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ESRB: Publishers Have 'Key Part To Play' In User-Generated Content Regulation

Launch screen marquees warn that online interactions can't be rated by the ESRB -- but what about games such as LittleBigPlanet with so much dynamic user-generated content? Gamasutra talks to the ESRB about why publishers now have a "key part to pl
With the upcoming release of Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet, it sure looks as if dynamic user-generated content isn't just "Web 2.0" any more. In fact, one current challenge for developers remains how best to integrate this user-centric approach going forward -- but what about the other challenges a broadening UGC environment imposes? How, for example, can the Entertaiment Software Ratings Board -- ostensibly the decision-makers on how retail titles can be rated -- evaluate a console title that hinges primarily on content created and distributed by users? Back when the first brick in this road, online interaction, spread quickly from the PC world into multiplayer console titles, the ESRB found a solution for evaluating these environments where behavior could escape developer control -- it declined to evaluate them, and provided a warning instead. The marquee 'Online Interactions Not Rated By the ESRB' appears both on applicable title packaging and on launch screens. "This warns the consumer in clear terms, both on the box itself and on-screen prior to launching the online features of the game, that player-created content was not accounted for in the rating and is outside the jurisdiction of the ESRB," ESRB spokesperson Eliot Mizrachi tells Gamasutra. But recognizing that entire games rooted in UGC go a bit beyond "online interaction," Mizrachi says that the ESRB can't -- and shouldn't bear the moderation burden alone. "Game publishers have a key part to play, and many are quite active in addressing consumer complaints and doing what they can to moderate and regulate online gameplay," he says. "The gaming community also plays a vital role, and it, too, actively self-regulates inappropriate behavior of other players by reporting such cases to publishers. It's a collective effort." Still, Mizrachi notes the critical role that continuing consumer education campaigns can play, and says the ESRB is strengthening its focus on such efforts, according to the official spokesperson. It recently launched a public awareness campaign with the nationwide Parent-Teacher Association, which launched with a webcast and continues to distribute gaming guides to parents via the PTA. "Since ratings cannot reflect user-generated content, it's important to help parents understand what type of content and interactions they or their child might encounter when a game is played online, what they can do about it, and how to use tools like parental controls which can help them to shield their children from content they prefer be avoided," Mizrachi concludes.

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