ratings

Brazilian Windows Phone owners have always complained about the lack of games (including Xbox Live titles) available for the platform, and rightly so. The Brazilian government has strict regulations that require video games (or any 'game') to be certified by its own ratings system, which has proven to heavily delay the release of said games to the Windows Phone Marketplace for owners in the region.

We previously looked at Microsoft adding a batch of 300 titles to increase available content on the Marketplace, but still numbers dwindled compared to other regions. Today, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice filed a statement that plans were in place for games to be certified by distribution companies themselves. 

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The PEGI (Pan European Game Information) ratings system has become legally enforceable in the UK, which means retailers and publishers that sell video games to children are now liable for fines and possible imprisonment. This is due to a new age classification system being forcefully implemented to crack down on unsuitable content for certain age groups.

All video games will be regulated under the PEGI system this coming Monday, which also makes it illegal to sell 12-rated games to underage children (among the usual certifications). Until this time, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has only provided 15 and 18 age certificates that are legally enforceable, making it legal for children to purchase 12-rated media. But what does this mean for Windows Phone users?

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Windows Phone App Review: Thumbz

Thumbz is a photo sharing app for your Windows Phone that allows you to... well... share and get feedback on your photos. Once uploaded to the network, other members can vote up, down on your photo as well as leave a comment. You in turn can rate and comment on others photos as well.  You can also use Thumbz as a informal public opinion poll if you include a question in the image description.

Thumbz does have a novelty feel to it but it also has the potential to be a decent photo sharing network.  It just needs time and to see it's membership continue to grow.

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The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) recently launched an initiative to expand their converge to mobile games. Meant as a guide for parents, the system boasts that familiar "Rated E for Everyone" slogan we hear during TV commercials for PC and console games. Whether you agree with it or not, it is a system (albeit arbitrary) that serves as a framework for keeping parents in the know.

Microsoft signed up for the mobile ESRB system while interestingly Google and Apple have both skipped out. Now, we're finally seeing the first rollout as a few games are receiving their "E for everyone" stamp in the Windows Phone Marketplace. Our only concern is that this is one more hoop for Xbox LIVE developers to jump through to get their games approved thereby potentially slowing down the process of publishing. So far, we've seen Angry Birds and the indie game MathZia Free with the ratings being displayed.

So why are Apple and Google eschewing such a system? Mostly because they already have age-restricted controls for parents in the Marketplace that can serve as a cutoff. Devs supply info for "ratings" when their app is submitted and that is what qualifies the app for age requirements. In other words, it's self policing and both companies seem okay with that method. The ESRB is an outside, independent board that "parents can trust" but it too relies on devs filling out "a detailed questionnaire" which then results in an automated rating. The big gaming titles are fully reviewed by the ESRB while smaller titles are left up to self-policing, making it an analogous system to what Apple and Android already have. Granted, if a game receives complaints the ESRB will investigate and review the game in question, but for the most part it is based on the honor system.

Personally, we'd rather see Microsoft implement their own system with age-restrictions so that parents can be best served and adults could get more "mature" games on our platform. Because right now, the ESRB-mobile rating system seems to confirm what we know: Microsoft will only allow "E for Everyone" type games on the Marketplace and that to us is an unnecessary limitation (we're looking at you, "green blood"). [Evidently, Twin Blades is now "T for Teen" though we're not confident that games with red blood and/or "M for Mature" will be allowed on the Marketplace]

Additional ESRB-mobile information via GigaOm; Thanks, jc_agga, for the Angry Birds tip

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We've heaped praise on the HTC Radar 4G (review) for awhile now--yes, it's a "mid-range" Windows Phone but it's a darn good mid-range phone, one that we use daily. So it's nice to see we're not alone as the Radar, a relatively new phone on the TMo network, is the second highest rated phone on their site. With 76 reviews in it averages at a nice 4.7 average rating (out of 5), only following the myTouch Q (which has a 4.9 average but only 14 reviews).

Unfortunately, that has not turned into sales as the phone is not even in the top ten. But one thing that is clear, the Radar 4G has some dedicated users who felt strong enough to rate it that high--that's a good sign and hopefully it will translate into more users adopting the phone.

Source: T-Mobile; Thanks, Jonathan D., for the tip!

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Here's something we've noticed over the last few days and was brought to our attention by some developers: basically no new ratings/stars are being calculated. If you have 200 ratings before a few days ago, they're essentially frozen there. If you're a new app or game introduced in the last few days, you may be getting reviews from users, but the star-rating and counter are not being updated to reflect new reviews.

Many users, including ourselves, use the star ratings (and review count) to get a first impression of an app. You see a game with 4.5 stars with 50 reviews, well, you know that's a game to download. Vice versa, if a game has 2 stars and 121 reviews, you know to avoid it. In other words, these ratings and their accurate reflection are key to an app's success in many ways.

Case in point: Jet Car Stunts, released this past Wednesday, has plenty of 4 and 5 star reviews but the overall rating for it? No stars, zero reviews.

We hope Microsoft is aware of this problem and working to get it fixed. But hey, it may not hurt to bring this story to their attention.

Thanks, Daniel J., for reminding us about this

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