Last week, the developer received a letter from the ESRB, which it forwarded to Shacknews, listing over 30 instances of its website violating the ESRB's Terms and Conditions Agreement. Most of the violations stemmed from 3D Realms' use of "old pixilated" rating icons and the lack of content descriptors, such as "Blood" and "Nudity." Steps to obtain the proper rating icons and content labels were not provided, though the letter contained contact information for an ESRB representative.
The ESRB specified that 3D Realms had only 10 days to comply before facing penalties. Actions available to the ESRB, as described in the letter, depend on the severity and the frequency of the infractions, but can range from mere warnings and the "temporary suspension of all ESRB rating services for any other of [the] company's products" to fines of $10,000 for repeat infractions.
Miller expressed disappointment in the heavy-handed manner with which the ESRB approached his studio. "I think they came off like a school yard bully, rather than an industry partner," he told Shacknews. "Why all the threats right off the bat? If the ESRB people know what was being said about them in underground channels, so to speak, they'd see that their antics have caused them much loss of faith as an industry leader."
These developments follow what seem to be renewed efforts on the part of the ESRB in governing content on video game-related websites. The ratings boards recently demanded gaming sites remove a trailer for Digital Extremes' Dark Sector, which publisher D3 claimed the ESRB had described as containing "excessive or offensive content."
"The role of ESRB, as the industry's self-regulatory body, is to ensure that consumers have easy access to reliable information about the games they consider buying for their families, and that games are marketed appropriately and responsibly," said ESRB president Patricia Vance in a statement released to Shacknews. Vance referred to the ESRB's Advertising Review Council, which seeks to "monitor marketing practices of companies publishing games carrying an ESRB rating" and ensure that the organization's ratings display guidelines are followed.
"The Federal Trade Commission has repeatedly confirmed that ARC marketing guidelines are being actively enforced and that the industry is now almost universally compliant with them," Vance continued. In response to inquiries as to whether the ESRB has recently taken a more stringent stance regarding online display of materials from ESRB-rated games, Vance noted, "ARC notices that are sent to publishers are merely a reflection of ESRB fulfilling its obligations to the industry to enforce the guidelines it has adopted."