CTIA, ESRB To Roll Out Mobile App Content Ratings System: Long Overdue Or Utter Folly?

by Gaurav Kheterpal on November 23, 2011

2010 was a transformational year for the App Store industry.  Apple App Store undertook a major cleansing exercise to get rid of all apps which feature sexual content. Whether it was inspired by Apple’s in house moral brigade or driven by Steve Jobs’ desire to destroy Android, I do not know.

However, Apple set a precedent for the rest of the industry on how to rate mobile apps. Steve Jobs followed it up with a mighty assault on Google’s operating system with his famous words – If you want porn, get an Android.

And since then, app ratings became a norm rather than an exception for the App Store industry. However, despite the individual rating systems, not much has been done to uniformly filter apps and games based on content rating. That my soon change as the CTIA and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) soon plan to introduce a rating system for all mobile games.

From a conservative’s perspective, it might be a blessing in disguise and a uniform mechanism to settle the should-my-kids-play-this-game debate for good. However, it’s likely to raise more than a few complex questions for game developers, publishers and lastly – gamers as well. Does the world need a separate rating system for games and other apps? I’m not so sure.

ESRB and CTIA say the eventual goal is to have app-makers adhere to a specific set of ratings and guidelines. It’s believed that such a system will give consumers “more informed choices” when using apps on mobile devices. The two organizations believe there’s a strong need to regulate mobile games due to fragmentation in rating policies of various app stores. Apple and Google follow a four-tier rating system but the latter lets developers assign their own ratings. In contrast, RIM and Nokia have their own sets of content guidelines, but no specific age designation.

Microsoft follows a hybrid approach – it has a well-defined ratings system of its own and it adheres to existing ESRB ratings for titles that have been ported from other platforms with those ratings in place.

The ESRB will be accountable in the US for deciding how appropriate a game is for certain age groups. It says the new system will be “based on age-appropriateness of [the apps’] content and context”. Though ESRB’s game rating system is highly rated in the entertainment industry, implementing a uniform rating system for mobile games is much harder than what it sounds.

Experts are already questioning the practicality of implementing such a rating system given the fact that there are 800,000 applications between the Android and Apple App stores and that number grows significantly every day. Does the ESRB have a plan to enforce these ratings – after all, how do you validate the customer’s age when they are downloading an app?

Earlier this year, the CTIA issued “Guidelines for App Content Classification and Ratings” to ensure app stores comply with age-appropriateness and enforce restrictions to be imposed limiting access to certain content. The introduction of a uniform mobile game rating system is definitely the next step in that direction.

However, has the app store industry grown too big for such a uniform rating system to be enforced? Your views are welcome.

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Written by: Gaurav Kheterpal. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.comby:RSS,TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.


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