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The ESRB has responded to our Angry Rant!

3 posts in this topic

Hi I'm posting my YT comment related to the episode. 

The ESRB has responded to our Angry Rant!

Oct 8, 2019

Hi. I being a gamer around 25 +/- years, yes I started with the Atari 2600. I know mostly everything about: child->teenager->semi adult and so on. I personally have no problems with my kids screen time and spending. But as an adult gamer I see a lot of child/teen relationship with games trough my nephews and their friends. I try to educate tier parents but I can't, some won't listen others use use and abuse the "screen time" as pacifiers and I don't know many of these kids parents. So Joe my suggestion, since you are very invested in this topic, is to create a channel easy to share with people/parents like: Joe educates Joe, in example. with short Monetizable videos caterd to parents. Easy to share. And final note, would be awesome to have in spanish too, that is asking so much. I would make the subtitles for them. Every time I visit my nephews I make the two bucks cup on fifa best of 3 games and they have a blast. Right incentives don't wait for an "official" agency do the work that you have to do by yourself. P.S. I remembered how many hours I spent years ago monitoring my nephews playing GTV because they want to drive fancy cars. They can only play the game with my supervision just because they didn't haven't access to the game at that time. Not the most fun thing to do in your spare time. And it back-lashed to me when my brother knew that their kids was playing the game, we have a very considerably fight. Guess what, a few month later they bought the game for their kids. They play the full story mode they were around 12 at the time . Who was looking at ... No one.

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After I just watched that video, I though about where I could tell a story of mine related to the ESRB and I think this is the perfect place for this.

First, I got to explain who I am to put everyone in context (it's long, but I think it worth it as a source of contextual experiences):
My name is Maxime Bolduc and I'm the owner of the self-registered company called Creations Maxo. I registered my company back in 2008 because, as I finished my vocational degree in Graphic Design, the number of open job was abysmally small since almost half of the printing industry have closed in the province between 2006 and 2007. For every job opening, there were at least 8 graphic designers available and, in those, at least 3 with over 10 years of experience. Tough call for a junior who just got out of school, right? I found a tiny yet relatively substantial opening which was to start my own business as a sub-contractor for other graphic design companies. Working for pennies with no obligation for the businesses who hired me. It worked relatively well and i could count myself as one of the 4 (out of the 54) graduates to (kinda) find a job in graphic design within 1 year out of school.

I was specialized mostly in 2D printing (and 2D to 3D for things like kiosks and assembly stuff) and I was able to sustain myself for a few years until I decided to study a bit more about business management. Took a 6-month course we call ASP which is like a complimentary study course called "Business Startup". You could call it Business 101 and it wouldn't be wrong. Still, I learned a LOT about business from starting one, hiring people, evolving it and yada-yada. Back then, my goal was to turn my business into an Edition business specialized in comic book. I had all planned and everything was approved... except that I didn't had enough money to get a loan. Hence, you could say the project is a soft fail and has been on ice since then.

Still by then I had 2 choices :

  1. Starting to study and work in the Online/Web field like 98% of the other graphic designers around.
  2. Looking for a new opening that isn't that much exploited.

I went with the new opening and decided to look into one of my biggest passion: Video Games.

I started to look into it when Unity 3 was released with its "Freemium" business model. I learned how C-Sharp (C#) and a bit of C++ and I already had quite a bit of understanding of Javascript since I did work on website and web-app a few times before. But there was 1 big wall that I was unable to professionally crosses: My knowledge of 3D models was between worse and really bad. I wouldn't even pay myself to work on anything 3D at that point and that even if I did quite a bit of mods in the PC games like ES3 Morrowind, Half Life 2 and Far Cry 2.

I decided to invest, again, in my knowledge and took a course in 3D modeling and animation for Movies and Video Games. Even though the teachers were clearly more experienced in movies production than video games, it was a cool and great learning experience. Still with this new degree in my hand, I tried to find a job in video games. I was ready to stop my own business and work for someone else at full time and all.

