It’s been bothering me for a while now, this censorship system that we use here in the western region of the world. If you follow our podcast; BSP you may have heard me mention my dislike for the current system that is used. It has very specific ratings for each game type and I love that, but then you have the games that are Ao or mature that are ported over from japan and censored to the point that they lose a bit of something. Remember how they changed the outfit designs in Bravely Default? They were not any worse than the ones in any Final Fantasy, Naruto or Dynasty Warriors game, yet they were censored. Why?
Games are sectioned off into very distinct ratings due to different aspect; Difficulty, Sexual content, and Violence. The degree of each aspect can be the difference between a game getting rated T or M. These ratings are also very important, and so please don’t misunderstand my gripe with the system. Having a rating system helps the gamer find the right game for them. This is also very important for none gamer types like Adults that are buying games for their children, niece, and nephews. Most of these individuals may not know the difference between Final Fantasy and Call of duty. As far as they are concerned a game is a game. They may not understand that a COD game is filled with violence and scenes that portray murder, terrorism and more. This is where our friend the Rating system is helpful. A stern M/18+ on the front of the packaging of the game tells both the consumer and the retailer that this game is not for kids. Yes some people don’t obey the rules, but according to Forbs a study conducted by Hart Research for the ESRB, an amazing 85% of parents are aware of ESRB ratings and 70% use them regularly. This is a positive thing and I hope it gets even better as more and more of our population become “responsible” gamers (note the responsible part).
So if I’m not against the rating systems why do I have a problem? It’s simple really, right? Developers use and abuse the system to try and affect sales. A developer that knows well enough that their core audience are primarily supposed to be gamers 18+ and may try to cover up some of its content or maybe all together remove it to appeal to a wider range of gamers, and thus begins my problem.
If a developer makes a game for mature audiences, why change it to appeal to a wider demographic? This may seem like a no brainer to the brightest of us all, “more money of course”. Its simple video game development is a business and as a business it is important to try and turn over as large a profit as possible, however if turning over a profit comes before the quality of the product then you risk possibility of hurting future sales. So let’s look at this in another way. The dev has two choices, port their game as is, only concerning themselves with the localization of text and dialog but leaving all the visual ascetics and substance of the game intact. This will guarantee the sale to the demographic that have already made up their minds that they want this type of game, but may not attract those that have no interest. This may be seen as a bad thing, but look at NIS America. Most of their games are of the niche variety, with only a small portion of the gaming population buy them, but that small population continue to do so year after year, release after release. This core audience as they are known are the reason Nippon Ichi Software, Inc continues to be a profitable company. Their focus is on the core and as such they have guaranteed a certain percentage of sales on each project they publish.
So why are developers of other titles like Bravely Default, and The Witcher censoring (removed in enhanced edition) their games? These games are not for the mainstream. The mainstream are not the ones that will buy the games day one, they are not the ones that will be playing them for hundreds of hours, they are not the core and as such if the developer chooses hurts the core, scare them away, then they risk the loss of a loyal customer that may never buy their game again. The sad fact though is that the core audience tend to think alike so if one does not like a change in the game, chances are that numerous others will agree. This is all due to a shared interest in a certain type of experience. If I made a turn based version of COD and told you that it was for the core audience of the COD franchise, would it sell? I doubt it. If it did, it would not be the core audience that would be responsible, and if it did not do well? make a guess how likely the COD game that followed it would interest the core.
I may have just sold you on the idea that the developers are the ones to blame in the situations where games are changed to meet Rating systems, but to be quite honest they are not always the ones to blame for these decisions. As is noted in Brandon Orselli’s article over on Nichegamer.net, the developer sometimes has to make these changes or risk an Ao (Adult only) rating. Ao is ok an all except that in most cases the game gets blacklisted and will not be sold by any major retailor or digital distributor. Why is that? Is it really the rating systems fault? I don’t think so. I think it’s the fault of the retailer/ digital distributor. If they implemented a way that Ao rated games could be safely distributed among their user base by having a system put in place to prevent children from having access to such games, kinda like a porn channel that has a lock code. Then we should not be having this problem. It is possible and can be done, if not then do away with the Ao rating and just leave (M) mature. If the Witcher gamers can portray sex and fully nude character then why can’t I have my character in bravely default wear a slightly more revealing outfit or my copy of Criminal Girls be uncensored?
Ok I guess I’ve written enough about this topic. I will be discussing it on a future podcast so look out for that. Also, what do you think about the ESRB, do you agree with my article, if not why?