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I'm developing a game out of my garage basically with the intention of selling it on my own website and hopefully on Steam, and I've been wondering if I should try to get it rated by an official ratings agency, like the ESRB, or just display my own content rating? As I see it, rating the contents of your game has three purposes.

  1. Let the player know the type of any potentially objectionable content they are about to experience.
  2. Access certain marketplaces that require a content rating.
  3. Fulfill legal requirements in certain countries that do not allow minors to be exposed to certain content.

Purpose #1 is the most important, and you certainly don't need any official ratings body to do that. Purpose #2 doesn't seem to be necessary for Steam. As for #3, I'm in the United States but I don't know how exactly any such laws would apply.

I looked into getting an official ESRB rating for a digital-download-only game, and it seems to be a hassle. It used to be that you could send them a letter in the mail with your company information, then they would create an account for you to log in to their website where you could fill out a questionnaire to have your game rated for free. They discontinued that in 2018 I think. Now they say you still can get a free rating through the IARC through participating storefronts, like the Windows Store, but it seems all of them require you to pay for a developers account before you can access the rating form.

So if I just make my own content rating, I don't want to create a new system that nobody is familiar with. Would I still be able to use "M for Mature" without the ESRB's blessing? Do they have a copyright on that phrase? I was thinking of using a similar color scheme (black with white text) to make it look similar to an official ESRB rating and using the content descriptors they use, but without mentioning the ESRB. Does that seem like a good idea?

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If I were you, I wouldn't bother with ratings at all unless your video game is something only appropriate for adults. Virtually nobody cares about age ratings in the PC gaming community. Also, ESRB doesn't require you to get an official age rating unless you're releasing to console.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Technically it’s the console manufacturer that requires an ESRB rating (or PEGI, or whatever relevant rating system is in place for the country/region you are distributing your game in), not the ESRB itself. They can enforce that requirement because every game released for that console must be digitally signed by them first to allow an un-modded console to play it. No such signing restriction exists for PC, hence no requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – Ed Marty Dec 14 '19 at 16:41

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