TV ratings on the iTunes Store, so it seems like Apple may be open to an integrated ratings system in theory. However, given that apps are often from independent sources, rather than through studios that have the time and ability to prepare material for rating purposes, there may be hurdles toward Apple implementing ESRB ratings on the App Store. As well, the current ratings are set up for both games and apps, instead of the games focus of the ESRB.
So, the likely scenario is that only certain games will display the ratings, likely as splash screens, and only games from large publishers traditionally associated with the console space that place value on these ratings. If the App Store doesn’t implement them as a standard, then it loses some value, as obviously seeing the rating of an app after it has already been downloaded seems somewhat useless. Only a requirement from the ESRB to display logos in screenshots for games that choose to tuse the ratings may be
However, several of the new labels could come in handy, for those that indicate if an app uses location, features interaction with other people, or shares user information. While the self-reporting nature of the ratings system will not prevent unauthorized apps from sneaking these features past users, though it may educate users more.
So while there’s potential for ESRB ratings to become a real part of the App Store, there are still many, many hurdles for it to become widespread.