Epic Games Store’s Updated Guidelines Allow Blockchain Games with AO Ratings

25 December 2023

Epic Games Store has made an exception in its content guidelines, allowing blockchain-based games with Adults Only (AO) ratings on its platform. This move comes after the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) assigned AO ratings to two blockchain games due to their play-to-earn elements.

The Epic Games Store has taken a different approach from its competitor, Steam, when it comes to adult content and blockchain-based games. While Steam has banned adult content and non-fungible token (NFT) games, Epic Games Store has updated its guidelines to allow AO-rated games that involve blockchain trading. However, a recent decision by the ESRB to assign AO ratings to two blockchain games has complicated the situation. This article explores the implications of Epic Games Store’s updated guidelines and the ESRB’s rating decision.

Blockchain Games and Epic Games Store’s Guidelines:

Unlike Steam, Epic Games Store has no restrictions on NFT games. Epic Games CEO, Tim Sweeney, believes that developers should have the freedom to decide how to build their games, leaving it up to the users to decide whether or not to play them. This stance led to the inclusion of the first blockchain-based game, Blankos Block Party, on the Epic Store. However, the recent ESRB rating decision has raised concerns for blockchain game developers.

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The ESRB’s Rating Decision:

The ESRB assigned an AO rating to Gods Unchained and Striker Manager 3, two blockchain-based games, not because of explicit sexual content but due to their play-to-earn elements. These games offer “cash prizes,” which falls under the AO rating category reserved for games with intense violence, graphic sexual content, and/or gambling with real currency. As per Epic’s content guidelines, the games were removed from sale.

ESRB’s Explanation:

The ESRB clarified that the AO rating was not a direct result of the games being blockchain-based but rather how the play-to-earn feature was implemented. The ESRB’s rating system considers whether a game rewards real money or prizes with real-world value, as well as if there is cash spent to be eligible for such rewards. The ESRB also mentioned that digital-only titles like these blockchain games may not appear in searches on its website, but the rating information is available on the product detail pages.

Epic Games Store’s Exception:

In response to the ESRB’s rating decision, Epic Games Store has made an exception in its guidelines. While AO-rated games are generally not allowed, Epic now allows products with AO ratings solely due to the usage of blockchain or NFT technology. However, these games must still comply with Epic’s other content guidelines, including the prohibition of gambling.

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Implications for Blockchain Game Developers:

The ESRB’s AO rating has traditionally been a deterrent for game developers, as major retailers refuse to carry AO-rated games. However, digital distribution platforms like Epic Games Store have provided some relief for PC developers. The conflicting policies of Steam and Epic Games Store have put some blockchain developers in a difficult position. Steam does not allow blockchain games, while Epic Games Store refuses to carry AO-rated games, except for those rated AO due to their blockchain implementation.

Conclusion:

The ESRB’s rating decision and Epic Games Store’s updated guidelines have brought attention to the challenges faced by blockchain game developers. While Epic Games Store’s exception provides some leeway for blockchain games with AO ratings, the ESRB’s rating system and the varying policies of digital distribution platforms continue to impact the industry. As the blockchain gaming landscape evolves, developers and rating agencies will need to navigate these complexities to ensure that their games reach the intended audience while adhering to content guidelines.

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