I work for the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the only organization that literally looks at every single video game before it is available on store shelves. It is an interesting job and very few people actually know what the job entails. I am bound to an NDA but I'll provide as many answers as I can.

As far as proof, I cannot show much but this is the entrance to the office: http://img96.imageshack.us/img96/183/esrbv.jpg

Gotta go, guys. Thanks for the questions!

Comments: 1164 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

olioster333 karma

Is it true that you don't actually play the games you rate but are just shown a video provided by the publisher?

gamer1210554 karma

That is true. The publisher is supposed to provide a video of the most extreme content and then we watch it like a movie. The only time the game is played is after it's released. Publishers can be fined if there ends up being content in the game that was not disclosed in the video.

raggedyannie260 karma

Do the publishers give you a copy of a game once it's released?

gamer1210394 karma

Yes. They are required to and can actually be fined if they don't

JokersSmile318 karma

Is it an actual civil fine? or is it a ESRB "If you don't pay us this money then we won't rate any more of your games?"

gamer1210389 karma

The latter

SirConcision149 karma

Can they set it to any music they choose? I wonder how much of a difference it would make if GTA footage was paired with Enya or something.

gamer1210218 karma

It must be presented exactly as it will appear in the final game.

mmj125266 karma

im sure you're a nice person, but i hate your organization with a burning passion

gamer1210351 karma

A lot of people do. It's a pretty thankless job

TerryTheJanitor264 karma

Why is nudity considered more severe than violence?

gamer1210479 karma

ESRB ratings are supposed to represent cultural sensibilities, and for whatever reason, this country sees nudity as being worse than violence. In video games, this is also because violence is kind of a necessary game mechanic but nudity is not. There really isn't a lot of video game nudity, anyway.

TerryTheJanitor148 karma

Is there ever discussions among ESRB members about the absurdity of those cultural sensibilities? What is the ratio of male/female among employees?

gamer1210248 karma

There are some definite cynics, but there are also others who defend them. The mix of employees is designed so that this kind of debate occurs and there are varying viewpoints.

ColdHeart95214 karma

Have you guys rated a game for A (meaning Adult, supposedly higher ranked than M)?

gamer1210414 karma

The rating you are thinking of is AO (Adults Only). Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft will not give you the license to release a game on their consoles if it is rated AO. So almost every single time a game gets an AO, the publisher will tweak it so that it gets an M instead.

equationevasion198 karma

Is there ever any disagreement between yourself and your colleagues about what rating to assign to a game?

gamer1210320 karma

Alllll the time. For the most part, majority rules. For really borderline games, the ESRB president makes the final call.

Pg21_SubsecD_Pgrph12116 karma

  • How is your performance evaluated/graded as an employee?

  • How much do you make?

  • What is the corporate culture like of your office?

  • Please walk me through the typical process of rating a game, from the very beginning of when you are notified of it to the very end.

  • How long does it typically take?

  • What is the final "deliverable" of what you do? Do you have to provide a report to the publisher with reasons justifying your decision?

  • How much per game is your company paid for a rating? Do you bill the publisher more if they push back/re-tweak some stuff in order for you to re-rate the game?

  • What kind of opportunity for career advancement is there? What are the various levels (i.e. staff, manager, etc.) and number of years it takes to get to each level?

  • What is the typical educational and experience background of someone who gets into your profession?

  • What is your average day like and how is the work/life balance?

  • What is the your most memorable event, good/bad/mundane, since you've been working there?

gamer1210119 karma

  • Like any other company, we have guidelines and standards that must be met.
  • More than some people, less than others
  • Very friendly. Everyone is there because they like their job.
  • We receive a video of the game, showing the game's most extreme content in the appropriate context. Then raters watch the video like a movie and present their rating. If it is in line with games that have similar content, the rating is issued. If not, the higher-ups assign a different rating.
  • Usually about a week, unless it is a priority submission
  • Publishers receive a "rating certificate," which provides them with the rights to use that rating on their game. They just receive the certificate with the rating. If they want more info on why, they can call or email.
  • It actually varies depending on the development cost. There is also such a thing as a priority submission, which costs much more.
  • There is very little opportunity for career advancement. Unless someone leaves, everyone stays in the same position.
  • The cool thing about the ESRB is that it tries to include people from all walks of life so there are people with very different professional backgrounds.
  • The work can get monotonous but everyone is pretty much out by 5:30 PM. Work/life balance is good.
  • The holiday parties are my favorite!

