After being added to the Epic Games Store in June, Immutable’s NFT card game Gods Unchained was quietly removed because the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) assigned the PC game an “Adults Only” (AO) rating, Decrypt has learned.
Epic Games does not allow any titles with an AO ESRB rating on its marketplace, which hosts over 1,548 games as of March 2023—including Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto 5, and a growing number of blockchain games.
An Adults Only rating means that the ESRB believes the game is only suitable for those over the age of 18, while a “Mature” or M rating means that a title is acceptable for those 17 and up. Epic’s website states that any unrated game is treated the same as one with a Mature rating.
“Currently, we are not live on Epic Games Store due to the ESRB re-rating Gods Unchained as Adults Only, due to play-to-earn elements present within our game,” a representative for Gods Unchained told Decrypt in a message.
“We are working closely with rating boards on an appeal, and will share more information as soon as we have a clear path forward,” Gods Unchained added.
Founded back in 1994, the ESRB is an organization dedicated to age-rating video games distributed across the U.S. and Canada so that parents can make informed decisions on game purchases for their kids, and buyers can get a sense of a game’s level of violence or other mature themes.
A representative for the ESRB confirmed to Decrypt via email Monday that Gods Unchained has been assigned the most-restrictive “AO” rating. It’s granted to games that may include “prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity,” according to an Xbox post, which adds that Microsoft also does not allow Adults Only-rated titles.
But Gods Unchained wasn’t rated Adults Only because of violence or nudity—it was given the most restrictive rating because of the way its crypto elements work in the game.
“The ESRB age and content rating system assesses whether products may reward real money, prizes with real world value, or something that can be exchanged for or converted to real money (i.e., gift cards, cryptocurrency, etc.), as well as whether there is cash spent to be eligible for such rewards,” the ESRB told Decrypt when asked about Gods Unchained’s removal.
Per the game’s website, Gods Unchained players can currently earn its GODS token for winning matches, which can then be swapped to Ethereum and sold if desired. Players can also win NFT cards, which can then be sold on marketplaces for crypto.
Some Reddit users reported that Gods Unchained was no longer on the Epic Store in October, while others claimed that they only saw the game live for “a few weeks” before it became unavailable. Decrypt has reached out to Gods Unchained publisher Immutable Games for comment on when exactly the game was removed.
The Epic Games Store rules may have created a catch-22 for game developers. While Epic Games does allow blockchain games on its store, the ESRB’s statement that the AO rating could be given to any game that allows players to earn anything with “real-world value,” such as crypto or NFTs, could lead to more and more blockchain games being removed.
As the rules stand right now, game developers won’t be able to simply keep their games unrated, either, once they’re fully launched. Epic’s store rules for blockchain games requires that such games “must be rated in all regions where it will be distributed”—a rule that even applies to games released in “early access.”
Reached for comment on why Gods Unchained was removed from Epic’s store, an Epic Games representative told Decrypt: “In general, we can’t speak for other developers,” and suggested to reach out to Immutable directly instead.
Decrypt has reached out to Epic Games for further comment on its reason for barring AO-rated games while permitting blockchain games on its platform.
Considering the number of similar blockchain games in development that offer players tokens or NFTs for winning matches, is it possible that more crypto games will end up barred from the Epic Store in the future due to their ESRB ratings?
“While it is not a blanket rule, it is possible that a game or app will warrant an Adults Only rating category assignment due to a combination of those factors,” the ESRB rep told Decrypt, referring to any game that offers players something with real-world value.
Edited by Andrew Hayward