Again, it didn't went well. After over 6 months of intense job searching, sending my portfolio and CV all around North America's video game companies, nobody replied. Not even an interview request. Still, some did reply they weren't interested yet "but would keep my CV in case something changes". I decided to get a clearer idea of what and why this was happening and rent a room in Montreal

In case some wonder, Montreal is the city with the biggest number of video game companies in North America. One of the 3 most renown Universities in NA that teaches stuff highly related to Video games is in Montreal. (It's understandable. Montreal is In Quebec which means "Free Studies" and for foreign students, it's cheap considering the exchange rate of the Canadian Dollars. I put Free in parentheses because it still cost about 9,000 CAD in fees & materials and not counting rents, services and food for 3 years. It's still cheaper than any University in the US.) In then end of 2015, there were over 80 video games company in the island of Montreal with at least 2M CAD in annual revenues (which means they are not just new indie game studios). During my 2 months stay, I forced my way (gently yet cunningly) in most of those studios. Every day, I went to 1 or 2 studios in person and tried to meet with the HR or whoever was taking a look at my CV.

Let me tell you that the last thing someone in the HR of those companies think about is that someone comes in by themselves like I did. Especially those companies with magnetic locks with ID card where I entered with the help of other game developers (working there) who agreed to let me in after I explained why I was there.

While nobody was interested in hiring me, I did had quite a bit of good experience and some explanations.

  1. Some companies simply don't hire "newbies" unless they are so talented that they are "equal or above" their own employees.
    Hence, my CV and portfolio was simply deleted from certain databases as soon as it was received since the HR was unable to find it at all.
    Also, some of those companies I won't name actually dare to complain that they got to outsources their employees because of "lack of people interested to work for them".
  2. A majority of the companies prefers to hire people that have specific A+ skills regardless of other skills.
    There's a (stupid) old rule in the AAA video game industry that move around the saying "Skilled in all, Master of none". Lots of companies prefers to hire TONS of people with high specific skills than hiring fewer people with more "diverse" skills. For example, you got better chance to get hired if you're super good at making car models than if you're good at making, animating and integrating car model, but slightly less visually appealing and/or as fast. This is, by the way, the main reason why video game production cost in AAA companies have raised in the last 20 years. People that are self-efficient and able to do more with slightly less details or quality are no welcomed in AAA companies unless you got a renown and/or success that makes you a good PR target.

Some other reasons more specifics, but let's say that I'm not what they call "good material" for their workflow, hence no job.

At that point, I was a bit furious, but though they were just idiots to have such close sight. (To put you in perspective, at that point, indie games was just starting to taking off on Steam and Greenlight was yet not a garbage dump it became later.)

I decided to get a part-time jobs (25-30 hours / week) and work on my own projects while also doing a bit of small contract in graphic design to keep my company "alive" until I got a game out. I also decided, which is important for my story about the ESRB, to launch a new service which I called Passive Embedded Advertising.

At this point, you could say that advertising in games wasn't anything new, but it lacked any ground rules unless the rules were already applied in reality.

For example, sports games already have Embedded advertising and that ever since sports game was made to "look" like the real sports. That's because the rules were already applied in the real sport so exploiting the same rules isn't that hard. Still, with the raise graphic fidelity, I was wondering why are games with fake advertisement boards and stuff that normally have advertising doesn't use it for actual advertisement?

It's not impossible as, after all, there are some cases like:

  • Most of the Metal Gear games since MGS3 has embedded real Japanese products like food, glasses, phones, etc.
  • Infamous 2 has Subways restaurants in its towns' city.
  • Coca Cola appears with their red logo in some background.

By the way, the term DIGA (Dynamic in-Game Advertising) and SIGA (Static in-Game Advertising) wasn't a term yet at that point.

Still, my idea was to use my 7+ years of experience in advertising (at that point, I produced over 3000 advertisement stuns from small ads in books to giants lighted signs) in the video game and set actual understandable rules for advertisement rules (like we got in Graphic Designs for regular printed and/or assembled advertisement in real life.)

As a gamer myself, I obviously never want to produce something that hinder the fun factor of the player with any advertisement which is why I considered my idea of "Passive Embedded Advertisement" as one that would always follow the rule of "Only if it fits within the context of the game in a good way". For example, billboards and stuff? Sure! Having a band's poster around a town in a game? Sure! Having restaurants with their brand in the game? Sure! Forcing the player to look at an advertisement by placing it all around in an unrealistic way or even worse forcing the camera to look at it? No way! Having some characters strangely being Over-excited to eat or wear something? No way! If you got NPC eating at a restaurant, you got to have NPC eat at another restaurant.

