Statements sent to Gamasutra by D3 Publisher and Take-Two have revealed a more active Entertainment Software Ratings Board crackdown regarding publisher produced game trailers, with D3's Dark Sector trailer now withdrawn from public consumption.
The first notice came from D3 Publisher, whose forthcoming action title Dark Sector has not yet been rated by the ESRB. "We recently received a ruling from the ESRB," the statement reads, "...stating that the two officially released Dark Sector gameplay montages have been deemed to contain excessive or offensive content; and to this end are not to be available for download or viewing, regardless of being placed behind an age gate."
"In order to comply with this ruling," says D3, "the ESRB has requested that the two Dark Sector gameplay montages be pulled immediately upon receipt of this notice and no longer made available for view by consumers." The notice is quick to point out that "your ability to capture direct feed footage for distribution on your site" is not covered by the policy.
Shortly thereafter, a similar notice from the 2K Games arm of publisher Take-Two arrived, noting that "the ESRB requires that all trailers for Mature ("M") and Adults Only ("AO") rated games be appropriately age-gated" -- specifically warning regarding footage of the company's The Darkness title due for release this week.
"Game publishers that do not comply with the age gate requirement are subject to enforcement actions by the ESRB," the statement warns, though it makes no mention of precisely what penalties exist for non-compliant sites.
A 2K spokesperson initially responded that the trailer for The Darkness has been separately rated by the ESRB, but later followed up to clarify that it was the Advertising Review Council standard that the ESRB were rating the trailer against, rather than any existing ratings.
Following the statement, Ziff Davis's GameVideos.com website has revealed to Gamasutra that it was asked by Microsoft to remove a Gears Of War video from its website last week, apparently also because it violated ESRB standards.
The video in question, which had been online since January 2007 but for which removal has only recently been requested, is a walkthrough of the Gears Of War map packs with Cliff Bleszinski, and is still available on other sites including TeamXbox.com.
[UPDATE: ESRB president Patricia Vance has responded to Gamasutra with a prepared statement that claims today's notices are routine ESRB Advertising Review Council procedure followed since 2005.
According to Vance, the appearance of both publisher emails today are simply reminders that mature rated trailers must be age-gated, and that if a trailer's content is found to be in violation of the ESRB's trailer requirements, it must be removed or replaced with an edited version.
However, trailers for games can appear months before the game is actually submitted for full ESRB rating, so it appears that the Advertising Review Council standards for trailers and other advertising has a hard set of 'decency' standards which will over-ride all else. The full text of Vance's statement follows:
Since 2005, ARC guidelines have required that trailers for M-rated games on publisher websites be displayed behind an age gate to help restrict viewing to those visitors who are 17 and older. Game publishers are also required to use best efforts with respect to ensuring the presence of age gates on third party websites that display their M-rated game trailers.
If a third party site insists on carrying a trailer for an M-rated game without placing it behind an age gate, our guidelines require the publisher to request that such trailer be removed and/or provide an edited version of the trailer to be used in its place.
However, the mere presence of an age gate does not permit a publisher to simply put whatever content it wishes into the trailer. All trailers must still conform to ARC's Principles and Guidelines, which prohibit the display of excessively violent content or any content likely to cause serious offense to the average consumer.
When ESRB notifies a publisher that the content in a trailer is in violation of these ARC requirements, or that there is an age gate issue on a third party site, that publisher then must notify third party sites to rectify the problem. The notices issued recently by game publishers to third party websites are simply that - steps in a chain of publisher compliance with ARC guidelines and the ESRB enforcement system that have been occurring since their establishment seven years ago."]