ESRB: Downloadable Content Must Maintain Original Rating, Can’t Go ‘Out Of Bounds’

It’s only been this generation that downloadable content has become a viable opportunity on consoles, and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board finds itself in a position to regulate this uncharted territory of content.

“The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” expansion packs and the upcoming “Grand Theft Auto IV” upcoming add-ons represent the industry’s most expansive departures from a game’s original content. The catch: that content must remain consistent with the original rating branded by the ESRB.

New content cannot introduce elements that would alter the original rating, or the overall rating must change. ESRB president Patricia Vance explained what this meant for content makers at a MI6 Conference panel on marketing and user generated content last week.

“If a game submits a game to us and it gets a teen rating and then wants to add downloadable content to that game in the future, which is obviously happening a lot today, they have to keep the content in the downloadable product consistent with the core rating. It can’t go out of bounds,” said Vance.

Essentially, Rockstar Games couldn’t release a “director’s cut” downloadable for “Manhunt 2″ that would unlock the previously censored content and make the game Adults Only. The ESRB would force Rockstar to re-brand the original product as Adults Only, even though the downloadable content is optional.

The same would go for a downloadable release of “Hot Coffee” into “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” or patching the interactive sex scenes back into “Indigo Prophecy.”

“If it [the downloadable content] does [require altering the original product], then obviously the rating will have to change,” said Vance. “But the consumer is still being informed. That downloadable content is still carrying an ESRB rating and the consumer’s ultimately protected by being informed.”

Readers, what do you make of the ESRB enforcing publishers to make their downloadable content consistent with the original game? If Rockstar wanted to make their add-on for “GTA IV” for Adults Only, should they be allowed to?

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