That was my main rule and I actually got quite a bit of interest in this project of mine. It could have been an huge success, but to get some actual rules and work, I had to make it "official" and visually recognizable. I had to make sure that my services wasn't just an additional profit for the video game publishers, but that the players would also be able to notice if a game uses this or not. 

I contacted both the ESRB and the PEGI by email regarding the fact that I think it would be wise to have a new specific identifier on the games' rating for "Embedded Advertising" and maybe, as laws dictates it in some countries like Canada and the US, to apply a proper age rating when this tag is put to a game.

To put you in perspective, my goal was, with the help of the ESRB and PEGI, to implement a form of rules regarding age requirement if the Embedded Advertising tag would be added. Something similar to The Children's Educational Television Act, but for video games. Since the ESRB and PEGI aren't mandatory by laws, but widely recognized sign of authority for parents when buying a game (like with movies), I though it would be the wisest choice. (It's so much recognized that non-rated games uses the "Not Yet Rated" warning.)

A representative of the PEGI system contacted me back and, while thanking me for my input on the matter, told me that there wasn't enough "cases" involving this matter to explain the addition of a new rating to their system. Instead, for now at that time, they suggested me to ask the the publisher to add the info on the case or store page. (Basically, asking the publisher to willingly put a notice that might reduce their sales. Riiiiight....!)

It wasn't as simple with the ESRB.

First, their contact form has a limit of characters so I was limited in my initial statement to contact them on the matter.

This the message I first sent them:


Hi, my name is Maxime Bolduc. I'm the owner of the company Creations Maxo. We're currently launching a new kind of service (worldwide) for video game development companies that will allow them to fund their project in an easier way. We're emphasizing a new and easier way to implement embedded marketing in a similar way as signboard and prints, but inside the games. We think that for the sake of the users, ESRB rating should mention when such content are present in games. Please contact me for +.

Note that I had like 3 characters left so even though it wasn't quite professional, it had all the info it needed for initiating the discussion.

This is their reply:


Dear Maxime,

Thank you for contacting the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). ESRB is an organization that assigns ratings to video games and apps. We do not create, publish, distribute or sell any entertainment software, and cannot address game-related issues that do not concern ratings.

Please be specific with your inquiry so we can better assist you.


Entertainment Software Rating Board

Obviously, my first guess is the lack of details in my initial message, but this did open up a window for communication since they asked me for more details.

Now that I was "free" out of the character limit, I replied an lengthy message.



First, thank you for the quick reply.
I know that the message I left you was somewhat lacking because it had to be limited in characters.
I would suggest you to read completely this email to have a better understanding of an upcoming situation of the video game industry.

First, I'll put you into the context.
I'm the owner of a small Canadian business company which have been working for 6 years in advertisement and primarily in the graphic design for Prints and Web.
Due to the recent years decrease in the uses of our services, we were searching for new alternatives. We came up with something new and mostly not present in the current digitized world.
We're close to the finishing line of building a new kind service that will link the advertising world as we know it (newspapers, advertising signs, clothes, etc.) to be digitized into the gaming world. Note that we are not talking about business investment as we currently see mostly in sports themed games, but a more economical approach that is accessible for every kind of businesses, including non-profits based ones. It's currently a project-in-the-rough in an early beta stage, but the responses from both the advertising clients and the game development companies is astonishingly good.
To put it simple, we're giving a 2-sided service : finding the advertising customers for the gaming companies and finding the right projects for the advertising customers.
The key think which makes this interesting is that we don't charge a cent as long as there is not an agreement on both parties. This make the service available to even small and new game developing companies. We also cover the production and approbation of the advertising internally based on the requests and "rules" set by the development team. (For example, the engine used, the shaders used, the general conceptual look of the game, etc.)

