Game Ratings Enforcement
Just as ESRB's rating processes are designed to deal most effectively with the differing environments through which video games and apps are made available to consumers, so too are the enforcement mechanisms used to ensure that consumers receive complete and reliable rating information. For instance, with digitally-delivered games and apps takedown of the product for incomplete content disclosure and/or the prompt correction of an inappropriate rating are technically feasible and effective enforcement mechanisms. However, these remedies are less readily applied with respect to packaged or boxed video game products, where the ESRB enforcement system allows for the imposition of harsh sanctions (e.g., fines up to $1 million, product recall, the stickering of product throughout all retail outlets) for instances of significant or egregious content non-disclosure. Less serious violations of ESRB content disclosure guidelines can result in the assignment of points, fines, and mandated corrective actions, and are effective disincentives for noncompliance.
Irrespective of the content distribution mechanism, the goal of ESRB's enforcement system is to maintain compliance with ESRB's rules and requirements so that consumers are properly informed of the content in video games and mobile apps. As the ways in which games and apps are made available to consumers evolve ESRB will continue to adapt its enforcement system to be as effective as possible across all distribution platforms.
Publishers of packaged or boxed video games carrying an ESRB rating are contractually bound to follow the industry-adopted Principles and Guidelines for Responsible Advertising Practices and comply with numerous requirements addressing how ratings information must be displayed on game packaging and in advertising, what type of content can be presented and where ads for Teen-rated, Mature-rated and Adults Only-rated games may appear. ESRB's Advertising Review Council (ARC) diligently monitors a variety of media, including TV, print and online, to ensure compliance with these requirements and is empowered to compel corrective actions and impose a wide range of sanctions, including monetary fines.
While digitally-distributed games and apps are not necessarily subject to the same set of requirements or enforcement measures, ESRB strongly encourages the use of the assigned rating information wherever these products are made available and urges that all advertising and materials adhere to industry-adopted guidelines.
Retailer Support of Ratings
Although it does not have the legal authority to implement or enforce retailer sales policies with respect to video games, the ESRB works closely with retailers to: a) provide in-store signage which explains the rating system; b) support their store policies pertaining to the sale or rental of Mature-rated games to minors; and c) help educate and train store associates and employees with regard to the rating system. For more information about the ESRB retail partnership program and the ESRB Retail Council (ERC), click here.
Game Enthusiast Websites’ Partnership with ESRB
While ESRB’s regulatory oversight extends only to video game developers and publishers, ESRB works diligently to ensure that consumers are presented with rating information wherever video games are promoted, and that access to material intended for older viewers is appropriately restricted. Furthering that commitment, the ESRB Website Council (EWC) was established as a partnership with many of the top game enthusiast websites, all of which commit to a set of common standards regarding the display of ESRB rating information and the use of age-gates for trailers promoting Mature- and Adults Only-rated games. The EWC Code mirrors many of the same requirements that ARC requires of game publisher websites, expanding the reach of the video game industry's commitment to responsible marketing practices. For more information about the ESRB Website Council and a list of member websites, click here.