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