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Addressing Compliance Letters from Ratings Boards

As a console dev/publisher, we must wear many hats and handle many duties that doesn't always fit the description of a game developer. One of the sticking points I hear with developers typical is addressing ratings, particularly for global releases.

As a console developer/publisher, we all have to wear many hats and handle many duties that doesn't always fit the description of a game developer. Some of these tasks are as easy as ordering office equipment, signing an office lease while others either require more time or are much more sensitive. 

One of the sticking points I hear with developers typical is addressing ratings, particularly for global releases. 

This week, I received an email from one of the rating bodies: 

“We have become aware that the interactive software products listed below have not been submitted for rating under the ____ rating system. According to the ____ Code of Conduct, to which you are a signatory, every product made available for retail must be rated separately by platform. As you know, Steam is an online platform for PC and any products made available on that platform must therefore be submitted in order to receive a licence[sic] for the PC platform.  We suppose this is an oversight but for the avoidance of doubt, a ____ rating of a product on one platform by ____ does not entitle the signatory to use the same ____ logos and descriptors for the same title on other platforms.

The following casual products have not been rated separately for PC by ____:

  • 1001 Spikes (has rating licences for XboxOne and PS4/Vita, Wii U and 3DS)
  • The Blinding of Isaac (has rating licences for PS4/Vita)
  • Cave Story (has rating licences for 3DS/Wii/DSi)
  • Nightsky (has a rating licence for 3DS)

We now formally request that you register the games listed above in the system as soon as possible.” 

Sounds like a scary email full of official verbage, passive aggressive prose and mild force. This particular rating body representative considers is a breach of the contract. However, upon review of the rating body’s own contract: 

On the mentioned pages there are no ____ logo’s. However, the fact that you have already published a game on the consumer market without a (finished) ____ rating is in breach with the ____ contract you have signed with ____.

“The publisher is obliged to rate all products defined under Article x.x of the ____ Code of Conduct which is worded as follows:

x.x. 'The present Code shall apply to all interactive software Products including video products, computer products and education/reference works, distributed for retail sale by all publishers or other organisations which sign an agreement with ____ to comply with this Code.” 

The important part to remember is the portion which I’ve bolded, “other organisations which sign an agreement”. 

Keep in mind, Valve/Steam does not have an agreement with any rating body, be it ESRB, PEGI, USK, OFLC or CERO. That precludes developers from acquiring ratings from the aforementioned companies. 

My response: 

Nicalis publishes its titles digitally and does not submit PC or console games for ratings by any board without jurisdiction from a distributor. As US-based corporations, we have signed a contract with Valve and its Steam platform in the US. As such, ____'s voluntary rating system is irrelevant and a non-issue. Additionally, ____ does not have a contract for voluntary rating compliance with Valve and has no enforcement via Steam distribution..

Please let me know if you need additional clarification on this matter. However, I consider this matter resolved.

From what I can tell, this is heavily a money-grab to scare developers ignorant of distribution policy into “submitting” their games for ratings when these games don’t require ratings. Remember that a few of these boards are privately-held for-profit corporations.

I’m curious to know if any fellow developers have received similar form letters requiring the “rating tax”. 

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