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ESRB Changes Rules for Marketing Mature-Rated Video Games

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Initial post: Mar 12, 2013 5:33:41 PM PDT

ESRB Changes Rules for Marketing Mature-Rated Video Games
by Patrick Klepek on March 12, 2013

Publishers allowed to cut general audience trailers for Mature-rated games, a la movies, and restrictions relaxed for cross promotions.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board has, as of this morning, implemented changes that will hugely impact the way Mature-rated games are advertised on the Internet. A three-page document from the ESRB outlining the changes was sent to game publishers today, and it was passed onto me.

The ESRB has confirmed the document is legitimate.

Most notably, video games marketing will be following the lead of film. Publishers now have an opportunity to produce and distribute trailers for Mature-rated games and games expected to be issued a Mature rating at a much larger "general" audience. These specifically cut trailers will have a green "slate" that airs before the trailer rolls, and is required be on-screen for at least four seconds.

It's very much like the green "the following preview has been approved for appropriate audiences" bit that appears in front of most movie trailers. Here's the ESRB's example:

Trailers intended for this "general" audience will not require an age gate on websites, but such trailers must be approved by the ESRB prior to release. It will be business as usual for trailers that fully depict the game's included violence and sex, age gates and all. The ESRB describes the process this way:

"A trailer, demo, or video (of any length) for a Mature-rated game that has been deemed suitable for a general audience through the ESRB pre-clearance process will not require an age-gate. Please note that pre-clearance of Mature-rated game trailers posted without an age-gate is mandatory and must be submitted to [the ESRB]."

To no one's surprise, there are no changes for Adults Only-rated games, of which there are few.

Another potentially big change impacts the "cross-selling" of products. Cross-selling is, in essence, using one product to help sell another. It's why Sony's including early access to an upcoming demo for The Last of Us through this week's God of War: Ascension. One game is Mature-rated, and the other is likely to be, so the ESRB signed off on cross-selling The Last of Us through God of War.

The two examples given by the ESRB are "a promotional insert for a game placed in another game's packaging or a banner ad for another game on a publisher-controlled 'official' game website."

Under the new ESRB guidelines, it's now possible to promote a Mature-rated or potentially Mature-rated game within a game that's been assigned a lower rating. The only way for this to happen, however, is through explicit approval from the ESRB. Here's how the ESRB outlined it:

"On a case-by-case basis a company may obtain approval prior to public release via the ESRB pre-clearance process to cross-sell a Mature-rated game with a less restrictively rated game. Supporting documentation (e.g., media and/or marketing plans, demographic data) will be required to demonstrate that the games being cross-sold have the same intended audience and, where audience demographics can be verified, that the cross-sell is in compliance with the ESRB's target marketing guidelines."

When asked about these changes, the ESRB released a brief official statement.

"This policy addresses cross-marketing of games, not bundling products together," said the organization. "The fundamental goal is to ensure that the cross-promotion of products is appropriately targeted. In doing so we may consider a variety of factors including the nature of the product, audience composition of the media vehicle being used, the intended audience of the game, whether registered users are of a certain age, whether an age-gate is employed, etc."

There are two other changes outlined in the documentation, as well.

One, the ESRB previously required demos (both standalone and full game unlocks) to have a game's rating displayed a period of four seconds before the game begins. This is no longer required, so long as the demo's download page includes the rating information and is "clearly visible prior to access." Publishers are asked to "use their best efforts" to display the ratings information at store kiosks with demos. This does not change the requirement for trailers--those must always display before the trailer.

Two, the ESRB currently has a rule where ESRB ratings and ratings from international organizations, such as Europe's PEGI, cannot be displayed next to one another on publisher websites and social media. Most likely it's because the ratings are not considered equivalent. The ESRB has noticed some publishers choosing to display no ratings at all, so the ESRB has ditched that rule for websites and other areas where geo-segmentation (what's displayed changes based on your location) isn't possible.

