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Lets talk about a content/age rating system for itch.io Sticky

A topic by leafo created Jul 02, 2018 Views: 1,033 Replies: 46
Viewing posts 1 to 23
Admin (1 edit) (+7)

itch.io currently doesn't have a proper content rating (or age rating) system. At the moment the only option we have is a NSFW toggle that's hidden away in the metadata tab. I'd like to introduce a better system for developers to self rate their games. I've only done some basic research so far, so I really appreciate any feedback you'd be willing to provide. I also don't claim to have any expert on this stuff, so if there's obvious things I'm missing please tell me.

To start with, you can read over this Wikipedia page to see what existing rating systems look like: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_content_rating_system

And this one in particular caught my attention: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Age_Rating_Coalition

Initially I was considering re-using an existing system, so that if any games get officially rated they can re-use that. But after more consideration, I'm leaning towards a simplified system for itch.io. I'm thinking of the following age groups, which are more similar to ESRB:

  • Everyone
  • 13+
  • 16+
  • 18+

I felt like having a lot of granularity in the younger ages didn't really apply well to itch.io's material, especially since when you start to think about "is my game appropriate for a 6 year old" you stop thinking about content and maybe more about usability. itch.io doesn't really have content for young children either. It's more likely someone will pick a really young age as a joke, and I want to avoid that. Lastly, our TOS denies children under 13 from using the site. If things change in the future then I think we can update accordingly. 

After selecting a age range, I'd like to have some checkboxes for content that might appear.  ESRB calls these content descriptors and you can find their list on this page: https://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.aspx. For itch.io, once again, I want to keep things simple to prevent an overwhelming list of options. Here's what I'm thinking of for itch.io:

  • Drug usage
  • Explicit Sexual content
  • Graphic violence 
  • Explicit language
Moderator(+7)

Content descriptors are a lot more useful than trying to decide what's appropriate for age X in hundreds or thousands of cultures across the world. I'd add gore (though that could fall under graphic violence) and nudity (because that's orthogonal to sexual content). Hope this helps!

Admin

Thanks for the feedback, I didn't consider an approach that doesn't use age ranges. One of the side effects of this project is that we'll be introducing an age gate for adult content, so there needs to be some cutoff point for "adult."

(1 edit) (+2)

My suggestion would be checkboxes for common bulletpoints, with fields for adding additional information. I'd avoid including a "severity" or judgement call on those bulletpoints - "Sexual Content" instead of "Explicit Sexual Content", since details are often highly circumstantial.

We'd end up with "Violence" (chosen from bulletpoint) - "Contains one instance of low fidelity gore" (entered by developer into a text field).

Would also, for accessibility purposes, suggest including a highlighted checkbox for flashing lights/photosensitive epilepsy.

Admin(+1)

Thanks for the feedback. I opted to go for a "severe" violence & co. because I think without the qualifier those terms are too board. I really want to focus on helping people identify when a specific aspect of a game could be disturbing. Having a developer mark their game as having just "violence" is broad, and really open wide ranges of subjective assessment. Regardless though, this is a self-rating system for developers. The accuracy of the ratings is never going to be perfectly consistent.

Why not use existing rating system like the IARC?

https://www.globalratings.com/for-developers.aspx

developers like me who have their game on Google Play could just re-use the rating they already have (it's required on Google Play) so it would be instant.

Admin

I mentioned IARC and why I didn't want to use it directly in the original post.

Ah OK, your system seems good then!

(+3)

I feel like there's a strong overlap here for a content warning system. Maybe something like the tagging system but for content warnings and then have the age range options be based specific tags from that but overridable by uploaders?

(+2)

I never got the use of ages. Of course there's legal ages for different things in different places at different thresholds (way too many to keep up with) and there's outright bans of things in some places. It seems to me it would be simpler to just have opt-ins for various types of content where the user has to confirm that the content is legal for them.... especially when there are so so many different types of content that is regulated around the world https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strafgesetzbuch_section_86a

Admin

Thanks for the feedback. I know content rating systems can get very complicated with many regional laws and guidelines. My initial plan is to get something minimal to account for the average cases (but maybe that's a pipe dream). I want to have a section that goes on the main project edit page so people will see it and fill it out without having to go through sub-pages. If it's something very complicated though then they're likely to skip it.

(+2)

Something user/downloader side as well to flag games for review if they are not tagged properly would probably not go amiss... but that would require someone to go looking at things being flagged and might get used to harass someone (either the dev or itch.io folks...)  I do not know how the bigger sites handle these things, but it might be worth studying them.

