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Gaming Quickie: The ‘E’ Rating and the ESRB

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was created in 1994 in an effort to prevent the US government from stepping in and developing its own rating system for video games, something developers and publishers alike knew would create all sorts of problems–we’re talking about a group which less than ten years ago included a Senator (born in my home state no less) who explained the internet as “a series of tubes”. As a game publisher, I’d have done anything short of blood sacrifice to keep these guys out of my life too.

Originally the system had five ratings: EC for Early Childhood, K – A for Kids to Adults, T for Teen, M for Mature, and AO for Adults Only. In 1998 the ESRB changed their K – A rating to a simple E for Everybody. But why did it take so long for the ESRB to make that switch when the rest of the ratings have remained unchanged for years? Would you believe an American cable TV network?

In issue #104 of Electronic Gaming Monthly (March 1998), an editor pointed out in their ‘Tidbits’ section that “…the ESRB always wanted to use the E icon as a rating, but until now was unable to get permission from another company (not a ratings company) to use it.” EGM doesn’t identify which company that was, but deducing the most likely candidate isn’t too difficult.

As best we can tell, the reason the ESRB wasn’t initially allowed to use an ‘E’ rating comes down to the existence of the E! Entertainment Network. E! has been around since 1987, predating the ESRB by seven years, and they are fiercely protective of that trademark. Yes, as dumb as it sounds, you can trademark letters when they’re used as part of a logo or other identifying design.

esrb-e looks too much like e_entertainment_logo I guess?

In any case, unlike the situation where wrestlers lost to pandas, no lawsuits were necessary because the ESRB never tried to use that E logo without permission. What did happen was a rare case of ‘people sitting down and working it out like rational human beings’ which resulted, four years later, in the ESRB’s ability to use a big capital E as their logo for products meant for consumption by all gamers regardless of age.

Who knew the group responsible for Keeping Up With the Kardashians was capable of this level of maturity?

(Note: All copyrighted and trademarked images used in this article are for information and illustrative purposes only, and do not constitute a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks in any way).

Michael Crisman

In 1979, Michael Crisman was mauled by a radioactive Gorgar pinball machine. After the wounds healed, doctors discovered his DNA had been re-coded. No longer fully human, Michael requires regular infusions of video games in order to continue living among you. If you see him, he can see you. Make no sudden moves, but instead bribe him with old issues of computer and video game magazines or a mint-in-box copy of Dragon Warrior IV. If he made you laugh, drop a tip in his jar at http://paypal.me/modernzorker (If he didn't make you laugh, donate to cure his compulsion to bang keyboards by sending an absurdly huge amount of money to his tip jar instead. That'll show him!)

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