The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has decided to retire its short-form rating system.
In a statement provided to Gamasutra, the ESRB has indicated that it will no longer offer developers the option of using the short form to have their games rated. The system is used to evaluate digital-only titles and costs nothing. The long-form system is used for games that have a physical version and requires developers to pay a fee.
The move is of particular concern to indie developers since production expenditures are tight. Digital games are far cheaper to produce, but not having a way to rate the titles could hinder game makers. Fortunately, the ESRB says that studios can still have their products rated for free by the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC), which was created by the board to make it easier for publishers to get ratings for other regions like the UK and Australia.
The bad news is that currently IARC is only supported on certain storefronts — specifically Nintendo eShop, Google Play, Oculus Store, and Microsoft’s store. Without an accessible and affordable rating system for other marketplaces like the PlayStation Store, Apple’s App Store, and Steam, indie developers could be squeezed out of those sectors.
"Physical product will continue to go through the ESRB Long Form rating process, for which developers must pay a fee."
However, the rating board believes that it can have an alternative ready before it retires the short form.
“We expect that an ESRB ratings solution will be available to all developers of console downloadable games at no cost to them without interruption,” said a representative. “Despite what some developers may have heard, we do not yet have a hard date for when the ESRB Short Form process will be retired. We will provide the developer community with concrete updates on this matter as they become available.”
The board also said it does have plans to deploy the IARC for the PlayStation Store but did not mention it coming to other platforms where digital indie games are sold.