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Ratings and Ratability

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Well, my games are now rated officially-nonviolent!

Well, somewhat. Since I didn't wanna spend who-knows-how-much cash for an official ratings board to tell me that (WELL DUH) Duck Tiles is G-rated, I went with the new voluntary self-rating at http://www.tigrs.org/.

Mind you, it's not a very prestigious rating service. In fact, it's really just one guy with a reasonably good idea.

Biggest problem I see is that there's really nothing that civil-ly prevents me from slapping a "102% kid-friendly" rating on my up-coming game Satan-worshipping Panty-patrol Gangsta-rap Death Party Part IV: Invasion of the Evisceratrix. There's a place where you can complain about a misused rating, but I doubt there's anything that'd keep someone from thumbing their nose at the guy apart from some bad press.

Of course, that's not unprecedented. For example, I always wondered if I decided to brazenly break the LGPL license for an SDL-based game, would I get anything stronger than a bunch of hand-wringing from some OSS zealots or could I expect a C&D in the mail followed by a subpoena if I didn't follow the LGPL? OSS hand-wringers managed to force Linksys to open most of their router firmware, but I don't know if that force came from the threat of legal action or just a threat of bad press.

Anyway, you can see my "family friendly badge" at the bottom of my product pages now (1, 2, 3). I'm not overly concerned about the badge's lack of prestige, and I'm certainly not concerned that my games ratings would ever be contested. I just figure that a parent now and then would like so see some kind of visual assurance that my games are G-rated.

But this does bring up a question. When the next six daily puzzles are released as standalone, will I need to change my rating because of the "lawn-sprinkler full of blood" effect in Zombie Kitten Attack? I suppose that's suitably cartoonish that I could put up some kind of "exceedingly cartoonish violence effects, but still G-rated" bit.

That being said, let's talk about ratings. Despite Zombie Kitten Attack's nod towards ultraviolence, here's a piece of Game Development Common Sense:

Make Your Game As Family-Friendly As Possible, But No More So.

Yes, I realize that sounds a mite stilted, but it follows from the old Einsteinian notion of making things as simple as possible, but no simpler. Which is to day that there's often a tipping point where simplification suddenly makes things more complex and you inadvertently start making things more complex by making them simpler.

But it boils down to "Don't just slap some titties into your game if they're not warranted". An example of that would be that dopey "BMX-XXX" game of a couple of years ago where you played a topless chick on a BMX bike. From the onset it seemed pretty obvious that they had a fairly mediocre BMX action-game (and the reviews bore that out) that they tried to spice up by adding some completely pointless sex in an apparent attempt to lure in couple of 11 year-old boys whose notions of sex are still so stilted that they would see enticement in such a thing.

Of course, it backfired. The marketing geniuses who decided that a great target market is "those kids who desperately try to sneak a peek of some boobies in that bagged copy of Playboy on the magazine rack at Barnes & Noble" apparently don't realize that (A) Those kids don't actually buy the magazine and (B) Those kids can't buy the magazine even if they want to.

And they ended up with a giant flop right off the drawing board.

Now then, adult ratings do work, specifically for movies. Sometimes an R-rated movie will make more than a similarly-themed PG movie because it's targeted to adults and not teens, and adults do watch movies. That really doesn't apply to games, though. Games that get the equivalent of an R-rating (GTA, BMX-XXX) are largely ignored by adults. While some adults will play mature games, a much larger percentage of them are playing G-rated games, namely casual games.

Just because Bejeweled and Diner Dash have G-rated themes and gameplay, that doesn't mean that they're intended mainly for children like most G-rated movies. It just means that stuff that would make a game R-rated simply does not apply. You could certainly make an R-rated Bejeweled game by adding in a pile of racy graphics and sounds, but it would just come off as immature and stupid. On the other hand, you could've made a G-rated version of the movie Little Miss Sunshine, but it probably wouldn't have done as well because the edgy humor and situations were intended to appeal to an adult audience.

The upshot of all of this is this. Movies and games are different. If you want your game to appeal to adults, the road to doing that is not necessarily to add adult themes.

In conclusion, I must bring up one of my favorite examples of desperate attempts to appeal to adults. In 1979, American International (the biggest cheapo boobie-violence movie company of the 60's and 70's) released a quite-bad kids' movie called "chomps". It was movie about a robot dog, written by Joe Barbara (of Hanna Barbara), and was basically 90 minutes of slapstick humor, bumbling villains, and special effects borrowed from the bionic man TV show. One of the running gags in the movie involved the robot dog (which, conveniently, looked exactly like a real dog) making life difficult for the neighbor's dog.

At some point before release, somebody at American International figured that the movie might get a bigger audience if it was PG-rated. Rather than film new scenes with adult situations, they simply dubbed a voice for the neighbor dog. . .and made him speak entirely in foul language! A couple of four-letter-words later and they went from having a stupid kids' movie to a stupid teen movie!

But it bombed just the same. And all further versions of the movie (cable and DVD) have the dog's voice removed.

Mind you, all of this dubious wisdom is coming from a person who made a game about exploding kittens, so take this all for what it's worth.
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Most of the people who want to play "core" indie titles are in my age group.

People in my age group like violence, so my games have blood and gore.

QED [grin]

I can certainly understand how a more "casual" author would want to make their stuff more family-friendly. I think exploring actual adult situations (as opposed to puerile violence) is seriously under-represented in commercial games and indie games; I personally am trying to improve my technical craft so I can tell a more compelling adult story without coming off as hokey.

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That was a cool read, thanks for the information. I never really thought about the ratings in this way.

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I agree with Ravuya on this. Some things that have come up in discussions with other people though about these same topics is that if you are going to cross over that realm of adult topics is it possible to still cater to the family friendly spectrum as well with a different line of games, or will people get offended by the adult games all together( this doesn't necessarily mean sex, but just adult situations) and boycott future games regardless?

My answer to this questions is that as an aspiring indie developer, I don't really give a shit if people get offended. That is their prerogative. I mean, I'm not going to produce a game that is called Mrs Mumphrey's lovely Tea Party, have the packaging decorated for a childrens game and then slap in a mass suicide of out of work farmers durring the great depression. I'll let people know before hand what their getting into, but in doing so, I feel it alleviates the responsibility from the producers of the games and puts it back on the people that are playing them. And if I made a violent game for older generations and a game that would appeal to my sons generation, I would hope that in providing information about what to expect that people would use common sense and not get offended by the former and not base a decision to buy another game based upon the subject matter of a completely unrelated one. OF course the people that are all hard core about ratings systems and boycotting offensive art and the such are usually extremist anyways and are for the vast majority a small percentage of people in the world. So too me, it's their loss, and I'm not going to try to please every crazed agenda driven extremist, simply a fan base(if I ever manage to create one), by staying true to the games and my vision.

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Period piece movies about tea parties and depression-induced suicides seem to go over quite well with middle-aged women; perhaps there's a market for a game version.

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This makes me realize that ChemHex has a "Drug Reference" in it. If you make methanol (CH4OH), you are met with the "If you drink it, you'll go blind" special easter egg message.

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