As far as the uploader side, a simple check or combo box on the main page that enables the content tags in an easy manner, similar to the current tags would be probably the easiest way to implement this.

(As for users under 13 getting content from the site, older people could choose to download games for their children/younger siblings, so an E for everyone category wouldn't be a problem and might help them filter out things inappropriate to a really young person...)

Admin(+3)

We already have a reporting system for projects with a option to report something as classified incorrectly. This could be used for content rating as well. We haven't had any  issues with people abusing it, and we can generally spot abuse pretty easily.

(+3)

I think some sort of content ratio would be a great idea.

I'm not a big fan of the age-based content ratio, simply for the fact that it does not tell me much about the game. On the other hand, a tag based rating (gore, sex, nudity, drug usage, depression, self-harm, etc etc) would be much more useful IMHO.

(+1)

I see two distinct issues:

  • The current NSFW tagging option is not being used as much as it should due to it being hidden as metadata
  • The current NSFW tagging option, regardless of its visibility, is too vaguely defined, as people have different definitions for what constitutes NSFW content

To me, both these have individual answers. Let's look at the first one. I went to a game that I believe should be marked as NSFW, which was You Must be 18 or Older to Enter. Nowhere on this page is a warning flagged for NSFW content, nowhere in any expandable section is this apparent (the developer did include tags for Erotic and Porn, however), and nowhere on the page when I download the game am I warned of its potential content. Only in reading the game's description and its title am I made aware that this game might not be appropriate for all ages. To me, that is an issue on the front-end design and the user experience, but that is a bit out of scope for this comment.

I propose we move the current NSFW checkbox from metadata to the main page where you edit the title, description, etc. For now this would be a simple checkbox, just as it is already. In making this move, though the definition of what constitutes NSFW may still be arbitrary, it should at least lead to more developers selecting the option, thus increasing the set of games on itch tagged NSFW.

After some time passes, statistics can be aggregated. How many new games uploaded were tagged NSFW versus before? How many older games that were not tagged NSFW had updates and then were tagged NSFW as a result of the change in visibility? To me, this is useful information in understanding how developers currently interact with the tools that already exist. While on this thread we have some limited insight and suggestions, I think I am most interested in understanding why a developer would click the NSFW button. What content did they feel defined NSFW? We can speculate on the obvious ones like nudity, but perhaps in probing the developers who do have games marked NSFW, we can better understand their decision making process. We can similarly probe users (with accounts) who play NSFW games, and survey them as well. Naturally, the surveys should be anonymous.

In probing for this information, we can then better learn what filters for NSFW should exist. As stated before, nudity is an obvious one, but I believe some not-so-obvious options exist in this space, too. Once an encompassing set of NSFW filters/tags is determined, then the developer dashboard can be updated such that those fields are available.

I would rather have a static set of NSFW filters, ones that the developer cannot add to, unlike the freeform and very arbitrary tagging system that exists currently. This is because if I want to filter out certain NSFW games or books, I wish to do so rigorously. If everybody can tag things arbitrarily, then somebody can tag something with a typo, or include a specific tag that I may not have heard of, whereas rigid filters like "nudity" or "drug use" are more universal.

I do not think specifying age guidelines like ESRB is a good idea unless forced by law. If the law forces this decision, then a much more rigorous process must be taken, akin to Google Play's questionnaire all developers must fill out for their games. The resultant ratings that emerge differ by country, sometimes in surprising ways, and the entire process is slow and not great to go through. It already is daunting for a developer to update their game and fill out every field that exists, but I would not want to introduce too many changes too quickly, as I do not wish to burden the developer with more noise they must work through when their end goal is to simply release their game.

Admin

I originally wanted to move our "NSFW" checkbox to the main project edit page, but I figured if I was making updates then I should see if there are some other simple changes I could make to plan for the future. Thanks for your feedback.

(1 edit) (+1)

Long time since I used the site but wanted to chime in anyways.

In general I'm a fan of simplified systems and not slang nomenclatures, so I what I would to is to tag all the games as "All Ages" by default, and add an opt-in "Adult" or "Mature" tag/system. If needed, add a "Teenage" tag too. This system should be pretty visible/a major requirement.
Reports should catch devs that forget, decide to not tag, or simply didn't update their games.

