The ESRB is updating its ratings system to better classify the content found in downloadable games. But hold the phone! Before you start worrying about Big Brother, you might be thankful for the changes - they focus on the privacy features of digitally distributed titles, telling you how much information you're giving away online.
Of course, the ESRB ratings are largely there for parental guidance, but they do provide some significant use for gamers as well. Downloadable titles will, alongside the traditional age ratings and content descriptors (such a violence and sexual themes), be tagged with the following information as appropriate:
Indicates that user-provided personal information (e.g. e-mail address, phone number, credit card info) is shared with third parties;
Indicates the ability to display the user's location to other users;
Indicates possible exposure to unfiltered/uncensored user-generated content, including user-to-user communications and media sharing via social media and networks.
The caveat for these new guidelines, is that the game developer provides the information for these categories by filling out a questionnaire; it is not determined by independent analysis. Also, while gamers will be able to see these categories before buying a game, it's not specific as to what exactly gets shared. A game rated "Shares Info" won't explain if it only shares an e-mail address and not a phone number, for instance.
ESRB's new guidelines will be implemented onto games available for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation Certified devices, Nintendo eShop, Wii Shop Channel and Windows 8.