kapy53106 karma

For sports games is there much to be shown outside the lyrics in a song? Are publishers very open about game content?

gamer1210183 karma

Sometimes there are things like advertisements for beer. For the most part, though, sports games are all about the lyrics in background songs. Publishers tend to be very open about the content in a game; if there is a discrepancy that is found after the game is released, it is usually a genuine case of the publisher not realizing they needed to disclose the content.

Iamnotb0b94 karma

What's the most controversial game you have rated?

gamer1210169 karma

Manhunt 2 comes to mind. It isn't often that the ESRB gets caught up in a big controversy but that was one of them.

rasta264580 karma

What was the most surprising thing you've seen on one of those videos? And, do the publishers ever contact you and argue with you that you gave their game an M when it should be E?

gamer1210113 karma

There have been a lot of surprises. As for publishers arguing, that actually doesn't happen as often as you'd think. There is a formal appeal process, and no one has ever appealed their rating.

Usually, they just ask what they need to change if they want a certain rating.

petethehuman45 karma

Do you think games are created with an intended rating in mind? Would developers aim for a middle-of-the-road T-rated game to ensure that they target the right audience? Playing Uncharted 3, I felt like Naughty Dog may have been trying to create an M-rated game (and failed). I just feel like a game's rating can really affect what its target audience is.

gamer121091 karma

If it's an American publisher, they always have a rating in mind. If it gets a different rating, they will change it and resubmit. I've only seen one case where a publisher wanted a higher rating than what they got. (They got an E10+ and wanted a T, so they tweaked it and got the T)

boyfriENT44 karma

Are you an avid gamer? If so what console or pc do you play the most?

Has there been a game that had different ratings for different consoles?

gamer121076 karma

I used to be an avid gamer, but not so much anymore (kind of fits that whole idea that once your hobby becomes your job, it isn't as fun anymore).

There are many games that have different ratings across different consoles. Most often this is because there is specific content that is in one but not the other. Less frequently, it could be because one platform has cruder graphics so the content is not as intense.

jaodoriko30 karma

Do you get any sort of training for rating content?

gamer121055 karma

Training takes about a day and involves just looking through previous games and discussing why each game got the rating that it did. From there, it is just a growing and learning process.

shiv4m17 karma

So when you guys reevaluated GTA San Andreas because of the nude scenes, were all the men sitting in one room while watching this specific scene? Was it awkward in anyway?

gamer121045 karma

The whole "awkward" thing goes away pretty quickly around here ;)

shiv4m15 karma

Can you give me some games that you guys evaluated already? I can already see the office, filled with games you'll never play.

gamer121028 karma

We have a few hundred games kept in on-site storage. There are thousands more located at storage facilities around the country (but I'm not authorized to give you any of them)

I_Will_Downvote_you_17 karma

What factors play into deciding the final rating?

gamer121040 karma

There are many factors. When it comes to violence, it depends on whether it's realistic or fantastical, whether or not there is blood, etc. Sexuality, drugs/alcohol, and language are also considered.

NotUniqueUsername16 karma

1) Is it needed to get my game reviewed by ESRB to appear on store shelves or why do the publishers do it?

2) Do you know anything about Half Life 3?

gamer121031 karma

1) Getting an ESRB rating is technically a "voluntary" process but every major retailer has a policy that they will not sell a game unless it has a rating. Also, you cannot release any games on the Wii, Xbox 360, or PS3 without a rating. So, getting a rating is kind of necessary if you want any kind of commercial success.

2) If I did, I couldn't say

theportablescientist15 karma

how long does the rating process take ? and what are the steps involved

gamer121042 karma

Generally about a week, because of the backlog of submissions. The process is usually: 1) Make sure the video of the gameplay actually works and is clear, etc. 2) Raters watch the video and come up with a "majority rules" rating. 3) That rating is evaluated to make sure it doesn't conflict with previous ratings for similar games. 4) The rating is issued.