Ever wonder why your favorite indie title never gets a physical release? Well if you guessed it was due to corporate greed then you are correct. Before September 2017 it was possible to launch a physical version of an existing, digital-only game without paying for the additional ESRB rating. Well in September, the ESRB board announced a new tier for rating video games that were digitally released and then got a physical copy. This new tier allows any video game title with a budget of $1 million dollars or less to be rated as a physical game for just $3000 instead of having to pay the usual submission price of $10000. That sounds like a better deal right? Wrong!
With this new change, it means it is now a requirement for every video game released as a physical copy to pay this $3000 fee and carry an ESRB rating. And all three console manufacturers signed a document agreeing to this. According to an ESRB spokesperson: “Obtaining ESRB assigned age and content ratings has always been voluntary” problem is without one of those ratings slapped on your game you are basically shut out from the mainstream market. They have now basically created a monopoly with the three big names Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo running the entire thing with the ESRB and no one monitoring them.
Indie developers will now fail or succeed by their whim and their whim only. While $3000 does not sound like much in the world of Indie games that is a whole months salary or part of their next games budget. Some of them literally live meal-to-meal, so getting a physical release in some cases can save them financially. For AAA developers the new, discounted rate is a bonus and comes as no real surprise that it would favor these bigger companies. And one of the reasons would be that the ESRB relies massively on the AAA developers and publishers. This new system basically gives the ESRB the power to end an indie title before it is even released…
[Editorial Note:] I find it rather strange that none of the big video game publications picked up on something big like this. Engadget seems to be the only one who covered this.