All of the above changes are, according to the ESRB documentation, effectively immediately.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 5:41:21 PM PDT
I guess this is ok.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:42:26 PM PDT
I honestly do not want this change, as it will only increase the number of kids under 13 buying M-Rated games. Granted, it does help sales, but I don't kids who are immature should play a game rated M. Only if they are mature for their age and don't care about how they will be liked among their piers.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:44:15 PM PDT
I don't think this will affect that at all.

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 5:44:31 PM PDT
DVvM says:
I don't really have a problem with M-rated games and R-rated movies having similar marketing rules. This is fine.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:46:01 PM PDT
I was talking about kids buying M-Rated games, which needs to be watched by the parents.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:49:36 PM PDT
"I honestly do not want this change, as it will only increase the number of kids under 13 buying M-Rated games."

How so? The amount of children able to buy M-rated games is not actually related to anything about the game's marketing.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:51:06 PM PDT
Right, but I don't think this will affect that at all. It's not like kids are going to hear more about Call of Duty or Halo from their peers and suddenly now decide to want these games. It's how it's always been. Make it a taboo and kids want it even more. It was like that when I was a kid with Mortal Kombat (which seems quaint now, heh) and R-rated movies. Once I realized that the video rental store (dates me even more!) didn't care what I rented, it stopped having a "allure" to it.

Kids want what they can't have. This won't change that.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:53:56 PM PDT
DVvM says:
Indeed. Kids get their hands on M-Rated games generally through two ways:
1) Their parents buy them for them.
2) They buy it at a store at which a clerk, in blatant disregard for store policy, sells it to them despite their age.

The ESRB's not in any position to stop either of those things.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:54:42 PM PDT
They can still watch the trailers.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:56:19 PM PDT
DVvM says:
Kids can watch trailers to R-rated movies too.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:57:46 PM PDT
Okay? But that has nothing to do with whether or not they will be able to buy the game.

Also, they can already watch trailers. Surely I was not the only kid under the age of 18 who put in a fake birthday for various websites.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:58:03 PM PDT
It's not like they are going to un-see those national Call of Duty ad campaigns on television or anything.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:58:14 PM PDT
I read about the MK controversy, thanks to SEGA.

I do think that this won't change that, however.

And to the CoD and Halo comment, kids need to learn to not listen to peer pressure, I did this with MW3, and it sucked. That's why, no matter how many times my friend wants me to get the new Sonic racing game on 360, I won't get that version. I'd get the Wii-U version.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:59:03 PM PDT
I still put my fake birthday in websites everywhere. There is a surprising number of sites that are seeing a blip of a 87 year old dude looking at their site.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:59:24 PM PDT
You aren't wrong, I did that to view a trailer of the 3D version of MGS, which I can't get until my birthday, because I'll ask for a 3DS, or a Wii-U instead.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 5:59:37 PM PDT
Wait, what? Why don't you want it on 360? I'm confused.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:00:12 PM PDT
They could avoid those ads, I never saw a single ad for MW3.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:01:15 PM PDT
Because the only reason he wants me to get that is because he only has a 360, and I don't like that console too much. Plus, the Wii-U gamepad would make more intriguing.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:02:20 PM PDT
How is that a peer pressure thing though?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:03:58 PM PDT
According to various sites, I was born in 1900.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:04:27 PM PDT
He keeps saying that I should get it. He wants to play MP with me, and I almost never play online.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:04:36 PM PDT
Flores. says:
It's quite different seeing a movie where someone gets shot in the head than playing a video game where you use a character to shoot someone in the head.

Rules should be accordingly different.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:04:48 PM PDT
Do you watch cable?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 12, 2013 6:05:20 PM PDT
DVvM says:
But nobody plays game trailers. A game trailer in which someone shoots someone else is not really different than a movie trailer in which someone shoots someone else.
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Discussion in:  Video Games forum
Participants:  10
Total posts:  55
Initial post:  Mar 12, 2013
Latest post:  Mar 12, 2013

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