The ESRB has come to the conclusion that the growth of online games and digital distribution has made it impractical for an independent flesh-and-blood human to judge the content of each and every game. As a result, from today they are moving to a new system. For certain titles, publishers will be required to fill out a detailed digital questionnaire intended to judge the exact amount of sex, violence, swearing, drug use, gambling and bodily functions present in a particular game. The ESRB's computers will then work out the most appropriate rating for the game in question.

This, at first glance, appears to shift the responsibility onto the publishers rather than an independent observer. However, it's actually not so different from the previous practice -- it's simply the execution that's a little different.

Up until now, ESRB classifiers watched a DVD submitted by the game's publishers in order to determine the most appropriate rating. The DVD in question would, in theory, contain the most potentially offensive and/or disturbing content in the game, where applicable. Even so, the classifier's experience of the game was still largely determined by the publisher, as the ESRB representative wasn't actually playing the game in question.

"All games rated via this new process will be tested by ESRB staff shortly after they are made publicly available to verify that disclosure was complete and accurate," said the board in a press release. Penalties will apply for any publishers proven to have been less than honest in their self-evaluations.

This new system will -- for now -- only apply to games released online via Xbox Live, PSN and the Wii/DSi Shops. This equates to roughly 650 games per year. Last year, the board rated 1,600 games individually, of which around 30% were exclusively available online. By comparison, the motion picture ratings board examines about 850 movies per year. It's easy to see why the ESRB might want to reduce its workload a little -- especially if you start taking services such as Steam and Impulse into account.

Source: New York Times

This article originally appeared on as ESRB moves to automation