I strongly suggest not using any specific numbers (like "18+" or "18 an up") since, as mentioned, both laws and culture are different by country; so I think that a bit of ambiguity would really help. Similar case to "NSFW", some cultures might have no idea what's that, better to stick to some pre-2000 terminology :P

As an added suggestion, we could also have a filter for Mature games (both see it and don't see it). Maybe have an opt-in setting to enable seeing them? Maybe that will help with some countries' laws? Some kind of futureproofing?

For now I have no opinion on the checkboxes for content. I think it will be good to have but I'd consider it an extra, after the other systems have been deployed.

Admin(+1)

I think I'm considering this direction. It seems like age ranges aren't great, but having things like "Everyone", "Mature", and "Adult" will allow us to get the distinction we want without making assumptions about maturity and age.

I definitely want this new system to be front-and-center on the project edit pages, and not hidden away on a sub page. I think it's important that certain kinds of content is classified.

(1 edit) (+2)

GameJolt has a set of radio buttons where they ask the developers to self-rate their games and depending on the selected options, there's a corresponding "rating" image generated along with the contents of the game ala ESRB ratings. Might be worth a look.

Here's a screenshot:

https://screenshots.firefox.com/BXJIoWs4l2uk71t0/gamejolt.com

Moderator(+1)

Yeah, but GameJolt's system ( like their entire publishing workflow) is clunky and vague, with especially unclear requirements and way too many steps. We want something people can actually use easily. Maybe something like the tag system to select what the game contains, and players could exclude the kinds of content they don't want when browsing. In fact, a lot of people are asking for the ability to exclude ordinary tags as well, so that would make a lot of sense.

(1 edit) (+1)

I totally get what you mean, I'm more just pining for that auto generated rating image 😛 Something that will generate this kind of badge on the game page. (But obviously not the ESRB one, something that's custom design by itch)

Just fanning my vanity I guess 😅

(+2)

I also think that system Gamejolt uses is pretty neat.

While I get the inclination to think of this in a dev perspective, I think it's ultimately the players who are more important to consider here as it is to their benefit. Yes, it would be good to have a system that is easy to fill out by devs and doesn't take half an hour per game, but if that leads to a subpar content rating system, it's not that useful to implement. 

My own inclination in this case is to have some broader subject matter tags that can be chosen, after which some refinement tags are suggested to help branch out to more specific subjects. It should also be possible to add multiple subset subjects. 

Some suggestions for categories and subsets: 

  • Violence: cartoon/fantasy violence, violence towards children, intimate partner violence, etc.
  • Sexual content: heterosexual sex, homosexual sex, intersex sex participant(s), transgender sex participant(s), group sex, masturbation, fetish, etc.
  • Alcohol/drug use: marijuana, alcohol, smoking, hard drugs, etc.
  • Coarse language: sexual innuendo, sexually explicit language, blasphemy, slurs, etc.
  • Mental health/abuse: child abuse, domestic abuse, depression, self harm, etc.
  • Common phobias: spiders, insects, needles, etc.

This would allow the developers to fill out the contents in broad strokes if they aren't interested in being super specific or want to avoid spoiling their games, but it also allows them to get more specific for players who asked about specific subject matter or if they want to be specific in the first place. The one flaw I can think of is that some subjects that fall under the broad categories might apply to multiple broad categories (rape would fall under violence, sexual content and abuse, for example), so it would be good to have some subjects automatically apply more broad categories when picked.

I personally think age limits are only useful in a legal sense, as different people mature at different rates. I'm not particularly interested in age ratings as a result. The problem I have with the categories of "mature" and "adult" is that the line between them is very blurry for me personally, especially for games. I would personally only mark with ages or age categories if a product is intended to only be consumed by legal adults (basically: porn).

Admin

Thanks for your feedback.

I think the difference between mature and adult is specifically to account for "adult content," and we're going to need that distinction.

Fair, though I would personally put that as "legal adults only" to make it clear it has potentially illegal content for minors.

I can't for the life of me understand why you would separate sex acts by straight and gay, or by cis and trans, and so on. In the context provided, it seems like some sort of content warning when it's listed along phobias and triggers, as if homophobes and transphobes who want to play adult games would be using the system to filter it out. (If you can't handle the fact that gay and trans people exist, you shouldn't be using the internet.) 

If its a searchable category and tied to adult games, it's going to be used for fetishization, (you even included 'fetish' as a category.) On a website that is home to many LGBT-friendly games, made by gay and trans creators, serving up different groups for users to consume for fetish purposes is weird and uncomfortable.

