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My game project is a 2D top down RPG with dating simulator & visual novel elements in it, and I have a few parts of dialogue in my game that have bad words and used often by a character.

However, I'm afraid those bad words will affect the age rating up to 17+, so I decided to censor bad words optionally. This means player can enable bad words after confirming legal disclaimers.

Will this feature results more friendly age rating? I'm targeting for 15+ age rating.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Aren't bad words just PG-13? \$\endgroup\$ – Bálint Feb 16 '17 at 13:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Depends on the words and how excessively they're used. For example, you take a few characters saying "crap" or "damn" every now and again, no problem. If, on the other hand, you have a bunch of guys walking around calling people "n***a" every few minutes, then you're pretty much guaranteed an 18 rating. \$\endgroup\$ – DisturbedNeo Feb 16 '17 at 15:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ What platform are you targeting? Some platforms have built-in parental control or family settings, which might grant you more leeway by delegating the opt-in responsibility to the platform's implementation (which may include parental passwords etc that would be harder for a young user to circumvent than something residing in-game). I haven't confirmed in the compliance docs whether this is sufficient to alter the outcome of age rating, however. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Feb 16 '17 at 20:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ A dating simulator for 15-year olds? Really? \$\endgroup\$ – Lightness Races with Monica Feb 16 '17 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LightnessRacesinOrbit Why not? There's farming sims and city management sims and flight sims for 15 year olds, even though most 15 year olds aren't farmers, mayors, or pilots. ;) A number of 15 year olds do date though. An example of a game in this space might be the episodic game Long Story — it uses a visual novel format to talk about high school dating and other relationships, in a way that would be age appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – DMGregory Feb 17 '17 at 13:27
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Different rating agencies have different criteria by which they rate games. But usually they rate the games by everything that's available in them (and sometimes even things which can only be enabled by mods). So if you have a censorship function which the player can turn off, many rating agencies will rate the game under the assumption that the player will turn it off.

So adding an optional censorship feature might have value for some of your players who don't like such content, but it will likely not have value for most rating boards.

Optionally, you could publish two editions of your game, a "dirty" one and a "clean" one. This is actually quite common in the visual novel genre. Kanon and Air exist in two versions, one adults-only version with explicit sex scenes and one without. But that means that you need to obtain separate ratings for both, submit both to different platforms, etc, etc. To avoid another "hot coffee" situation, you should actually delete all objectionable content from the clean version and not just dummy it out. That means you should actually change any objectionable strings in the clean version at compile-time and not just run a filter over them at runtime.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The separated edition is a good idea. I will pass this to my team. \$\endgroup\$ – Rama Alifiandy Feb 16 '17 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is (the, or a) "hot coffee" situation? I'm unfamiliar with the term. \$\endgroup\$ – person27 Feb 16 '17 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Anon234_4521 look at the link in the answer \$\endgroup\$ – muddyfish Feb 16 '17 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ You like to hit the hot network questions, don't you :P \$\endgroup\$ – Vaillancourt Feb 16 '17 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ "hot coffee" was a sex minigame in GTA San Andreas that was deactivated but not removed in the original release of the game. Modders found out how to reactivate it and there was a legal/ratings shitstorm. In the USA the original release of the game was retroactively rerated AO causing many retailers to pull it from shelves. Rockstar had to quickly re-release the game with the offending content removed to get it back on shelves. They were also hit wit also a class-action lawsuit. Overall deactivating the content rather than removing it was an expensive mistake. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Green Feb 17 '17 at 0:51
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It's actually quite an interesting question, especially given the genres you're looking at. These are the bigs ones you have to worry about:

ESRB (North & Central America): The ESRB has a strange system that jumps straight from T for Teen (13) to M for Mature (17), so no matter what you do, unless you take out all the bad language and any and all suggestive content in the dating sim side of things, you're looking at a big ol' M on your game.

PEGI (Europe excluding the UK and Germany, though PEGI also covers India, Israel, Pakistan & Quebec): Similarly, you'll probably get a 16 from these guys whatever you do, because you're not getting a 12. 18 is generally reserved for stuff like excessive language, extreme violence and nudity. Having the option to disable these things does not affect their opinion.

VSC (UK): Video Games are no longer governed by the BBFC, who were nice enough to give Brütal Legend a 15 rating simply because you could disable the language and gore. Unfortunately, the VSC uses the same rating system as PEGI, so while they can have different opinions to PEGI, you're still gonna end up with the same rating.

USK (Germany): These guys are a bit peculiar, prioritising violence as the main point for rating games. However, that's not to say that you can get away with absolutely anything, just that they're more lenient when it comes to suggestive content and bad language. Good ol' Germany.

CB (Asutralia): List of banned video games in Australia. These guys have got to be the pickiest, most sensitive bunch who've ever rated anything ever. I'm not saying your game is going to be banned, I'm just saying that you're wayyy more likely to get a higher rating from this particular board. Honestly, the fact that it's part dating sim will make them think twice. And the worst part is, I'm not even exaggerating. I really wish I was.

Japan: Here's where things get really interesting. Note how I didn't put a specific board name for the Japanese. That's because they, naturally, have 3 different ratings boards, 2 of which are specifically tasked with rating PC Games of the Dating Sim, Visual Novel and Eroge genres. If your game is being released for PC, your game will be rated by the CSA and EOCS, simply because it has Dating Sim and Visual Novel content. However, if your game is for console or mobile, then it will be rated by the CERO instead, because they deal with any and all video games not on PC, as well as any PC Games not of the aforementioned genres.

What's also interesting is the criteria the CERO gives for it's B (12+) rating:

Contains some content parents may not like for children under the age of 12. May contain mild sexual content, some violence, mild horror content or infrequent use of profanity.

From what I can tell, mild sexual content and infrequent use of profanity fit your game pretty well. So where you'd likely get a 16 in Europe, a 17 in North America and an 18 in Australia, you'll probably get more like a 15 in the UK and Germany, and a 12 in Japan.

I swear, in terms of what they prioritise as acceptable in modern society, Japan and Australia are real polar opposites.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ive lived in Australia my whole life, and Ive got to say it is quite unlikely that you will ever get a game banned or rated R18 based soley on language. It takes some serious violence or adult references to get an R18 rating. Almost all of the banned games feature heavy visual elements of violence or sexuality, and were banned because there wasnt an R18 rating to place them under. Seriously, we have M15 games featuring nudity. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Feb 16 '17 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ You should probably include links to the relative boards, though. These things change, over time, so this answer has a lot more potential to fade out of date. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Feb 16 '17 at 21:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, that's true, I've added a bunch of links, except for the VSC, because they just use PEGI ratings, and the CSA, because I couldn't find a good link, possibly because they're a part of Soft On Demand, a well known Japanese distributor of Pornography. \$\endgroup\$ – DisturbedNeo Feb 17 '17 at 9:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ The CB also aren't fond of any form of real drug usage. Pretend drugs seem to be ok, though. But yeah, I should have mentioned that they don't really care much about bad language, they're all about the gore and the sex with their classifications. I do still think that they may have to perform some censorship depending on the nature of the Dating Sim / Visual Novel content. Of course, to answer the main question, actually the language doesn't matter, and you can still get a 15 (or near-equivalent) rating from all of these boards anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – DisturbedNeo Feb 17 '17 at 10:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ That is a good depiction of drug censorship. Weve literally had cases where companys only had to change the name of the "drugs" to fake names, as opposed to real names. I think thats a bit more universal, though. They made said changes in fallput, for example. But the new "made up" names were put in place in all versions, due to censorship, AFAIK. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Feb 17 '17 at 17:20

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