Should Indie Games Provide Suggested Ratings?

Posted on Feb 28 2014 - 12:44pm by Rich Garner

To rate, or not to rate?
Here we are again at the crossroads of gaming and maturity. The rise of independent games has grown beyond control… and that’s a good thing. This means the restrictions that creative teams faced are all but gone. The goal of getting your game idea into the hands of people who will appreciate it is much closer than you think. But this amount of freedom means there’s almost no control over the maturity and content of games.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for freedom in creative design. Many of my ideas for games and animated series involve religious themes that no publisher in their right minds would consider profitable. I understand that distributors of digital goods need to consider their overall operation and how each title can help or hinder it. But the maturity I’m discussing here is not pervasive profanity or pretty prostitutes in pigtails. I’m talking about the maturity of the developer to identify and target his/her audience.

Take for example the game “The Binding of Issac.” Being an indie game, there is no rating. But the description hardly describes the experience. The game is described as a rouge-like action RPG taking story elements from the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac from Genesis 22. With screenshots of cute pixel art and words in the game details like ‘bizarre creates’ and ‘deranged enemies,’ the game COULD have been a 16-bit mashup of Atari’s Haunted House and Sunday morning lessons. At the very least, perhaps a game that a parent might consider as an encouraging Steam gift to their son or daughter. However, if you played the game, you know how far off course that is.

Obviously, games with pixel -quality representations of naked children running around in poo fits into a bit of grey area between T for Teen and M for Mature. But since it’s graphics are so old school, one could even argue an E for Everyone rating. But any kind of description of content would have helped me make a better des… uh, I mean a potential buyer make a better decision.  But why does this matter? Because, content ratings, or at least listing of contextual elements, provides two benefits:

1. It assists the gamer in finding something that best suites his tastes, and therefore helps saves money that would have otherwise been spent on something that becomes uninteresting after a few minutes.

2.  Placing ratings on content helps game makers identify with their target audience by saying, “we know what you like, and here it is.” This can support a level of professionalism and trust that indie developers can often lack.

But, as with much of the game industry, this is open for discussion. So what do you think?

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