The Entertainment Software Association, or ESRB, is an organization that evaluates and gives age-based ratings to Video Games based on their content. These ratings can be seen on the bottom right corner of a commercially released game box or before trailers for video games. These ratings range from EC for Early Childhood (the equivalent of a G-rating for films) to AO, which is Adults Only (that would be a game's version of an NC-17 rating). Most retail outlets don't carry games rated AO and a few of them refuse to sell games with an M for Mature rating to anyone under 17 without a parent or guardian's consent.

A history of violence

The history of the ESRB dates back to 1994 as a response to congressional hearings over video game violence. The two games that sparked the debate were the controversial 1992 arcade hit "Mortal Kombat" and the full motion video game "Night Trap" starring the late Dana Plato. Prior to the ESRB, Sega imposed their own age-based ratings to games on their own consoles with the now defunct Video Game Rating Council. Journalists and congressmen were opposed to the idea of Sega imposing their own ratings system and were critical of their inconsistency with the Sega CD port of "Wing Commander" gaining an MA-13; the same rating as the much more violent Genesis port of "Mortal Kombat." This system would be replaced with the ESRB.

Not for retail

Previously, the ESRB has given short forms of these ratings for no charge to independent developers releasing their games digitally. However, that is about to change. The ESRB quietly announced that they would be charging for both long-form and short-form ratings. This news was met with a cold reception from independent developers.

Following this outcry, the ESRB tweeted a reply to a video game director named Brandon Sheffield who voiced his grievances over this news. Below is the tweet that followed.

The free short-form option was considered a boon in the independent gaming scene as most major publishers such as Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft do not accept games without an ESRB rating.

Without a major publisher to help distribute their titles, independent developers might be forced to do it entirely out of pocket. While the ESRB claims that games and apps can go through the IARC rating process free of charge, that option is currently only available to games on the Microsoft Store. Anyone who wants to distribute through PlayStation 4's services might not have this option. When asked about this concern, the ESRB responded, "No concern allowed!" As of now, there is no set date on when short-form ratings will cease to be free.