Source (read on GoNintendo, full article on IGN (linked)).
A couple of highlights: ""Although it seems logical that one would play a game to rate it, there are lots of reasons why we don't. For one, when games are submitted to ESRB for rating they may not have been finalized or fully tested yet. As a consequence, these games may still be buggy, making it difficult, if not impossible, for a rater to play the game from start to finish. Secondly, we assign over a thousand ratings each year and many games can take 50+ hours to play through. So it'd be extremely time-consuming."
"When a game is submitted to us, the publisher signs a contract that empowers ESRB to enforce its rating system, including the ability to fine publishers if it's determined that they failed to disclose content during the rating process. And, if a rating does have to be changed because previously undisclosed content is discovered, we can not only fine a company up to $1 million, but more significantly require re-labeling of a product that's already manufactured and shipped, or even recalling it -- either of which can be extremely costly and is a significant disincentive for a publisher to not fully disclose their content."
How do you guys feel about this? I get what they're asking by having the companies say what's in a game, but shouldn't the ESRB step up and play what's submitted? It'd be like me reviewing a game I'd only half-finished. I get that it's time-consuming to play some lengthy games, but they're paid to rate video games based on their content.
Hmm. The problem is, even playing a game, how on earth could you really know for sure that you saw everything? There might be some super tough to find secrets, nearly impossible to beat bonus sections, etc. At some point they have to trust the publishers, right?
The thing is that you couldn't possibly expect the ESRB to play every single game on every system thoroughly enough to assign a rating. Even if you did, some things will just slip through the cracks. Like Hot Coffee in San Andreas. The way it is now it places the developers directly responsible for the content they produce instead of the ESRB for not finding said content on a playthrough.
At some point, I agree. It's be ridiculous to assume they 100%'d every RPG out there, played every FPS for hours and hours online to know what to expect.
However, the way this article sounds is that they don't try to play some games. I get that time is an issue, @stephen08, but they are the "governing board" over video game ratings. They should know (and know by experience AND by what the publisher says) what content is in the game, if only to cover their own rears.
They still play games as much as possible, but they can't cover everything, or every game. With the legalities in place though, I don't think there's much room for concern that inappropriate content slips through the cracks, unless a developer suddenly wants to throw their company down the shitter.
I think it's a great system. Because you should read the documents the publishers send the ESRB in order for the ESRB to determine a rating.
Here's an excerpt from No More Heroes 2:
The battery meter for Travis's sword is always represented by a cartoon-like penis icon in the upper-right corner of the screen: as battery power runs out, the icon starts to shrink—a sad face appears.
Some power moves cause female characters' clothes to vanish in layers; the characters are often depicted holding (covering) their breasts, wearing only underwear, or standing behind strips of light that obscure their genitals....
another sequence depicts a male character "removing" a magical crystal from a female character—this scene is accompanied by suggestive moans and comments (e.g., "Aoto's putting his hand inside Soma" and "Fumble around every inch inside of her . . . you will find what you're looking for . . . !").
This isn't news to me, and I understand why it works that way. Especially when you consider that even old VC games need to be rated, or Wiiware/DSiware stuff. There is simply too much content out there to play through it all.
The penalties in case of a publisher holding back info seem like a strong enough incentive to avoid problems, anyway.