Indie Dev Tip: Controlling Your Content and Themes and Avoiding Controversy

Any player, regardless of age, wants to play all of the good games, but some of those games often have content or themes you wouldn’t want your parents, relatives, siblings, or friends to see. As an indie developer, controversy or scrutiny over a certain theme or level of content is something you would never want to see. Some developers go way too far and end up getting games banned either due to extreme violence, sexually explicit profanity or scenes, or using drugs or alcohol in relation to rewards or incentives. As a result, they ended up facing bans from governments or being forced to change the content for that market.

And get this: half of the games that were nominated for Game of the Year at the 2020 Game Awards were not rated M for Mature from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The debate on whether a game intended for older audience gets either a Teen or Mature rating is a big question. The people who decide the ratings at the ESRB are a board of parents and don’t generally have anything to do with the video game industry. The main goal of the raters is to rate a game the same way parents would rate a game.

To draw the line between Teen and Mature, let’s start off with violence for the most part. It is the most common reason why most games get higher age ratings. Teen-rated violence is generally games that focus on a lot of action, primarily almost all superhero games take the rating based on what players do in the game. However, anything that is grizzly or very graphic, such as depictions of torture, usually goes into the Mature category.

Profanity is also another common problem in games. Not all swear words are created equally and do have some history on why they became such dirty terms. Technically, this is the easiest part of rating a game as anyone can identify them. Profanity is restricted to games rated Everyone 10+ and higher. If a game uses a sexually harsher derived expletive at least once it will incur a Teen rating; frequent use of it such as the infamous F-word could end up getting a Mature rating.

Sexual material is also another huge issue and is most prevalent in games created in Japan. If a game focuses on first love and intimacy and ends up getting a Teen rating, it would be limited only to dialogue enough to get the Suggestive Themes content descriptor. Sometimes this material is used in a humorous manner, whether it be dialogue or actual depiction. Those games usually end up with either the Mature Humor or Sexual Content descriptors.

Every family is different as they have different levels of sensitivity as well as unique cultural and religious values. The rating board is the best way to pass this kind of information to parents and to determine what is harmful to a child’s development.

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