Much ado is being made about eBay today — more specifically, eBay’s ban on adult video games. You can certainly see why the story is enticing, because it involves a major online marketplace refusing to sell a certain type of media. Dig in a little more, though, and you’ll honestly wonder what the fuss is all about.
eBay’s new policy on adult items hits a number of different product categories, including films, magazines, and so on. It targets porn, basically. For video games in particular, the policy bars the sale of “Sexually explicit video games with a rating of Adults Only 18+.”
Since the formation of the ESRB in 1994, do you know how many games have actually received an AO (Adults Only) rating? Not that many. By the ESRB’s own website, there are grand total of 27. That is 27 against the multitude of video games released in that time. We’re sitting here 27 years after the ESRB came into existence, which means that’s a rate of one per year.
Some of those games never even came out (like Thrill Kill). One — Grand Theft Auto: Vice City — got re-rated to AO after hackers found “Hot Coffee,” and downgraded again to M after Rockstar patched it out. Wikipedia still calls San Andreas “the only mass-released AO-rated video game,” and it wasn’t even trying to be that.
The likelihood of such a product making it onto eBay’s marketplace is pretty slim. Developers know that an AO rating limits their audience, and as such, they do what they can to put games out that don’t hit that bar. The latest Leisure Suit Larry game came out today on a number of platforms, including the Nintendo Switch of all places. It was rated M for “Crude Humor, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language.” If Larry can do what he does and stay an M, hitting that AO rating must be very difficult.
And all of that is said before you remember that video game sales are headed in a digital direction. In a few years time, you’ll probably buy an AO game via your storefront of choice and eBay will play a very small part in selling current-gen games. But by that time, there’s no guarantee a new AO game would even come out in the first place.
This is a story that is good for grabbing eyes. You may think some games you’ve played are AO, for instance, when they’ve actually been M all along. You may think eBay’s ban is a war against some of your favorites. It isn’t. The plain truth is, this policy likely has very little impact on you.