First it was “Sell an M-rated game, get fired“, now it’s close to becoming “Sell an M-rated game, get fined“. According to Next Gen, an Indianapolis Senate committee just overwhelmingly passed a law that would impose $1000 fines on retailers caught selling games rated Mature or Adult by the ESRB to a minor. This follows another sting operation by a Washington D.C. news crew, which caught numerous retailers selling M games to kids without bothering to even ask their age.
This may sound alarmist, but if this trend keeps on, 2007 will be the last year we see many big budget M-rated games. God of War II may be M and proud, but my guess is GoW III will be watered down to make a Teen rating.
Why? Consider what happened after the MPAA created the NC-17 rating. Originally, this was meant to replace the dreaded X rating, which the MPAA never got around to trademarking, and subsequently, was co-opted by pornographers. This put filmmakers in a tight spot, because most theaters refuse to carry X rated movies, or those without any MPAA rating. The NC-17 was supposed to be the alternative, but in practice, many newspaper chains still hesitated to carry advertising for NC-17 films, while a few large theatrical chains refused to screen them. Which is why you almost never see an NC-17 film, and studios contractually obligate filmmakers to cut out any sex or violence which prevents the MPAA from giving their movie an R rating.
Now look what’s happening with the M rating. Gamestop, one of the industry’s top retailer, now apparently has a policy to fire any employee selling M games to minors, while Indianapolis and other states are considering legal punishments for the same behavior. What’s more, the top candidate for President in 2008 is also the country’s leading advocate for enforcing the ESRB. At a certain point, publishers will decide it’s not worth the risk of funding an M rated game for tens of millions of dollars, when a large part of their consumer base is stopped at the counter from buying it.
At this rate, in God of War III, Kratos will knock his opponents unconscious with his Boxing Gloves of Chaos, and when he meets a duo of hot maidens, they’ll be fully dressed, and they’ll enjoy an innocent mini-game of spin the bottle.