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ESRB takes hard line

On naughty publishers.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

US software ratings board the ESRB is demanding that US publishers complete a comprehensive audit of all titles released over the past year in a bid to crack down on hidden content.

That's according to a leaked email obtained by US website Gamasutra, which begins: "Fully disclosing hidden content accessible as Easter eggs and via cheat codes has always been part of ESRB's explicitly stated requirements.

"Any pertinent content shipped on the game disc that may be relevant to a rating must be disclosed to ESRB, even if it is not intended to ever be accessed during gameplay."

"If a publisher wishes to "edit out" pertinent content from a final product, it must remove the content from the disc altogether," the statement continues.

"If that is not feasible, the pertinent content must be disclosed to the ESRB during the rating process so it can be taken into account."

The email then goes on to reveal that the ESRB's board of directors has approved a full scale review of all games released since 2004, and as a result is demanding that all publishers examine their back catalogue to check for hidden content.

Publishers have until January 9th 2006 to disclose their findings to the ESRB, and the board may issue new ratings for certain titles where necessary.

"If you fail to notify us of previously undisclosed, non-playable, pertinent content, and such content becomes playable through a subsequent authorised or unauthorised release of code to unlock it, punitive in addition to corrective actions may result," the email warns.

The ESRB's actions come in the wake of the GTA: San Andreas 'Hot Coffee' scandal, which erupted after the ESRB learned that players could input a code to unlock a sexually explicit mini-game. The game was subsequently taken off the shelves until its Mature rating was upgraded to Adults Only.

There was initially some confusion over whether the Hot Coffee game was hidden on the disc as part of the code, or was a modification produced by a third party. The ESRB's email confirms that the board "remains concerned" about mods and is "exploring ways to maintain the credibility of the rating system with consumers in light of modifications of this nature."

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