How are mobile game age-ratings decided? And what can you do if you find inappropriate content in mobile games?
It is almost impossible to keep up with the number of mobile games released today.
That may sound like hyperbole, but what data does exist gives a hint of the numbers. As far back as January 2016, exactly 19,252 games were released for iPhone and iPad in that month alone. By July 2017, a total of 783,269 different games were available on the store – a number which doesn't include all those titles removed from sale as developers or game hardware left them behind.
Over on the Android store, in June 2017 some 1,300 apps were released a day, many of them being games. And the numbers keep growing.
As such, the challenge for making sure only appropriate mobile games are available to youngsters is an obvious one. To give a mobile game an age rating ideally means playing it in great depth, exploring its every nook and cranny. But with hundreds or sometimes thousands of games released for mobile every day, that just isn't possible. Unfortunately, the many thousands of ratings experts that would require just aren't available.
Instead, a group called The International Age Rating Coalition – or IARC – grants mobile app age ratings, and is formed from bodies like PEGI, which gives games age rating across Europe. When a game developer submits their creation to be sold on a given app store – such as the Google Play Store – they have to provide a bounty of information on the game's content. Some checks are done, but it is impossible to keep track of everything.
That means app age-ratings are largely based on the developer's insights, and as such are only advisory with regard to audiences. Rating authorities across the world do retrospectively and selectively check the ratings on thousands of apps – the UK's VSC Rating Board alone have looked at over 8,000 – but there is still a battle to keep pace with the volume released.
And if a developer lies in the submission, an inappropriate age rating can be applied. Fortunately, that is rare, but it does happen.
Take the recent app titled 'call Blaze and the Monster Machines 2018', released on the Google Play app store. This unofficial, counterfeit app looked like a game for the Nickelodeon series Blaze and the Monster Machines, but it was essentially a fake – albeit functional – release.The app simulated a phone call, letting users 'ring' Blaze and friends. The call went through to what seemed to be an automated voicemail response. The audio message was very inappropriate for a game rated as 3-years-plus, threatening children with violence.
The app was reported, and taken down by Google as soon as possible, before many copies were downloaded.
The lesson to learn is that users reporting apps have a huge power to protect people from inappropriate apps. The IARC has published a detailed guide to both how apps are rated, and how to report inappropriate content. You can equally report a game to PEGI, the pan-European ratings board. Both PEGI and the IARC are here to protect you and your children, and can do much if a game is reported and deemed to be inappropriate for audiences of different ages.
You can also learn more about the PEGI ratings here on AskAboutGames, and check our guide on how to set-up parental controls on mobile devices to make sure your kids play the right games the right way.