M for Mature: An Opportunity


Disclaimer: Rating of mature has no effect on the community. Or anything, actually.

This Wednesday morning, The Elder Scrolls Online team announced via Facebook and other social media outlets that the game has been assigned a Mature rating by the ESRB, the organization whose age recommendations are generally accepted within the United States of America. The text of the announcement is as follows:

“The ESRB advised us that it has given The Elder Scrolls Online a Mature rating. While we may disagree with the ESRB’s determination, we do not plan to challenge the rating, and we are unwilling to change the game’s content to achieve a different rating. The game we have created is the one we want our fans to be able to play.

As a result of the ESRB rating, we are in the process of promptly updating everything with the required rating and age gates, including game trailers, web sites, and ads. Thanks for your understanding. We can’t wait to welcome players into The Elder Scrolls Online soon.”

Most of the Elder Scrolls Online community has expected the game to receive a Teen rating, and given that the company specifically alluded to their presumed disagreement with the determination, it’s not unfair to make the assumption that this was the rating the game was targeting. Many fans of The Elder Scrolls franchise were off-put by what they perceived to be a dilution of the franchise’s lore in an attempt to conform to the ESRB’s standards for a Teen rating; for example, making Bosmer cannibalism a private affair even though this wasn’t necessarily supported by the existing lore. Prior to the NDA drop, we have no way of knowing if they are correct in their assumption that this was a method of downplaying the presence of Bosmer cannibalism in the game, or if this is just wild speculation.

Sexy Bosmer Female

I don’t see what’s the big deal with cannibalism anyway; Bosmer look delicious to me.

Criticisms of the pursuit of a Teen rating were not merely limited to the lore crowd, however, as many other fans have pointed to the rating as the scapegoat for all manner of concerns, be it their opinion that the game is cartoony (a position I do not agree with), or the position that the combat system lacks weight; the assertion here is that the ability to add more mature combat effects, such as blood splatter, would create a more visceral feel to the combat system. While I would never argue for ludicrous fountains of gore, I do have to agree that the constraints imposed by a Teen rating are tight enough to be a burden on feel of the combat system, especially in an MMO environment where mobs cannot react as noticeably to attacks as they can in a single-player game.

So why go for a Teen rating? In 2014, the ESRB is widely mocked for its ever increasing irrelevance as parents either do not understand or are not concerned with the ratings of games. Grand Theft Auto, a game routinely run through a gauntlet of the non-gaming media and whose very name exclaims its mature content to the world, two circumstances virtually ensuring most parents know damn well what it is, went on to reach $1 billion in sales within the first three days of its release – an achievement which stands the crowning jewel on a history of successful Mature games resoundingly establishing that if there is financial harm from being assigned a Mature rating, that it is far from material. However, The Elder Scrolls Online did not begin its development in 2014, but over half a decade earlier, when the decision would have seemed much more significant.  This change in market outlook was almost certainly the reason ZeniMax’s response to the rating determination amounted to little more than “ok then”. The benefits of receiving a Teen rating from the ESRB are no longer worth the financial cost of trying to achieve them, even when the game is so close; the ESRB has completely failed at being relevant in today’s market.

Gore? Fine. Sex? Please. Spiders like this and I hope you get an AO.

Gore? Fine. Sex? Please. Spiders like this and I hope you get an AO.

Now that ZeniMax has discarded their hopes for a Teen rating, is it time for the benefits of a Mature rating to be realized? Should The Elder Scrolls Online step it up, free of its rating-imposed constraints, to arise a far better game? Can it? The move to a Mature rating does open up a lot of avenues for the game in terms of themes, visuals, and story, all of which I would love to see implemented within the game in some shape or form. The darkest bits of the lore have always been part of what sets The Elder Scrolls franchise apart, so bring them into the light! Use slightly bloodier effects to make the combat more engaging, and put in a few stories with truly horrifying content. Skyrim-style fatalities would be a nice touch as well (minus the slow-motion, as that would mess with PvP).

One important aspect of mature content is that it should be handled, well, maturely. Skyrim made great use of more mature themes and visuals without going over the top. On the MMO side, I think The Secret World nailed it as well. On rare occasions. you would find a truly gruesome ritual site, and because it was rare, it was both emotionally engaging and shocking. To properly utilize mature themes, they should be included in a jarring way, and not in every single part of the game world. When you stumble upon a necromantic ritual, the player should be horrified, not be vaguely aware that they’re in gore-strewn room #4,327. I am in no way advocating for over the top fountains of blood, and not every cave should be littered with gore and decaying remains; when a game does those things, it completely negates the benefits of having them in the first place. The same can be said of sexual content. The Elder Scrolls lore is overflowing with mature content for the designers to make use of, and with the shackles of the ESRB Teen rating lifted, ZeniMax is now free to include it in The Elder Scrolls Online.

Can ZeniMax do this though? In short, no.

Haha! I got you to read this for nothing!

As that would be the most anti-climactic ending to an article ever, I suppose I’ll give it to you in long instead. At the time of writing, we are 71 days from release, and ZeniMax has a lot to work on. There is simply no way that they can spare the resources to work on more than a few minor tweaks before launch. Reworking blood effects to be more engaging? Absolutely. Adding epic story lines with mature themes and new, horrifying environments? Not so much.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t take advantage of this going forward though. I cannot stress enough how fortunate it is that some of The Elder Scrolls Online‘s darkest content, The Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves Guild, will not be added until post-launch, as well as many parts of Tamriel which won’t make it in for launch. I’ll also be speculating the addition of a necromancy skill-line post-launch, which clearly stands perfectly poised to take the greatest advantage of a Mature rating. 

