We are the non-profit, self-regulatory body for the video game industry. Established in 1994, our primary responsibility is to help consumers – especially parents – make informed choices about the games their families play.
Our rating system was established with the help of child development and academic experts, based on an analysis of other rating systems and what kind of information is valuable to parents. We found that consumers respond best to an age-based rating system that includes information about the content of a game. As games evolved, we found that parents place equal importance on understanding the ways in which some games are played, such as interacting with others online and spending money on in-game items.
Our three-part rating system includes Rating Categories to suggest age-appropriateness, Content Descriptors to indicate what type of content may have triggered the rating, and Interactive Elements, to advise about sharing the user’s location with other users, in-game purchases, user interactions, and unrestricted internet access. The result is a rating system that is widely adopted by game publishers, supported by retailers, regularly used by parents, and consistently described by regulators and opinion leaders as the most effective entertainment rating system in the U.S., if not the world.
To help commemorate its 25th anniversary, ESRB reached out to Blake J. Harris, the bestselling author of “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation” and “The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality” to document the behind-the-scenes origins of the rating system for video games and how it has evolved over the past quarter century.
“CONTENT RATED BY: An Oral History of the ESRB,” provides eye-witness accounts from the key people involved in the ESRB’s creation and its development into one of the country’s finest examples of industry self-regulation.
In 2019, we allowed a camera crew into our office for the first time in our 25-year history to film a documentary about what we do. Produced, edited, and distributed by the creative team at Noclip, the documentary explores how we assign ratings to video games and apps, how we help ensure that video games are responsibly marketed, the future of industry self-regulation, and more.
Watch “How Does the ESRB Rate Video Games?” on Noclip’s YouTube channel for the whole story.
ESRB founded by the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA was renamed Entertainment Software Association in 2004)
New ESRB rating system announced, with 5 rating categories and 17 content descriptors
Advertising Code of Conduct created and adopted by the IDSA
ESRBi rating system established for websites, with 5 rating categories and 22 content descriptors
Online Rating Notice established to warn consumers of user-generated content in online-enabled games and on websites
K-A (Kids to Adults) rating category changed to E (Everyone)
First ESRB Public Service Announcements launched featuring Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter and Regis Philbin
Non-pixelated versions of rating symbols introduced
Advertising Review Council established as division of ESRB to monitor compliance with industry-adopted marketing and advertising guidelines
ESRB enforcement system established to impose sanctions, including points, fines and corrective actions, on companies who do not comply with ESRB rules and guidelines
New target marketing guidelines for Mature-rated games introduced
ESRB Privacy Online certification service launched and sanctioned by the FTC as a “Safe Harbor” under COPPA
Arthur Pober departs as ESRB’s founding president; Patricia Vance joins ESRB as its new president
ESRBi rating system for websites discontinued
E10+ rating category introduced for games that may be suitable for ages 10 and older
ESRB increases fine up to $1 million for non-disclosure of pertinent content
ESRB Retail Council (ERC) launched by ESRB and leading computer and video game retailers; “ERC Commitment to Parents” is adopted by all ERC retail members
National radio and TV PSA campaign promoting ratings awareness launched with U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph Lieberman
ESRB launches its first PSA campaign featuring artwork by Penny Arcade
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finds eight in ten underage buyers are turned away when attempting to purchase Mature-rated games
PTA and ESRB release “Parents Guide to Video Games, Parental Controls and Online Safety”
Rating summaries are introduced along with ESRB’s mobile website
ESRB Privacy Online launches E.U. Privacy Seal Certification program
The FTC’s sixth follow-up Report to Congress lauds ESRB for having “the strongest self-regulatory code” and confirms that retailers have maintained their 80% store policy compliance rate
The ESRB Website Council (EWC) is established to help ensure that game enthusiast sites post complete rating information and employ age-gates on trailers and videos for M- and AO-rated games
The FTC’s mystery shopper study finds enforcement of entertainment ratings to be “highest among video game sellers” with 87% overall compliance
ESRB introduces an automated, streamlined process for assigning ratings to console downloadable games
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Brown v. EMA/ESA that video games qualify for First Amendment protection and the sale of violent games may not be restricted by law, a landmark decision that recognized the effectiveness of the ESRB rating system
ESRB is commissioned by the CTIA, the trade association representing wireless carriers in the U.S., to develop and administer a rating system for mobile apps
ESRB launches TV, radio and in-arena PSA campaign with the Washington Capitals
ESRB releases a new print and online PSA campaign featuring real-life parents and gamers and artwork by Penny Arcade
ESRB launches TV and radio PSA campaign with the San Francisco Giants with airings in AT&T Park and throughout the Bay Area during the 2012 MLB season
Interactive Elements added to ESRB ratings for digital games and apps
ESRB introduces a digital rating service to provide cost-free ratings for digitally delivered games
The FTC announces that video game retailers continue to have the highest level of store policy enforcement as compared to other entertainment retailers with 87% overall compliance
ESRB’s Safe Harbor privacy program is re-branded ESRB Privacy Certified featuring new seals and privacy resources for existing and new members
International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) is incorporated
International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) begins assigning ratings to games and apps on Mozilla’s Firefox Marketplace
The Australian Classification Board (ACB) becomes an IARC participating rating authority
Google Play deploys the IARC rating system, resulting in the display of ESRB ratings for all apps available in North America
The Windows Store deploys the IARC rating system for all digitally delivered games and apps
The Oculus Store deploys the IARC rating system for all VR games and apps
Republic of Korea’s Game Rating and Administration Committee (GRAC) becomes the newest participant in the IARC rating system
ESRB and Penny Arcade launch their third PSA campaign, featuring both artwork and voiceover from the Penny Arcade team
Origin deploys the IARC rating system for all digitally delivered games
Patricia E. Vance is the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). In her position, she leads the teams responsible for assigning age and content ratings to video games and apps, enforcing marketing guidelines adopted by the video game industry, and operating ESRB Privacy Certified, an FTC-sanctioned COPPA Safe Harbor Privacy seal certification program.
84% of parents who purchase physical video games for their children are aware of ESRB ratings and 75% regularly check them before buying a game. (Source: Hart Research Associates, 2020)Learn More
Most parents consider each part (Rating Category, Content Descriptors, Interactive Elements) of the ESRB rating system to be either “very” or “extremely” important when deciding if a game or app is appropriate for their kids. (Source: Hart Research Associates, 2020)Learn More
ESRB has an enforcement system which allows for the imposition of sanctions, fines (including fines up to $1 million), and corrective actions on publishers for non-compliance with its guidelines.Learn More
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “This [ESRB rating] system does much to ensure that minors cannot purchase seriously violent games on their own, and that parents who care about the matter can readily evaluate the games their children bring home.”Learn More
Introduced in 2008, Rating Summaries provide greater detail about the content in physical games rated by the ESRB, and are exclusively available on this website or the ESRB mobile app by conducting a title search.Learn More
The FTC considers the ESRB to have “the strongest self-regulatory code” among media rating systems in the U.S. and has confirmed that retailers maintain a high store policy compliance rate.Learn More
Founded in 2013 by many of the world’s leading video game rating authorities, the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) administers the first globally streamlined age classification process for digital games and mobile apps that respects the unique cultural norms of each region.Learn More
More than 70% of parents would be more comfortable allowing their children to download and play a game certified by ESRB Privacy Certified (Source: Hart Research Associates, 2018).Learn More
Activating parental controls on your children’s video game devices helps you enforce house rules, such as limiting play time, blocking games with certain ESRB ratings, and managing in-game spending.Learn More