The types of possible advertising are limitless : signboards, items, audio sounds, clothes, etc. But we're putting the "rule of passiveness" above all, hence why we call this "Passive Embedded Advertising". It means that we never put something "forced" into the screen, but instead implement the concept into the game worlds as if it was always there in the first place. (For example, a sci-fi game will only have either sci-fi themed advertising or retro-looking things to make it look "museum-like" or even in ruins representing the future of today.) We are also putting rules regarding the targeted market. Our service is exclusive to game projects with an aimed age rating of above 13 years old. If the game is not aiming at a mature market (17+, 18+ or 21+ based on the country), then no alcohol nor drug (not even coffee, nicotine nor medical researches) are accepted (and we promote social-related content above all else like "Don't do drugs" or "A condom is safer", etc.). But, for games that are rated for mature, we might work on alcohol related advertising or nicotine related advertising (Nicorette for example).

What's making this a greatly possible success (from what we got up to now) is the fact that this new process can close to fully fund some projects. It's also an opening gate for the publishers' budgets. It's also highly awaited by the indie game development communities since it's a great alternative to crowd funding. It's a positive vicious circle : The game development cost is covered partly or fully, then the game can be sold cheaper in more unit, making the development company more famous, putting the advertising in more uses and so on.

Now, I think you start to get where I am going with all this.
I'm sending this kind of request/suggestion to many video game rating system (in which I can at least write the language) because I think there's a need for an additional mark in the rating system. That mark would allow the customers to understand that a game contain "real-life" related advertisement. For adults, it's not much of a problem and, at worse, they will just mention it and move forward. but for games with an age restriction under it, it could become a problem with the legal parents of the teenagers who notice that the game they bought to their child contain advertising. As a business, I can't say that we're not doing it for the money, but I can tell that we do think about the younger-audience impact of our services and that's why we put as many rules as necessary in our process. (It also explain "why" this kind of service couldn't be created so fast. It's as complex as how Google started to become the n1 search engine used in the world. It's that high of a challenge.)

So, as we're currently still "building" things up, I wanted to get in touch with you (the ESRB) to "let you know" about what's coming in your way since you'll be at a first row and might not have time to prepare for the incoming wave of "publicities". We also take into consideration any suggestion or information you might wish to give us regarding the processing of the advertisements in the game so that it could cover better your own processing system on the video game rating.

I'm sorry that this might have taken so much of your time, but I think it's a necessity if we look from a distance.
Thank you for your time and if there's anything you wish to discuss, feel free to reply to this email.

I wish you all, who're behind the ESRB, a wonderful day!

Here's their reply:


Dear Maxime,

Thank you for sending us details. Our rating system is voluntary and our advertising and marketing guidelines only pertain to ESRB-rated products.



From what I could gather, the ESRB avoid ANYTHING that might cut off their partnership with the video game industries. 

This is a guess of mine, but I would think they want to avoid the same fate as the Comic Book Authority.
Basically, the CBA original goal was to moderate the content of comic books, but they got so much popularity and recognition that it went to their head and tried to become an actual "law" and not just a "tag". With the raise of the Internet and freedom of speech, their "authority" turned into more or less a joke and they lost their recognition because nobody was willing to have their seal anymore, hence no more incomes.

If the ESRB was to put too much "pressure" regarding their rating, the video game publisher would start looking elsewhere for their game's rating (if anywhere) and that would make the ESRB loose both the faith of the consumers and the reason of their existence. I must remind everyone that there are NO laws that force any publisher to have a ESRB rating. NONE! The ESRB did tried to have one implemented, but that would have made them unable to take any money out of the publisher (for the rating) since it would become a public service. So, instead, the ESRB made its ESRB Retail Council (ERC) as shown on their website. The member of the ERC "kinda" have to respect the ratings (considered that there is less than 90% compliance).

Basically, the ESRB existence is supported by an ideology that can be manipulated at will and since their main source of income to pay their employees comes from the fees charged to get games rated by their famous specially trained raters who collectively assess a game’s content and deliberate about what rating should be assigned to a game (source in their FAQ), it wouldn't be an exaggeration to consider their ways to be misaligned from their goal.

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Wow. That was an amazing read. I strongly suggest you make a Medium.com article or something with this content, I was fully encapsulated during the whole read. Try posting it some sub-reddits as well. Your writing style was objective focused but addictively interesting for all audiences. Not just gamers but all creators as well! Great insight on perseverance with humble realization of your own short comings makes for a compelling and relatable read. Please, let me know, if you choose to write and or post this content on other mediums because I will read and share en masse in a heart beat. Best of luck on your start up, life itself, and hopefully your future writings! 

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