ESRB simplifies ratings process for downloadable games

The times, they are a-changin, and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is changing with them. Today the board formally announced its new "Digital Rating Service," a free questionnaire-based ratings format that will allow digital developers easier access to getting an official ESRB rating on their games.

The ratings body says the new system will be put into use for upcoming downloadable games on the Windows 8 marketplace, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Nintendo eShop. By offering this more approachable offering, more downloadable games will don the ESRB's recognizable ratings.

The ESRB says that its consumer research has shown that parents feel it's important to know how much personal data is being shared with third parties, so the Digital Ratings Service will produce new notices alongside its usual content descriptors. These include "Shares Info" if the game shares data like e-mail addresses with third parties, "Shares Location" if it shows the user's location to other users, and "Users Interact" for the possibility of a user finding unfiltered user-generated content.

"Consumers have grown accustomed to using ESRB ratings when making decisions about the appropriateness of the games their families play. With the explosion of devices from which consumers can access games today, our goal is to ensure that those same tools are available everywhere games can be found," said ESRB president Patricia Vance in the announcement. "More recently, parents' concerns have begun to extend beyond just content to include the sharing of their kids' personal information or location and interactions with other players. ESRB's Digital Rating Service now offers all digital platforms, storefronts and networks the opportunity to empower their customers with consistent, credible, familiar and useful upfront guidance no matter where their family chooses to play games."