“They just made it harder for us smaller publishers,”
November 13, 2017 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Why your favorite indie game may not get a boxed edition [Engadget] “Before September, it was possible to launch a boxed version of an existing, digital-only game without paying for an additional ESRB rating. This policy allowed Limited Run to be a lean operation, avoiding ESRB fees and still releasing physical versions of weird digital games (all of which are already rated by the ESRB). In September, the board announced a new tier for rating digital-to-physical games, allowing any title with a development budget of $1 million or less to be rated as a boxed product for $3,000, rather than the standard submission price of more than $10,000. With this change, all three console manufacturers made it a requirement for every game to pay this fee and carry an ESRB rating -- even physical launches of digital titles.”

• New Rating Requirement Makes Life Harder For Smaller Game Publishers [Kotaku]
“Ruiner, a violent cyberpunk shooter that arrived digitally on PS4 in late September, was originally going to have a physical disc version released in the future. Developed by Reikon Games and published by Devolver Digital, Ruiner had come up on the radar of Special Reserve Games, who had previously put out physical editions of Absolver, Shadow Warrior 2, and Strafe.These packages often included not just hard copies of the game, but also art books, statues, and other boondoggles. Special Reserve Games planned to do the same with Ruiner until it became apparent that new rules being handed down by Sony would make the project prohibitively expensive. [...] Profit margins are slim for companies like Special Reserve Games, so new requirements like this can be the deciding factor when looking at potential projects to pursue. “We aren’t making a pile of money off the physical runs but rather we are keeping the legacy of gaming and game collecting alive and well,” said Smith.”
• Regressing to Outdated Standards With New ESRB Ratings Requirements [Hardcore Gamer]
“The lack of rating requirement meant that the smaller ones that made it to console had a decent chance of going physical, but every financial hoop is one more point of potential failure in the process. There’s an effort:profit ratio here that just got a bit steeper. This isn’t a death-knell for small-press gaming by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a new hoop to jump through, and one that has a definite cost associated with it, but it feels like an unnecessary one. The games it’s being applied to aren’t retail product, but rather for the enthusiast market. It’s an audience that already knows what it’s buying and is in very little danger of seeing an inappropriate product end up in the hands of someone whose parents will flip out when they find out what’s actually in there. It’s possible these games might end up in the used retail shelves, of course, but that would require the seller to accept pennies on the collector-market dollar, plus Gamestop, Best Buy, and the others to actually accept these titles as trade-in.”
• A Brief History of the ESRB [Gamasutra]
“In 1992, Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl began conducting hearings that questioned the violent content of video games, using Mortal Kombat and Night Trap as examples. A year later, Sega established its own ratings board, the Videogame Rating Council, for games on its own systems, including the aforementioned two games. Other boards for assigning content ratings soon followed, such as the Recreational Software Advisory Council for PC games. However, these boards did not meet Lieberman’s standards, and in 1994, the video game industry was threatened with government intervention to regulate video games. Under this threat, several video game publishers formed the Interactive Digital Software Association (now the ESA) in an attempt to create their own satisfactory ratings board. Sega had proposed using their Videogame Rating Council as the industry standard, but other companies refused in order to avoid appearing in league with a major competitor. In 1994, a neutral ratings board, the ESRB, was finally established and presented to Congress.”
posted by Fizz (19 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
FFS, if I get Destiny 2 for Christmas, apparently I won't even get a physical copy. My 3Mbit DSL thanks you, ActiBlizzard.
posted by Samizdata at 10:37 AM on November 13


Am I getting too conspiracy and tin-foil-hatty with my thinking that this is a result of the lobbying influence of bigger companies and pressuring the ESRB in making it tougher for smaller companies to compete?
posted by Fizz at 10:46 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Because capitalism.
posted by Fizz at 10:46 AM on November 13


Am I getting too conspiracy and tin-foil-hatty with my thinking that this is a result of the lobbying influence of bigger companies and pressuring the ESRB in making it tougher for smaller companies to compete?

Having worked at both big and small game companies, I think this is unlikely. I suspect it's just the ESRB wanting more money.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:48 AM on November 13 [8 favorites]


Plus, you know, they get to avoid all the logistics hassles of arranging for pressings and fulfillment and all that.
posted by Samizdata at 10:55 AM on November 13


Plus, the problem with groups like the ESRB is that they have no other way of making income, other than their own ratings system. And, you know, they won't just do it pro bono out of the worry about the children...
posted by Samizdata at 10:57 AM on November 13


The ESRB seems so antiquated in today's market. I find myself wondering, “Why is this rating system still a thing?”
posted by Fizz at 10:58 AM on November 13 [4 favorites]


The ESRB seems so antiquated in today's market. I find myself wondering, “Why is this rating system still a thing?”

Hey, at least your indie stores are not threatened with fines and seizure of stock if they don't have the very special pink stamp with an age rating nobody even bothers to check anyway, so that the ministry of culture can squeeze some money from reprinting the PEGI classification and the large distributors can still charge as much for a new game as one costs on Amazon.
posted by lmfsilva at 11:14 AM on November 13 [5 favorites]


I find myself wondering, “Why is this rating system still a thing?”

