The ESRB at 20: Questions for Patricia Vance

Patricia Vance / ESRB
Patricia Vance / ESRB

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board turned 20 years old exactly two weeks ago. As you may already know, the ESRB is the organization in charge of the classification assigned to games in consoles and computers since 1994. The ratings help parents decide what videogames are appropriate for their kids and teens according to age group and content.

Since the early days of the board, the organization has faced many challenges (see the History of the ESRB infograph after the video), so, I thought this would be the right time to ask Patricia Vance, President of the ESRB, some questions.

  1. In the 20 years of the ratings board, what would you say are the ESRB’s greatest achievements? Which one is your personal favorite?

One of our greatest achievements is ESRB’s high ratings awareness and use among parents. Our latest research shows that 85% of parents are aware of the ESRB rating system, and 73% use it regularly. This is due to the incredible support from game publishers, console manufacturers and retailers across the board.  Second to that is the success retailers have had in preventing the sale of M (Mature)-rated games to underage kids without a parent’s permission.  According to the FTC’s most recent mystery shop audit, enforcement rates for retailers’ store policies in this regard is close to 90%, far higher than comparable rates for other forms of media like movies and music.

  1. What short-term and long-term plans are in the works at ESRB?

ESRB will continue to assign age and content rating information for games and apps across an ever-expanding number of platforms and devices to help ensure that parents have trustworthy and credible tools with which to make informed decisions for their children and family for many years to come.  We will continue to monitor the industry’s marketing practices to ensure they are compliant with the Advertising Review Council’s guidelines.  And we will continue to grow our Privacy Certified program to help companies maintain compliance with the growing complexity of online and mobile privacy protection laws.

  1. Are there changes coming in the way games are being rated, whether the games are for consoles or mobile devices?

ESRB employs rating processes that are tailored to the specific platform on which the rated product will be accessible. As a result, packaged or boxed games typically sold at retail are rated using a “Long Form” process whereby ESRB raters evaluate the content of each game in advance of its public release prior to a game’s release.

Games that will be made available solely via download or will be otherwise accessible only online (like web browser games or PC-based and mobile apps, for example) are rated using a “Short Form” rating process. Publishers of these digitally-delivered games and apps complete a series of multiple-choice questions that address content across relevant categories. The questionnaire also asks questions related to a game’s interactive components, such as the enabling of user interactions or the sharing of a user’s physical location or personal information. For more information about our ratings process, you can visit

  1. About mobile devices: All games on the Apple App Store come with ratings info not provided by the ESRB. Also, when I go see the same apps or games for Android devices, it simply says “Everyone” (as in Spider-man Unlimited – or “High Maturity” (as in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – ) for ratings. That’s it. No detailed info. Seeing the ESRB info on Google Play games would be a perfect fit; it would very helpful for parents in the US to be informed about the games their kids and themselves play if more information were present. Parents are already familiar with the ESRB ratings. Is the ESRB planning on working with Google to offer US smartphone users more information about the games at Google Play? Are there any plans with Apple to offer ESRB ratings at its US online store as well?

That’s a good question for Apple and Google. Research shows that parents and adult gamers alike prefer having ESRB ratings for mobile games and apps over what’s currently in use in The App Store, Google Play, and the Amazon app store and would be more inclined to download a game with an ESRB rating. We believe that consumers, especially parents, benefit from having a consistently-applied set of ratings for games rather than the fragmented array of different systems which exists today. And we have developed easy-to-use and no-cost solutions for developers to obtain ESRB ratings for their mobile apps.

  1. With many games played associated with social network accounts nowadays, is there a need for additional content descriptors or interactive elements?

We believe the ESRB ratings, which include age, content and interactive elements, assigned to digitally delivered games provides parents with information that will help them decide if a particular title is appropriate for their child. Having said that, we also understand that parents are concerned about the personal information that mobile and online games may collect, which can include data from social network accounts. This is why we encourage game developers to become members of ESRB Privacy Certified, and for parents to look for our seal certifying their data collection methods and privacy policy adheres to best practices.

  1. One critic of the gaming industry, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter, believes there will be no more consoles as we know them after this generation. Still, many hardcore gamers have disagreed with most of his opinions for years. But in the unlikely event current console developers stop making powerful consoles just to bring devices powerful enough to stream games and other media, what would the ESRB do in such situation? I ask because currently there is no way to search for games based on ESRB ratings on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Nintendo Network. Only when a user selects a game description page, the ratings appear. It would be nice to see a small ESRB rating icon on Xbox Live at the bottom left or right corner of the game’s tile, for example. If would be good if a parent looks for T-rating fighting games (so, teens would not find anything about a Mortal Kombat title, for example).

All games on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Nintendo eShop are assigned ESRB ratings.  As such, parents can set parental controls to block games by ESRB rating. With that said, we welcome the suggestion about where to place the rating information within the storefronts.  However, since we don’t control the location of the display of ratings on console storefronts, we’d recommend that you make it directly to the consoles.

  1. With game description in English and French for games released in the US, will we also see info in Spanish? I ask because during a trip to Peru almost two years ago, I saw video game consoles and titles on sale with ESRB ratings in English and Spanish. It could help Latino parents here in the US. (Here’s an example:—Ultimate-Evil-Edition-PlayStation-4-155841.html; take a look at the ESRB rating).

It is up to each publisher whether to display ratings in English, English/Spanish or English/French on the boxed games they ship to market. I recommend that you make your suggestion directly to them. However, I would like to draw your attention to the Spanish version of our ratings guide on our website, along with other educational materials that might be helpful in Spanish-speaking communities. Anything you can do to make these more broadly available would be greatly appreciated.

The ESRB at 20

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board also shared the following video with comments from Tom Kalinske (former CEO, Sega of America), Michael D. Gallagher (President & CEO, Entertainment Software Association), Monica Vila (Co-Founder,, Ted Price (President & CEO, Insomniac Games), about the importance of the ESRB, along with greetings from Charles Martinet (voice of Nintendo’s Super Mario) and a few others.

20 Years of the ESRB (Infograph)

ESRB - Infographic
ESRB – Infographic

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