Support is growing for some kind of ratings system for the games found in Apple’s App Store for its iPhone and iPod touch platform. Adding its voice to those already calling for ratings implementation, including the ESA and the ESRB, is the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to “watch[ing] what our kids watch,” or basically conducting research on the effects (both positive and negative) of media on children.
Unlike the ESRB, which, as at least one commenter pointed out in a previous post, may have a vested interest in pushing Apple to adopt its ratings system, NIMF simply wants some kind of ratings system in place to protect children, but not necessarily an ESRB-controlled solution.
Letting someone else handle App Store ratings would take a big bite out of the ESRB’s dominance of electronic game rating authority, which currently extends to all major platforms. The one exception are Microsoft’s Community Games (soon to be renamed “Indie Games”), which receive a rating as part of a peer review process. These ratings don’t work with the Xbox’s automated content blockers, but they do come in handy if you’re using parental discretion instead of locking down your console.
For its part, the ESRB is still pushing to provide ratings for the platform, arguing to everyone and no one in particular over the weekend that not only can it scale to deal with the influx of work that could come with such a large base of developers and games, but that it can do so at a cost that isn’t prohibitive to Apple and its development partners. That’s possible, according to the organization, since its usual fee gets discounted up to 80 percent for any game that costs less than $250,000 to develop, which represents a fair chunk of the App Store crowd.
It also claims that any suggestions that it may be after Apple for the considerable cash it would bring in are unfounded. Instead, speaking to Kotaku, it discusses its “actual” motivation:
Apple’s integration of ESRB ratings into its parental controls for iPhone games would afford parents the ability to block those video games that carry an ESRB rating utilizing the same tool they are being offered to block video content that has been rated by the MPAA or carries an official TV rating.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think the organization cash-motivated in this instance, either. But its eagerness to answer objections raised not by Apple, but by forum posters and online tech writers, is a clear indication that it’s afraid of losing relevance if Apple bypasses it and implements a solution of its own. Still, there is something to be said for cross-platform standardization, in terms of helping parents out when interpreting ratings. Whatever the outcome, this could be a watershed moment in how game content is rated and controlled.