Angry Joe released a 14 minute video recently talking about the inconsistency of the ESRB when it comes to rating games, as well as the corruption surrounding the ESRB when it comes to giving titles with loot boxes a pass and allowing them to skate by with an ‘E’ for Everyone or ‘E10+’ even though it features simulated gambling.
The video features a quick breakdown from Alex, who explains that the ESRB doesn’t actually play through the games, but are sent a short video featuring the worst or most offensive content the game has to offer, and then they rate the game based on that featurette.
The real kicker comes at the halfway point, where they’re talking about how the ESRB gave a game like NBA 2K20 an ‘E’ for Everyone rating while only noting that it has mild language and contained in-game purchases without mentioning the loot boxes or the literal in-game casino that you can use.
If you’re unfamiliar with the whole slot machine thing, it’s actually quite popular. You’ll find countless YouTube videos from NBA 2K aficionados actually offering you guides on how to play the gambling mini-games, like the video from TheSurrealAndre.
According to Joe, this sort of gambling mechanism should have been highlighted and gauged in the rating process at the ESRB, but it wasn’t. Why? Because it wasn’t included as a potential reason for receiving a higher rating.
Joe did the ethical thing and attempted to reach out to the ESRB for a response. Typically, he didn’t receive a response.
He did, however, receive a letter from PEGI, who explained that they do not rate games based on trailers, even though they do still rate games based on video compilations.
As mentioned in the Angry Joe video, there was a proposed bill way back in 2006 by Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who wanted more accountability for ratings boards by bringing the Federal Trade Commission into the fold.
You can read the original bill proposal over on the Govetrack.us website, where the bill, S.395, is described as the following…
“-Introduced. Truth in Video Game Rating Act – Requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prescribe rules that prohibit as an unfair and deceptive act or practice: (1) any rating organization from assigning a content rating to any video or computer game unless it has reviewed its playable content; and (2) any producer, seller, or distributor of such games from withholding or hiding any such content.
“Requires the FTC rules also to: (1) require any person submitting to a rating organization a video or computer game with hidden content to accompany it with the codes or methods necessary to access such hidden content; and (2) prohibit a rating organization from providing a content rating that grossly mischaracterizes the game content.”
In plain ‘ole English, this bill would have held the ESRB accountable through the FTC, enforcing raters to actually play the game to rate games fairly based on their content rather than any snippets of video or edited together compilations.
As noted in the video and on the website, the bill died before it was even voted on.
At this point the ESRB is practically run like a close knit racket operated by the AAA industry. It’s no surprise given that some of the people on the board come from the AAA publishers, such as Strauss Zelnick from Take-Two Interactive being the chairman of the Entertainment Software Association, which is the body that governs the ESRB. However, back in 2017 Zelnick passed on the torch of chairman over the ESA to ZeniMax Media CEO, Robert Altman, as reported by Variety.
In essence, the same people flooding the market with loot boxes are the same people running the organization that rates the games that contain the loot boxes.
Cronyism is off the charts.
This is basically why it’s been so difficult to get any sort of traction going and sticking when it comes to cracking down on loot boxes in North America.
I did reach out to ESRB about the issue, and if they respond the article will be updated with their response.
(Thanks for the news tip MSD)