Getting the Right Rating For Your Game – How to Listen to the Ratings Boards’ Opinions

Most video games back in the day were innocent. Over the course of fifty years, the industry has changed drastically with advancements in technology that transformed our worlds from pixellated squares to realistic environments. The number of games has exploded on the market, and not all of them appeal to everyone, including kids. This is why they’re rated just like films are. A developer’s most significant question is, what rating is suitable for your game? This article will focus on the opinions of parents for the types of content that would suit the appropriate age groups.

Summary

Almost all families who own at least one video game console are familiar with the rating system and find them helpful. 84% of parents agree that the ratings given to games are accurate. While the familiarity of content descriptors is lower than the ratings, they are just as helpful.

Parents feel the rating system informs them of the amount of violent content versus other types. The biggest rule of thumb is that any game that contains strong or graphic types of violent content, such as torture, mutilation, or sexual assault strongly belongs in the M rating from the ESRB or any restricted rating from other rating boards across the globe. The intensity of violence portrayed in a game has a significant impact on how the game overall will be rated.

Sexual content has been the biggest issue in games, more so than violence or profanity. Parents feel that most types of graphic sexual content or nudity in games should garner an M rating.

Almost half of parents think any use of an F-bomb in a game is too much for a T-rated title. One-third of parents say that only one use of the F-bomb should be appropriate for a T rating, and as the number of F-bombs in a game increases, parents believe the rating should go up to an M rating.

Over two-thirds of parents claim that every game they saw their child play was rated appropriately, as well as familiarity with the system on marketing for games.

Familiarity

Parents of kids who play more games are more familiar with the ratings and descriptors, and strongly agree that they are helpful and accurate. Families living in the New England and Pacific regions of the United States have higher accuracy perceptions of the rating system. Of course, parents can find rating information through online sources, as well as TV ads. Those are the two most common sources for finding rating information, but it is also possible to rely on game review websites for rating information as well.

Content Concerns

Parents feel the rating system does best on the amount of violent content versus other types. Despite this and as previously mentioned, sexual content has been the biggest concern, and violence and profanity are less concerning. In fact, out of the majority of games released at retail, the below list is an average of all games that received higher ratings for the following reasons:

Content typeRate
Graphic sexual content79%
Full male nudity69%
Use of illegal drugs67%
Full female nudity67%
Graphic violence60%
Use of an F-bomb56%
Non-graphic sex scenes55%
Partial nudity55%
Crude sexual humor/innuendo55%
Horror violence54%
Brief nudity53%
Realistic violence53%
Marijuana use52%
Underage partying52%
Disturbing or scary images52%
Alcohol use51%
Crude language48%
Use of a sexually harsher expletive40%
War violence40%
Tobacco use39%
Use of mild language38%
Off-color humor38%
Action or fantasy violence36%
Cartoon violence33%
Toilet humor28%

Content in a T-Rated Title

The below list is an average of all games that would normally be rated T but end up being rated M because the game had one or more of the following types of strong content:

Content typeRate
Use of an F-bomb47%
Graphic sexual content47%
Full female nudity44%
Crude sexual humor/innuendo42%
Underage partying41%
Use of illegal drugs40%
Partial nudity40%
Full male nudity40%
Brief nudity40%
Crude language38%
Graphic violence37%
Non-graphic sex scenes36%
Marijuana use35%
Alcohol use34%
Horror violence33%
Use of a sexually harsher expletive32%
Realistic violence32%
Mild language29%
Disturbing or scary images28%
Tobacco use27%
War violence26%
Off-color humor25%
Toilet humor21%
Cartoon violence21%
Action or fantasy violence21%

Content in M rating

The below list is an average of all games that were rated M because of the following reasons:

Content typeRating
Full female nudity29%
Graphic sex scenes29%
Use of an F-bomb27%
Full male nudity26%
Use of illegal drugs22%
Graphic violence19%
Brief nudity18%
Crude language18%
Horror violence18%
Partial nudity18%
Crude sexual humor/innuendo18%
Underage partying18%
Realistic violence17%
Use of mild language17%
Alcohol use16%
Disturbing or scary images16%
Marijuana use16%
Non-graphic sex scenes16%
Tobacco use16%
Use of a sexually harsher expletive15%
Toilet humor14%
War violence13%
Action or fantasy violence13%
Cartoon violence13%
Off-color humor13%

Appropriate rating for profanity

Below is a table for the suggested rating for the types of profanity that may be used in a particular game’s rating:

TypeAppropriate rating
MildE10+
Sexually harsher expletiveT
F-bombT for one use, M for more than once
Damn (and its derivatives)E10+
Jesus Christ or GodE10+
CrapE10+

Appropriate rating for violence

Below is a table for the suggested rating for the graphicness of violent content in a game.

TypeOff-screen, with no aftermathOff-screen, with bloody aftermathOn-screen, not bloodyOn-screen, explicitly bloody or graphic
Gun violenceE10+ or TT or ME10+ or TM
Domestic violenceE10+ or TT or ME10+ or TM
Martial artsE10+ or TT or ME10+ or TM
Sword or knife violenceE10+ or TT or ME10+ or TM
Assault weaponsE10+ or TT or ME10+ or TM
Torture and mutilationT or MMT or MM or AO
Sexual assaultMMMAO

The below table shows how the quantity can impact a game’s rating.

TypeOne SceneSeveral sequencesFrequent or pervasive
Gun violenceE10+ or TT or MM
Domestic violenceE10+ or TT or MM
Martial artsE10+ or TT or MM
Sword or knife violenceE10+ or TT or MM
Assault weaponsE10+ or TT or MM
Torture and mutilationT or MMM
Sexual assaultMMM

Please note a rating may be lower depending on how the type of violence is depicted, and if the effects are bloody or not.

Appropriate rating for sexual content

Below is a table for the suggested rating for the types of sexual content in a game.

TypeAppropriate rating
Brief nudityT (partial), M (full)
Frequent nudityT (partial), M (full)
One brief scene of sex, no nudityM
One scene of sex, with nudityM
Strong sexual content and nudity throughoutM or AO
Explicit scenes of sexualityAO

Afterword

Two-thirds of parents are familiar with their country’s rating system for games, and over 80% of parents say the games that are rated are exactly or similar to what they demand.

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