Because the video game industry didn't have a Dee Snider to talk to congress, to point out how many of the claims of violence or sexual content were overstated, or taken out of context, or were comparable to content available on unrated mainstream television. (I don't know how true that would be; I'm just positing that those are the points that would need to be made.)

I've never really looked at ESRB ratings, and I now find myself baffled. There's... there's a whole category difference between "suitable for 17-year-olds" and "suitable for 18-year-olds." Because presumably, you change so much in those 12 months - much more than the age difference between 10 and 13, right? (Don't mind me; age-based content restrictions have always seemed weird to me.)

Mostly I'm seeing this as another shift of the indie market away from consoles. I think the console companies are shooting themselves in the foot, here; players whose favorite games aren't on consoles won't be throwing away what they've got, but in a couple of years when Sega/Nintendo/MS want to release the newest upgrades, players are going to take a hard look at what machine they really need to play the games they like most.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:53 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


With this change, all three console manufacturers made it a requirement for every game to pay this fee and carry an ESRB rating -- even physical launches of digital titles.
So I've read/skimmed three articles, and I don't see any statements from the consoles about this decision or discussion of what their rationale is. Without the consoles requiring the rating, this would be a story about the ESRB lowering a fee for smaller publishers.
posted by RobotHero at 12:12 PM on November 13 [2 favorites]


At this point in time I remember another reason why, given the chance, I'd probably urinate on Joe Lieberman given the chance. Even if that's not how you treat the pain of a spineless jellyfish's sting, it may help you feel a bit better.
posted by mephron at 12:30 PM on November 13 [2 favorites]


So I've read/skimmed three articles, and I don't see any statements from the consoles about this decision or discussion of what their rationale is. Without the consoles requiring the rating, this would be a story about the ESRB lowering a fee for smaller publishers.

Did you see this statement linked from the first article? It's still a little vague, but I'd trust Limited Run's insider status enough to surmise that it's legitimate.

It seems like the order things happened here was 1) the console manufacturers really wanted all physical games to take a rating; 2) the indie devs complained that they couldn't afford to pay for an ESRB rating every time out; 3) the console manufacturers got the ESRB to introduce a special discount for indie devs; 4) it's a done deal and everyone has to put a rating on boxed games.

If I had to hazard a guess as to what started this, I might surmise that one or more of the bigger publishers had gone whining to Sony, et al, that they were being placed at a competitive disadvantage because the indie game publishers weren't required to rate physical releases. I can't imagine a retailer would have requested it, because it doesn't seem like chain retailers would be carrying any of these short-run indie titles in the first place. And I'm not sure why it would matter to Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo unless they were concerned with keeping up some kind of quasi family friendly appearance. (I would buy that from Nintendo.)
posted by Mothlight at 12:38 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]


I'd probably urinate on Joe Lieberman given the chance

Your honor, I could have *sworn* the man was on fire.
posted by Naberius at 12:52 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]


At this point in time I remember another reason why, given the chance, I'd probably urinate on Joe Lieberman given the chance. Even if that's not how you treat the pain of a spineless jellyfish's sting, it may help you feel a bit better.

Rated M for Mature
posted by Fizz at 1:39 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Mothlight: "Did you see this statement linked from the first article?"

I saw that, but that's just reiteration that they do require it, not anything about why. Or why those reasons don't apply to digital sales.
posted by RobotHero at 2:11 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]


> There's... there's a whole category difference between "suitable for 17-year-olds" and "suitable for 18-year-olds."

The Adults Only category is sort of its own thing, very rarely used and almost always for games basically sold as pornography, like NC-17 for movies.
posted by smelendez at 2:27 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Apparently there's some pushback to start rating games with skinner box features with AO/+18 ratings, as well as Gambling content descriptors.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:22 AM on November 14 [3 favorites]


What I'm a little confused about is this: "Limited Run generally only presses 2,000 or 3,000 copies of a single game, while AAA publishers will press -- and sell -- hundreds of thousands. For a major publisher, $3,000 or even $14,000 represents just a sliver of a game's development costs. For Limited Run, the fee raises its costs 20 percent to 100 percent, Bogart says."

That makes the fee $1 to $1.50 per box. And their costs are $3,000 to $15,000 ($3k divided by 100% or 20%)? I'd think it'd cost more than $3000 just to make 2-3 thousand physical boxes. Or by costs do they mean just "development costs", and what does that mean anyway?

On the face of it $3,000 doesn't strike me as a whole lot. But, really I just don't understand the numbers.
posted by floppyroofing at 7:27 AM on November 14


This is for board games, but puts the price per unit at about 3$ to 4$ for a run of 2000 to 3000. Video game feelies might not be as extensive as a whole board game but I expect you want a manual at the least.

The problem is they're printing it as a *collectible* for the *fans* or whatever, which is a scale where a couple extra thousand could easily tip the balance.
posted by RobotHero at 9:23 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]


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