Age Ratings in GNOME Software: Introducing OARS?

In GNOME Software we show lots of applications ranging from games aimed at pre-schoolers to applications explicitly designed to download, well, porn. A concept that is fairly well understood by parents is age ratings, and there are well known and trusted ratings bodies such as the ESRB and PEGI, as well as other country-specific schemes. Parents can use the ratings to control what kind of content is available to install, and vendors can use the ratings as a legal (or common-sense) control who gets to purchase what.

The ratings systems between countries are varied, varying from descriptions such as “M” which will be familiar for US users, “R” for Australian users to the slightly more obvious “18+” rating for European users. The differing ratings authorities define what is allowed in each category in slightly different way, some allowing mild profanity for a “7+” rating, and others none at all. Some countries consider drug taking in a video game to be no more dangerous as to mild cursing, other countries consider this on the same level as sexual violence.


So, we’re sunk, right? Nearly. There exists a group called “International Age Rating Coalition” which allows developers to register (sometimes for free), answer a simple questionnaire and out pops the ratings they should use for various countries. The IARC is made up of the regulatory bodies all over the planet, and so you can use the actual trademarked age rating images for your product. ish.

If you want to build a a software center, say GNOME Software for example, you have to pay a license fee. A $100,000 annual fee, plus extra per application shown in the software center. This is prohibitive for us, and would mean we couldn’t have the same functionality in other software center interfaces.

We could easily provide in the AppData files details about the application/game. This can be combined with a rule engine specific to the country of viewing, which would pop out a rating. I think the ESRB would be hard pushed to trademark “M” as an age rating, although I completely agree they have correctly and sensibly trademarked the stylized logo for the PG rating, along with the “ESRB” name itself. I don’t think this should stop us using an “PG” or “M” rating in the software center as long as we avoid these trademarks and copyrights.

I’m happy to work on a new system to both generate the AppData upstream information from a questionaire, and the rule engines that processes these rules and pops out a rating. The question then becomes, is this useful? Is this something that people would actually want? Comments welcome.

p.s. OARS: “Open Age Rating System”, name is work in process.

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Richard has over 10 years of experience developing open source software. He is the maintainer of GNOME Software, PackageKit, GNOME Packagekit, GNOME Power Manager, GNOME Color Manager, colord, and UPower and also contributes to many other projects and opensource standards. Richard has three main areas of interest on the free desktop, color management, package management, and power management. Richard graduated a few years ago from the University of Surrey with a Masters in Electronics Engineering. He now works for Red Hat in the desktop group, and also manages a company selling open source calibration equipment. Richard's outside interests include taking photos and eating good food.

12 thoughts on “Age Ratings in GNOME Software: Introducing OARS?”

  1. I regard the functionality as very useful for parents. Yet, I don’t know if creating a dedicated rating system is helpful – and will be used extensively.

    Two OT questions:
    1) Whats the status of paid apps functionality?
    2) Is there an online database to search for apps avaiable via the GNOME Software Center (in Fedora23)?


  2. It depends. It can for sure be very helpful having the possibility to filter (in and out) content based on something like age-recommendations and/or school levels (maybe we also could a have filtering based on profession, letting a dentist etc. easily discover recommended application). However i believe it’s a mistake and total waste of time and resources if it’s ment as a restrictive matter as that allways have been shown to never be effective.

  3. As a sibling to a much younger brother, I haven’t found traditional MPAA (or similar) ratings useful at all — they’re simply too broad to make a good assessment. What I found to work well, though, are parent guides like that of Common Sense Media or IMDB, which allow you to drill down into the reasoning for a certain rating. These generally provide a quick overview of the aspects of the rating (violence, sex, language, …). and specifics for those who are interested (what kinds of violence/gore, …). To give an overview, Common Sense Media provides an age-based rating, which is a lot clearer than e.g. the MPAA’s (where individual ratings cover too wide a range).

    Since Common Sense Media is a non-profit, perhaps it would be possible with them to provide the ratings?

  4. 1) I have seen systems like that for websites where the usual recommendation was to rate yourself 18+ just to be on the safe side. Which would be counter productive.

    2) Would that also be used for general programs that don’t contain any actual content?

    1. I think this is limited to games, and perhaps a few other specific instances for instance programs explicitly designed to download porn.

  5. I don’t think you should pay any organization for it. Allow the developers to choose ratings.

    About the idea itself, I don’t mind age restrictions as long as they can be disabled if the person wants to.

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