Will The Elder Scrolls Online perform a content revolution in the next few weeks before launch to take full advantage of its Mature rating? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see a lot of that advantage realized in the months and years following its launch.

Kramer Pimp

I’ll see you all at the release of the pimping skill line.

165 responses to “M for Mature: An Opportunity”

  1. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 268

    Nord Dragonknight

    The Black Fist

    I was soooooo happy to see this!

  2. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 175

    Altmer Templar


    I believe that a Mature rating is a huge positive for this game.

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    Total Posts: 75

    Bosmer Nightblade

    The newest Killzone for the PS4 has a mature rating as well. When I went to purchase it for myself they insisted on scanning my drivers license (This was at a Target store). I was really surprised by this. I explained that even though I am in my 40’s, I am buying this for me to play. For myself. The clerk said it was store policy, and that it was to show proof that they had explained to me that the game had a mature rating.

    I understand that there is a mature rating on the game, but I could not help but think that if I were to buy beer or cigarettes I would have had less of a hassle at the checkout desk.

    I don’t think that this will be good for sales, only because of the additional hurdles now present in just buying the game.

  4. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 25

    Argonian Templar


    I laughed so hard when I read “I don’t see what’s the big deal with cannibalism anyway; Bosmer look delicious to me”.

  5. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 5

    Bosmer Dragonknight

    This M rating has made me very happy, It allows those of us who play seriously and who are old enough to play M games can be comforted in the fact that 10 and 12 year olds wont complain, or rage

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    Total Posts: 369

    Imperial Templar

    Lowly Knights of Stendarr

    This brought a huge smile to my face. :D Thank you a hundred times!

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    Total Posts: 41

    Imperial Nightblade

    This is great news to me too! I guess this means we won’t be seeing any pandas running around any time soon!

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    Total Posts: 1262

    Altmer Sorcerer

    I agree that Mature is a good rating for the game, and look forward to seeing what, if anything they change/add later on to reflect this.

    Death is a guarantee;  Life is not.

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    Total Posts: 159

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    The Crimson Order

    The M rating will just attract more 13 and up to buy ESO just from pure curiosity.Most parents don`t give much attention to what they kids buying and playing.

    They don`t have problem to way to buy cigarettes alcohol and drags, so don`t think you can stop them from buying ESO.

    “There is only one God … & his name is death. And there is only one thing we say to death … Not today!”




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    Total Posts: 18

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    I completely agree with you that Skyrim’s mature content was very tasteful.
    It definitely added an important dimension to the whole atmosphere of the game, and made it even more realistic.
    Lets face it – a sailor should swear, the regulars at the inn should be drunk, people and mobs ought to bleed when you chop them with an axe and it wouldn’t be natural to not have – in a lack of better words – NPC’s who like to flirt with you (wink wink).
    That’s my five cents anyway.

  11. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 574

    Argonian Nightblade

    Exactly my thoughts!

    +1 for this article.

  12. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 14

    Imperial Dragonknight


    Yeaa! Good news indeed fellow players!

    For the glory of The Empire!

  13. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 68

    Khajiit Nightblade

    Caravanners of Elsweyr

    great write-up, I’m stoked this got the M rating, not only does it open up doors for awesome future content it may also keep some of the more immature players away from the game.

    This one will find your sweetroll, oh yes he will.

  14. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 2


    I agree with your post and hopefully this opens up some material for the future.

    Axe high friend…

  15. Member Avatar
    Lewis Clamp


    Total Posts: 109

    Orc Dragonknight

    The Order of the Ebony Lion

    Didnt really care about the rating.


  16. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 425

    Altmer Sorcerer

    Entropy Rising

    As with what others said. I am actually glad it got an M rating. Keep the kinders out. It also looks like ESRB might have wanted to use ESO as a precedent for online video game ratings.

  17. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 453

    Dunmer Sorcerer

    Great House Hlaalu



    Stop trying to turn my game into a pornographic slasher film!!!!! You perverted psychopath!!!!





    Just kidding.

  18. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 4236

    Khajiit Templar

    NordJitsu said on January 23, 2014 :


    Stop trying to turn my game into a pornographic slasher film!!!!! You perverted psychopath!!!!





    Just kidding.

    Lol! I’m honestly surprised no one has responded like that yet.

  19. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 71

    Dunmer Nightblade

    The Elder Council

    Isarii said on January 23, 2014 :

    NordJitsu said on January 23, 2014 :


    Stop trying to turn my game into a pornographic slasher film!!!!! You perverted psychopath!!!!





    Just kidding.

    Lol! I’m honestly surprised no one has responded like that yet.

    I dont see a problem in having a porno/elderscrolls game

  20. Profile Photo


    Total Posts: 311

    Breton Sorcerer


    i liked the pictures! :p

    seriously, though, you covered everything that’s important to me on the topic. namely the doors being opened to relax into the game’s original/truer lore settings, keeping the ‘mature’ bits sparing to give them more impact and weight, and that bosmer make me hungry.

    the dark brotherhood and thieves guild not being in yet, great observation there.

    i guess my main hope is that they do keep the truly mature bits rare so they can be more impactful

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