Posted on April 23, 2008,

DLC Can’t Exceed Game’s ESRB Rating

hot-coffee.jpgRuling out the extreme possibility that Rockstar could at some point release a Hot Coffee mod for GTA IV, MTV Multiplayer has learned that the ESRB will not allow downloadable content to go beyond the limits of the game‘s original ESRB rating. So in other words, you’ll never see anything that would qualify as Adults Only in an M-rated game through the release of DLC.

This becomes more of an issue now that significant DLC releases — such as expansion packs, in the case of Oblivion with Shivering Isles, which was released through the Xbox Live Marketplace — are growing closer to the norm rather than the anomaly.

ESRB president Patricia Vance spoke at an MI6 Conference a few weeks ago, and explained the policy.

“If a game submits a game to us and it gets a teen rating and then wants to add downloadable content to that game in the future, which is obviously happening a lot today, they have to keep the content in the downloadable product consistent with the core rating. It can’t go out of bounds,” she said.

Should DLC go beyond those restrictions, the game would have to be re-rated. That would likely mean games getting pulled from store shelves, which costs time and money — in other words, something a business isn’t likely to let happen.

It could be portrayed as unfair, but the need to actually exceed the game’s original ESRB rating doesn’t seem like a situation that would arise all that often. Besides, the last thing we need is another reason for Jack Thompson to tell on Strauss Zelnick to his mom.

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3 Comments on DLC Can’t Exceed Game’s ESRB Rating


On April 24, 2008 at 10:43 am

The ESRB pisses me off. R rated movies can get away with nudity and even on-screen sex (so long as the organs are not displayed), yet this kind of stuff would make a game AO rating. Look at Eyes Wide Shut for how much an R rated movie can get away with. The movie pretty much needs raw hardcore sex to get NC-17, yet some crappy pixelated flesh that would more hidden than the “extras” on a DVD gives a game AO rating?

DVDs can sell unrated versions. I think game developers need to make a stand and force game companies to put their games on shelves, unrated, so they can have the freedom they deserve.


On April 24, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Well, the AO rating is there so that developers could essentially make the equivalent of an unrated movie. But when a game falls into that territory, the platform holders don’t want games like that on their systems, so the only choice would be to go to PC, where there are no restrictions.


On February 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Can’t be true. The ESRB’s own site says that DLC can be submitted separately and earn a “higher” rating than the core game. The DLC then simply has to be explicitly marked with the new rating.

If they are in the habit of saying “no” to higher rated DLC, so be it. But that’s not the hard & fast rule, so they shouldn’t claim it is.