ESRB finally offers mobile ratings, without Android, iPhone

After years of trying to rediscover itself in a world that is no longer monopolized by packaged retail video games, the ESRB will now rate mobile apps.

But the victory for the regulatory board won’t go too far because Google and Apple have decided not to participate in the new program.

That leaves only Windows Phone as a major smartphone platform that will participate. Microsoft, of course, has an existing partnership with the ESRB because of the Xbox brand but Google and Apple have no ties to the board whatsoever.

The mobile ratings will also be used by non-smart phones whose content is more closely curated by the carriers. Every major carrier – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint – has signed on. US Ceullular is also part of the new program.

The rating process will work differently from ESRB’s traditional procedure. Instead of sending in video game footage for the rating group to evaluate, mobile app makers will fill out an online questionnaire about the level of violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, foul language, and other content in the app. The rating will be issued instantly based on the answers provided in the questionnaire.

The ESRB will then test mobile apps after they’re released to ensure the questionnaire was completed properly.

The group is already doing a similar process for downloadable games on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, and PC. The only titles subject to the ESRB’s more intense scrutiny are the traditional packaged/retail games, which used to dominate the market.

The ESRB operated with power because console makers and retailers refused to accept games from publishers that didn’t get an ESRB rating. Today, though, while those sanctions remain in place, there are far more avenues for games to be distributed. The ESRB has lost much of its stature as a result.