23rd Nov 2020

Age Rating Reviews for Your Video Games – How They Can Save You Time and Money

Portrait photograph of Shubhankar Parashar

by Shubhankar Parashar
Senior Project Manager, Keywords Functionality QA in India

Most of us have a favourite video game, one that we go back to time and time again.

If you’ve ever owned a game, it’s likely you will have noticed its ‘Age Rating’ displayed on the cover. These ratings provide guidance to consumers and parents, in particular, to help them decide whether or not the content is suitable for a child.

For publishers and developers, obtaining the correct Age Rating certification is a key consideration at the time of game submission

Failure to plan for Age Rating certification can not only affect which audiences can experience the game but also sales and revenue generated from the game.

Age Rating is often undecided until the latter stages of development, whereas it should be reviewed constantly during production and included as part of the QA process to eliminate project creeps.

What is ‘Age Rating’?

Age ratings are systems used to ensure that entertainment content, such as video games, films, TV shows, or mobile apps are clearly labeled with a minimum age recommendation based on the content included.

Video games are enjoyed by a diverse range of players throughout the world.

Certain games contain content that is not suitable to younger players

Children and adults play games regularly – either on a dedicated console, a PC or a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.

While many games are suitable for players of all ages, others are only suitable for older children and indeed some games contain content that is only appropriate for adult audiences.

What is the process for Age Rating classification?

Physical Games

Physical games are reviewed prior to release for purchase, with two key forms of content disclosure provided by the publisher:

  1. A completed questionnaire detailing any relevant content (violence, sex, language, gambling, etc.), and other factors such as context, reward systems and player control.
  2. A video showing typical gameplay, missions and cut-scenes including the most “extreme” content. Unplayable content (i.e., “locked out”), if it is pertinent to a rating, must also be disclosed.

Based on the questionnaire and the video, a rating will be awarded to the game. After release, the agency may also play-test the game to verify that the content disclosure was complete.

Digital Games

Digital games are rated using a process developed by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC).

Prior to release, developers complete a questionnaire that assigns the game or app’s rating category, content descriptors and interactive elements. Games and apps rated via the IARC process do not have rating summaries.

The IARC system enables publishers to monitor rating assignments, test the game upon release to ensure those ratings were properly assigned and promptly adjust the ratings when necessary.

It is important to note that the Age Rating for a title is evaluated and confirmed following a parity review to maintain consistency across rating assignments with similar content.

A rating summary is then finalised, detailing the factors that led to that particular game’s rating.

Both options can have a significant impact on either the sales of the title or, the costs that publisher coulds may face as a result of additional development and, in some cases, for re-submission.

Differences between global Age Rating systems

Similar to other forms of entertainment media, video games have been the subject of debate between leading industry professionals and classification bodies.

Often disagreement arises from topics such as graphic violence, virtual sex, violent and gory scenes, partial or full nudity, drug use, the portrayal of criminal behaviour or other provocative and objectionable material.

A representation of the different global Age Rating systems. Source: Wikipedia

Most regions and countries have a unique culture and levels of tolerance for such content. As a result, the rating of content is governed by multiple agencies throughout the world.

There are approximately 21 rating bodies across the globe. Few of them represent a single country, whereas some represent a group of countries.

How failing an Age Rating review can delay your game

When a final rating is issued to the publisher, they either accept it as final or choose to revise the game’s content and resubmit it, at which point the rating process starts again.

Accepting an issued rating which the game was not intended for could greatly impact the sales of the title and lower the expected returns.

However, making changes to the content to keep the intended rating could not only extend the production timeline but also introduce bugs that could negatively affect the game.

In both scenarios, receiving an unexpected rating can result in extending the production schedule, delaying the release and potentially adding additional, unforseen costs.

The best way to avoid this is to start thinking of your intended rating from the start. In order to do so, a publisher should be clear about the audience the game is intended for and the regions in which it will be sold.

Conclusion: Planning is key to success

Ensuring your video game content is appropriate for your targeted region and player base, saving time and money during rating submissions.

Another way of catching these issues is to engage specialist third-party partners who are experienced in identifying any issues early on during production.

They can also compare the game with existing released titles to help ensure the targeted rating is aligned with the industry standard.

The best time to engage such partners is when your game’s content has been finalised.

Keywords Functionality QA services can help ensure that you avoid the potential risks associated with Age Rating submissions, giving you confidence and peace of mind that you have the right certification for your title’s players.

For more information on Age Rating services from Keywords Studios, submit a request on our Functionality QA page.

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