Currently there is no standard or outside governance of content in mobile apps. Since iOS 3.0, Apple has been rating apps on a scale of 4+ to 17+, based on the age that it deems the consumer should be in order to view the content. On the Android side, developers can set their own ratings on their apps. They can choose to mark the app suitable for Everyone or choose between Low, Medium, or High Maturity.
The ESRB has been in existence since 1994. It has traditionally rated retail packaged console and computer games on its standardized system, however, more recently it has begun rating digitally downloaded content such as those purchased and downloaded through Steam, Xbox Marketplace, and the PlayStation Store. The ESRB has several ratings and defines each category on its website. Typically the rating is accompanied by additional information on the game’s packaging about the type of content in the game.
Standardized ratings would allow consumers who do not wish to view certain types of content or who are purchasing for another person, such as a child, to make more educated and informed decisions about the games and apps they purchase. If this system is the same or similar to the ones already used for console and computer games, many consumers would already be familiar with the classifications.
The ESRB rating system is completely voluntary, however most U.S. retailers will not carry a game that has not gone through the rating systems or has gone through and received an Adults Only rating, which is reserved for games with the most graphic content. These limitations on sales effectively force developers to submit their games to the ESRB and censor the content at the Mature 17+ level or below. It will be interesting to see if Apple, Android, Microsoft, etc. will require apps and games to be rated by the ESRB before being offered in their respective stores. If so, this could have a major impact on the censorship of content, the cost to the consumer, as well as time it takes to get an app released.
No official announcement has occurred yet, however, Gamasutra is reporting that there will be an announcement at an event next Tuesday in Washington, D.C. If this does come to fruition, we will be looking to see the details of each ratings level, to what extent each digital distributer will be embracing and enforcing the system, and who will be footing the bill to implement and maintain the system. We will be sure to keep you up-to-date once the official announcement has been made.