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Elder Scrolls Rerating.

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May. 8th, 2006 | 02:16 pm
mood: accomplishedaccomplished

I was bugged by the ESRB upping a game to "M" for a third party extension that adds topless models, because in the long run I thought that would have a chilling effect on companies allowing end users to customize their games.

So I went and complained, and sent the following email. (Which had to be short as their web page had a fairly limited number of characters they'd accept.)

Question: I heard that That "The Elder Scolls IV: Oblivion" was rerated because of "nudity" and violence.

The part that bothers me is that the game didn't ship with any nude models. It was a third party add on (Not under the control of the publishing company). This reratring discourages companies from simplifying customization of their games. Which discourages creation of mods like counter strike.

I think that punishing a company for something they didn't do is wrong.

Shockingly they responded.

Dear Diane,

Thank you for contacting the Entertainment Software Rating Board with your comments regarding the re-rating of The Elder Scrolls® IV: Oblivion(tm). This is a serious and complex issue, and we sincerely appreciate your concern.

Following the public release of Oblivion, and as a result of ESRB's post-release monitoring and play-testing activities, the ESRB learned of the presence of two separate types of content that were deemed legitimate cause for reconsidering its rating. The first was depictions of blood and gore that appeared to exceed in detail and intensity that which was submitted to ESRB during the rating process. The second was a third party modification to the PC version which unlocked an art file already present in the code of the game, allowing players to apply a topless model or "skin" to female characters.

These issues moved the ESRB to initiate a review that involved:

§ Comparing the material disclosed in the game's submission by the publisher to content that was captured during an ESRB test of the final product;
§ Verifying that the locked-out content was in fact in a fully rendered form in the code of the PC version of the game, and confirming the means to unlock it; and
§ Submitting the original submission materials for the game along with the content captured during ESRB testing of the final product for review by ESRB raters to evaluate the accuracy of the initial rating assignment.

This review confirmed that the company's submission for Oblivion understated content with respect to the blood and gore found in the game. Specifically, the depictions of blood and gore were found to exceed the detail and intensity of those included in the publisher's videotape submission, and to be inconsistent with a Teen rating. The ESRB raters' review resulted in their assigning the game a rating of M (Mature) for blood, gore and nudity, rendering the initial T (Teen) rating inaccurate.

The ESRB also verified that the code in the PC version of the game contained a locked-out topless female character model that, though programmed to be inaccessible, could be unlocked through the use of a third party tool. The skin associated with this content was found to exist in a fully rendered form on the game disc, and to require only a minor modification to a filename in the code of the PC version to access (the Xbox 360(tm) version of the game cannot be modified to unlock the skin).

ESRB rules require that publishers disclose locked-out content during the rating process if it is pertinent to a rating. Accordingly, all skins included in the code on the final Oblivion game disc are considered pertinent to the rating, whether accessible through normal game play or not. The topless female skin was not disclosed to ESRB during the rating process.

As a result of these findings, the ESRB changed the rating for both the PC and Xbox versions of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion from T (Teen) to M (Mature). The PC version of the game will carry an additional content descriptor for Nudity until a new version of the game can be re-mastered, replicated and released. Since the ESRB investigation confirmed that the Xbox 360 version cannot be modified to access the topless skin, the Nudity descriptor was deemed unnecessary for that version.

It is inevitable that some may disagree with the ESRB's actions in this instance. We simply ask those who disagree to consider that consumers, especially parents, count on ESRB ratings for reliable and accurate information about what's in a computer or video game. They deserve to know what they are buying, and the ESRB is both obligated and committed to providing the most reliable and accurate ratings information possible. If content that would affect a rating is left on a game disc, even if it is not intended to be accessible during normal gameplay, it must be considered in the assignment of that rating. On the other hand, many mods actually introduce new content into a game that was created by a third party and not the publisher. These mods are beyond the publisher's control, and therefore cannot reasonably or practically be considered in the assignment of ratings.

The strength of our self-regulatory system lies in its unique ability to independently evaluate publisher compliance with a wide variety of industry-adopted rules and regulations, and enforce instances of non-compliance. The interests of parents, gamers, and other consumers are best served by having an effective self-regulatory body, whose actions are objective, judicious and fair. We appreciate your taking the time to express your opinion on this issue, and hope that you better understand our actions.


Entertainment Software Rating Board

The key point they raised was the rerated it because they claimed the "nude" model was in the game but disabled, and there was more violence then the original submission.

It'd be interesting to try and validate what's actually included in the add-on and how "nude" the locked content really is. (Is it an actual topless model, or is it a model without a texture map?)

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