If I put aside my confusion, disdain and disgust at why you have separated these things, why you think gay sex is any different from straight sex and how you fail to see that trans people having sex would still be gay or straight, (because trans men are men and trans women are women, and trans is not a gender in itself, nor is intersex...) I still can't understand why there is a need or a reason in a content and age rating system to separate and label these things, as if it any of it would matter when deciding if a game is inappropriate before buying or playing. It seems like a lot of unnecessary information and not at all useful and I'm failing to understand why you would bother to separate and label it all like that in the first place.

If the main reason for a system like this is to keep children or teens from playing age-inappropriate games, it would matter if there was sex but not what kind. It's still sex. I just don't get it.

(+1)

Consider the other side of the coin: the devs are important to consider, too, because it is part of their workflow, and ultimately their responsibility to jump through these hoops. Yes, it would be good to have every game thoroughly documented, but that friction will make devs less likely to want to put effort into categorizing their game. It's better to implement a 'subpar' content rating system that is actually used than it is to implement a content rating system that is in theory ideal but in practice inconsistent and subpar in its own ways.

The players don't see the rating system directly, they see the result of collaboration between system & dev.

I'm glad you're finally doing this!

I think you missed a few content descriptors, like:

  • Alcohol/Tobacco reference/usage (kinda fits in with drug reference/usage)
  • Blood/gore (kinda separate from violence?)
  • Language/profanity
  • Horror themes (for scary games)

It might also be a good idea to have users come up with their own content descriptors and explain their content in depth. E.G: if the creator selects "Alcohol Usage," they could write "contains a scene with two adults responsibly consuming alcohol."

Also, alcohol should be separate from drugs, since those two have different connotations .

Those are my thoughts.  I'd like to know what you all think!

(+1)

As some of the comments above have stated, I'm also a huge fan of forgoing age based categories and focusing more on specific content warnings. This will make it easier for people who are comfortable with one type of "explicit" content to filter results to show games that they're more likely to feel comfortable playing and enjoy.

Potentially losing a section of an age group that would enjoy your content just because it's labeled 16+ or 18+, or thinking that the content will be watered down just because it's 13+, hurts both players and developers. 

Admin (1 edit)

What about having "Everyone", "Mature Audiences" and "Adults Only" instead of specific ages?

(+1)

As long as the specific warnings are at the forefront, I think that could be fine. When I'm trying to avoid certain content for my kids, or even for myself when I don't have the spoons to deal with a certain topic, knowing the content matters a lot more than the age rating imo

There's some PG-13 movies that I'm perfectly fine with my 5 year old watching alone and there's some PG and G rated films (Jaws, Poltergeist, Watership Down, etc.) that are just too much, so I'm sure it'll work the same with self rated E/MA/AO. For me, the warnings matter more than the rating itself.

(+2)

i cant think of anything else than currently the adult content button is very hidden and considering how important it would be to not show adult content to people who dont want to see it, imo adding the options for the rating system on the main game edit page would be important.

(2 edits)

Instead of having a specific age, or age bracket, for games - maybe the game could have a rating score that indicates the general type of content expected.

Blips & Chitz: World of Adventures (7/100)
Murder & Mayhem (83/100)
Weed Smoking Simulator (42/100)
Wholesome Fun: Part 2 (0/100)

For example, you could be fairly granular with content questions and assign them a weight (value). This could be compiled with other values based on the type of content.

Cartoon Violence [None (0)] [Mild (1)] [Moderate (2)] [Intense (3)]
Fantasy Violence [None (0)] [Mild (1)] [Moderate (2)] [Intense (3)]
Alcohol [None (0)] [References (1)] [Usage (2)]
Drugs [None (0)] [References (1)] [Usage (2)]
Gambling [None (0)] [Simulated (3)] [Real (15)]

You could then compound the result to account for multiple items of the list, rather than let the developer directly set their own rating.

ex. Alcohol [References (1)] + Drugs [Usage (2)] would result in a rating score of 3. However, because both drugs and alcohol are involved, an additional 2 points are added; resulting in a final score of 5.

Not sure if this might be more complicated than what you are looking for in terms of implementation and usage.
Additionally, you could then display these warnings somewhere for the game

Pirate Simulator: Swashbucklin' Adventures

Content Warning Rating: 32/100
This game contains

- moderate depictions of fantasy violence.
- references to alcohol.
- mild swearing.
- moderate cartoon violence.

