Today in gaming: in response to an on-line advertising campaign by the developers of cow-clicker inspired "video game" Wartune, the ESRB -- the American ratings board that monitors video games and then tells developers what they can and can't do -- has demanded that Proficient City Limited (the developer) stop using the ESRB AO18+ medallion in their advertising.
So how did this all come about?
First, I saw the advertisement and realized that AO18+ is one of the rarest ratings and I found it remarkable that an on-line game would get such a rating. This rating is reserved for seriously gory or sexualized games. Playboy: the Mansion and one of the Leisure Suit Larrys are in that category.
So I checked out Wartune as part of my Neverplayed series. Turns out, the game is complete crap. It's an old-school Facebook cow clicker where you have to leave the game and come back after several hours. Then I tried to contact the developer -- as I was playing through Kabam, but Kabam is just a reseller -- and they don't exist.
Something was fishy.
Next, I went to the ESRB Web site to find out why they would give such a rating to this dribble. I searched the ESRB's database to get the specifics (as you can with any title they have rated) and it came back empty.
Now things were getting weirder.
So, I contacted ESRB directly and asked them if they could tell me why Wartune got the ESRB rating it did. And they wrote back,
"At this point it appears as though Wartune has not been rated by ESRB. We will address this issue promptly by contacting the game's publisher and appreciate your bringing it to our attention. Entertainment Software Rating Board" - ESRB Marketing, May 3, 2013, 12:49 PM
Ah, so Wartune are a bunch of liars. Not surprising for a company that's thrilled about porting Facebook games to a standalone Web portal and has their address listed on their Web site as P.O. BOX 957, OFFSHORE INCORPORATIONS CENTRE, ROAD TOWN, RORTOLA, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS. It's a holding company. This is the kind of thing drug dealers do to launder cocaine cash.
So that should have been the end of it. ESRB contacts Google, gets the ads shut down, and I become the unsung protector of 13-year-old boys everywhere.
Then this morning, I wake up and Kotaku has bikini-clad warriors all over their home page.
So let's start with Wartune. These people are disgusting, money-grubbing whores who want to use images of half-naked women to trick young boys and perverts into checking out their game in a puerile attempt to make some money. No surprise there; I'm on Facebook all day long and my right nav bar is a constantly refreshing parade of "oh we have boobies" games. But Wartune stepped over a legal line.
ESRB, on the other hand, is a group of high-holy feckless thugs who attack game developers by threatening game sales by withholding their precious E10+/T medallions -- just as the MPAA does in the movie industry. Except unlike the movie industry, the ESRB didn't realize that the move to on-line distribution would undo their stranglehold on the people who make the games. Now, instead of simply handling the situation, ESRB turned it into a press op.
Everyone is a winner, here. Wartune is getting tons of press. Kotaku gets eyeballs because they can slather women in "battle armor" all over their home page to attract attention. ESRB gets to be the victims now and speak with Gamesindustry International and say things like, "If a game is digitally distributed, we also encourage companies to use our Digital Rating Service, which is fast and easy and assigns ratings without the developer having to pay a fee".
You know who's not a winner in this? We the gamers. Get ready for a whole new blast of fake ads from jerks who see Wartune getting tons of press and want to follow suit.