You may or may not have noticed that among the new features coming in iPhone OS 3.0, due June 17, are parental control settings that prevent users from downloading audio and video material from the iPhone store that comes in above a certain rating, determined by whomever sets the iPhone’s content filtering password. My money’s on tech-savvy teens finding the settings pane and creating a password before their parents even hear about the feature.
One of the problems with the system, considering the current set-up of the iTunes’ store, is that game content is not rated like movie and music is, so if no further changes are made, the filter won’t prevent kids from downloading any game they want. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) would like to do what they already do best, and help make sure that doesn’t happen.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: There is a restrictions pane that applies to apps in iPhone OS 3.0, so in theory Apple is working to implement their own ratings system in order to allow exactly the kind of filtering the ESRB is looking for. Not so. Apple’s standards have yet to be revealed or discussed, and the exact criteria probably won’t be open for public scrutiny even once it does go into effect.
The nice thing about the ESRB is that if nothing else, it is consistent. It has standards (it’s right there in the name!) that have been tried and tested via actual lived experience in the field. You may disagree with some of the metrics they use to determine what qualifies a game as rated “M” for mature, for instance, but at least you know why a game got that rating. And ESRB standards are subject to change as social mores evolve and change.
For Apple, allowing the ESRB to take control of game ratings makes sense for a couple of very good reasons. First, they won’t have to deal with an onslaught of negative press and the hurt feelings of spurned developers whenever an app is rejected for being in poor taste or receives a highly restrictive rating. Second, they can probably redirect the work hours they save as a result of not worrying so much about the nature of content to making sure that apps meet more important quality and polish standards. It’d be nice not to install so much alpha- and beta-quality software based on the assumption that developers will fix bugs in upcoming iterations.
The ESRB isn’t the only one that wants this to go down, either. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) wants to see the same thing happen. ESA CEO Michael Gallagher called for iPhone game ratings while speaking to reporters recently. At this point, I think it’s an inevitability, but there’s still the matter of how it gets implemented. My vote is for bringing in the ESRB, since this is exactly their expertise. What do you think should happen?