While the whole number ranking concept seems novel, I don’t think it really helps the player in deciding if they should play a game. If I told you that some game had a score of 39, could you make a judgment off of that alone? The content descriptors are a good idea though.

(+2)

Yeah the number alone is too vague to be useful by itself.  Although it could be a good way to quick-search through stuff. ex - a search function that allows you to specify a rating range (adventure games with content rating 50 or lower) and then you could go through them in more detail to view the individual content warnings. 

Not many have talk about it but what if lootbox become forcibly into laws, right now ESRB will not accept lootbox as gambling thus leading government to force it into law. This is a problem with all content rankings not such ESRB, if these content rankings do not do their job it leads to complex rules and laws. This is why lootbox is a mess in gaming, while it is ok in the USA not so much in China or Japan that have rules and if your game falls into it you are in risk of not only losing customers but money too.

I do not think you should only use the ESRB, it is a flaw system from the very start since any kid can buy AO games online or M rated games on steam store.

If you really want to do this right you got to have the IARC which protects game developers. This system can give warnings like games having nazi symbols, violence, noise that may not be ok to someone who went to war, realistic like killing, etc. ESRB does not have those things because like i said it is a fail system.

I don’t think the ESRB is a failed system. It isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough at conveying what it needs to.  And if the content desctiptors aren’t enough, the ESRB provides a description for everything it rates.

(+1)

except it doesn't for things like nazi symbols which under usa is ok for anyone since the usa does not care or Japan who used them for religion reasons. However in germany it is banned 100%, you can't even make it for art. This is what i'm talking about, different laws and different ranking will crash into each other leaving game developers with problems they never knew.

(+1)

ESRB is too complex. I feel that it should be simpler.

Everyone (All ages)

Teens (13+)

Adult (18+)

You’re right that someone will pick the young age option as a joke. I think if there is going to be a rating system then they should take it seriously when choosing “Everyone”. If not then strike for misuse? And, if they get 3 strikes then they get banned??? 

I think your content descriptions is good.

(+1)

There is very well worked video about this topic:

At the end of the day I think that adult content should be disabled from the home public page by default and then on the settings an option to turn it on.

(+2)

I have to say something should be done about this

I was browsing the front page of the html5 games and came across this game called can-i which after about 2 minutes of game play basically devolves to torturing a cat with a Knife.

I know I would NEVER want my children to come across this type of game when they are looking for HTML5 games to play on the internet. 

I think games with content like that should be hidden away behind some sort of paywall where you have to verify your age in some way to access.

I can't think of many people who want their kids coming across games they can play in any web browser about torturing cats with knives. (Now that I can state how that game ends, once I accidently cut the cats ear off moving my mouse around to try to find out what to do I stopped playing) 

Admin(+1)

Something that like should be flagged as adult using our existing options. I've found the page and updated the setting on it.

(+1)

I'm sorry,  I didn't realize the game wasn't flagged NSFW. However, I'd like to mention that the game has a content warning right at the beginning that requires an action to start.

(+1)

I feel like it's important to keep in mind context and think of a way to implement content/trigger warnings while designing your rating system, because I feel it would be hard to implement after the fact and there will be some overlap. It's difficult because there are plenty of adults that are just fine playing a game with sexual content, but not something with a rape scene or even a mention of it, and it's not feasible to only play games made for children in order to avoid it.

If you could manage it, finding a way to either tie in trigger warnings to your age/maturity level ratings or come up with a tagging system for triggers would be great. A tagging system could work like the existing one, but without a limit of 10, and users could blacklist certain tags and either have games using that tag hidden completely, or they get a warning when attempting to view a page tagged with it, and a prompt asking if they want to continue, yes or no . The content/trigger warning tags could show up in the same place, under More Information.

Don't have much to say for the age/maturity rating system itself that hasn't already been said, but wanted to make sure I at least brought this up so that it could be considered.

(+1)

German board games have a self-rated "suggested age" that is more about the cognitive difficulty and the themes, so a non-violent game about politics would be 12+, Chutes & Ladders is 4+ and Catan is 10+.  Probably not a lot of four-year-olds on itch though...

But in that context, "adult themes" would be more along the lines of "Kirby does his taxes".

(+1)

Or "Yoshi cooks his ledger file", if you want to build on that.

everyone has a butt and the le leche league has made breasts a non-issue as it has been for most of history, so on visual it's just whether genitalia are shown or not.

on sex there would be E none- T spooning/natural mounting like in nature- or AO unnatural sex acts like missionary position