A Phenomenon is Born
Video games have been big business in Japan since the dawn of the industry in the early 1970s. Japan became one of the biggest exporters of video games at the end of the 1970s with Taito’s Space Invaders (1978) helping to trigger a golden age of video games. Japan’s dominance over the video game industry continued to grow with the release of high profile gaming consoles from Nintendo, Sega, and Sony. Until US firm Microsoft released their Xbox console in the early 2000s, Japan held the monopoly over the video game market. With video games playing such a significant part in the everyday lives of Japanese people – covering genres as diverse as construction, fighting, romance, music, dance, virtual pets, and design – it became important to set age rating guidelines in place. However, compared to other countries, Japan was quite late to the party when it came to adopting an official system.
CERO – Computer Entertainment Rating Organization
CERO was formed in 2002 to act as the official games rating organization for Japan. Its age rating system has been revised several times and the current version, as of March 2006, covers the following categories.
EOCS – Ethics Organization of Computer Software
One of the main things that makes the Japanese age rating process so interesting is that the country uses two different age rating systems. While it’s not unusual for countries to do this (Germany uses both PEGI and the USK), Japan is different in that it has one age rating system specifically designed for rating adult content. This organization rates adult-themed games not catalogued by CERO and is known as the Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS). The two categories it covers are:
EOCS – 18 – Suitable only for gamers aged 18+. Contains explicit content. Not sold to those under the age of 18.
EOCS – R – Suitable only for gamers aged 15+. Contains explicit content. Not sold to those under the age of 15.
So, What is Offensive? And What’s the Process?
The range of video games played in Japan is so diverse, it’s little wonder that the age rating guidelines are thoroughly comprehensive. The amount of restricted content for video games in Japan is very detailed and covers a wide range of areas, including sexual content, anti-social content, violent content and improper use of language. The break-down of content banned for sexualization is highly explicit, with thorough details of what is forbidden under sex-related expressions, from erotic kissing to sexual services. CERO also goes into significant detail in relation to content banned for violence and anti-social expressions, which covers everything from gambling through to suicide, incest and human trafficking.
According to CERO, the assessors for age ratings come from a non-gamer background and are unaffiliated with the games industry. Their training comes from rating past games and the content is rated using the CERO A-Z system. The game is finally rated using evaluator ratings as a basis.
Western games have always had trouble reaching the Japanese market and one of the main challenges for games publishers is that all communication and documentation associated with CERO must be submitted in Japanese. This makes it particularly difficult for Western companies to access one of the world’s most fertile gaming markets and most must seek the help of translation or age rating consultancy companies.
Controversy in the East
As with many countries where video games face age rating restrictions, there have been controversies in the Japanese gaming market. One such scandal is the release of Atelier Meruru: The Apprentice of Arland. Barely one month after release, the game was re-rated following a discontinuation in shipping. Originally given a CERO A rating (suitable for all), the game was re-branded with a B rating (12+) instead, when it was revealed that it contained sexual themes – most notably, semi-naked characters in hot springs, barely covered by steam and towels. The incorrect classification was apparently due to a lack of information provided to CERO from Japanese game developer, Gust.
When communicating with CERO, it is imperative that all of the correct documentation is submitted and submitted in Japanese. Failure to do so could result in controversies similar to the one surrounding Gust. At MoGi Group, we can provide you with comprehensive age rating consultancy services to help you avoid such disasters. Our games localization team has spent years localizing a variety of different games to countries all over the world. With this experience comes a detailed knowledge of what is, and what is not, acceptable for different markets. We’ll advise you on which steps to take to make sure your game reaches the age group that you wish to target and we can even translate all of your documentation for you, making the age rating process as smooth as possible. Contact us today to find out how we can help you to reach the Japanese market or any other market in the world.