Head of EA calls for universal rating system across all countries and platforms

Video games need a single rating system that spans all platforms and all countries, the head of Electronic Arts, and chairman of the ESRB board, told a gathering of politicians in Washington, D.C. last night.

"We live in an incredible age," EA's John Riccitiello told the group, which included both the FCC Commissioner and Chairman. "In the past three years the audience for games has grown from roughly 200 million, to over one billion. Virtually everyone on the planet who owns a phone, can play a game. The Supreme Court has given us the same First Amendment rights as authors, musicians and film makers — a set of rights which we cherish.

"But as we are so often told: With great freedom, comes great responsibility. To live up to that responsibility, we need to do a better job informing the consumer, no matter the channel, the platform or the geography. We must adopt a self-regulated, global rating system across every format games are played on."

"With great freedom, comes great responsibility."

The comments wrapped up Riccitello's acceptance speech for the Media Institute's annual American Horizon Award given last night in Washington, D.C. He received the award, which was presented to him by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in recognition of his "visionary leadership in promoting the vitality and independence of his industry."

Riccitello's call for a global ratings standard across all platforms is the latest push in what has become a three-year battle to get the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google to incorporate a ratings standards into the games on their platforms.

In 2009, Entertainment Software Ratings Board president Patricia Vance said that Apple's adoption of the well-known ESRB rating system was a "no-brainer." Entertainment Software Association president said at the time it would be wise for Apple to adopt the system before it became an issue. Apple declined to comment then and now, about their use of a rating system unique to iTunes and not the more familiar systems used around the world.

Despite the public silence, ESRB members have been speaking with Google, Facebook and Apple and appear to be making some inroads.

Riccitiello told the gathering last night that while progress is slow, Apple, Google and Facebook are each working in "good faith" to establish a consistent set of standards.

"We must move beyond the alphabet soup of game ratings and consolidate behind a single standard."

Last year, the ESRB launched a new, less expensive, faster rating system for mobile games. That system was expanded to include all downloadable games and made free last month. The Digital Rating Service, Vance told Polygon, was the latest step in a move toward a new global rating system.

Earlier this year, Vance told Polygon that the ESRB was working with other ratings bodies around the world to develop a "global solution" to game ratings. The idea is to use the same familiar ratings in each country, but to develop a new automated back-end that would speed up the ratings process and make it easier to deal with the flood of mobile games hitting the market each week.

Riccitiello said last night that that proposal is still being hammered out by ratings boards around the world.

"The elegance of this concept is not just in its simplicity, but in the way it balances local cultural norms with a common global standard," he said.

Riccitiello also reminded those present that modern technology and the way many people consume video games often means that there is no gatekeeper for the entertainment people watch and play.

But age-gating, he pointed out, relies on an inherent honesty in the person who wants to view or play a piece of content.

"We're at a point in history when we've never been so free to create and distribute content," he said. "But we're also at a point when we need to update the way we inform consumers. Consumers are finding many new places to get their games — Facebook, Google, Apple, as well as services like Steam and Origin. Most have a rating system, but none are consistent. Consequently, we are confusing the consumer.

"We must move beyond the alphabet soup of game ratings and consolidate behind a single standard that consumers will recognize and, ultimately, demand."

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