In addition to the age classification process in accordance with the relevant law (the Children and Young Persons Protection Act – or “JuSchG”) the USK also provides classifications for online games and apps. This is realized using the IARC system (“International Age Rating Coalition”). USK age rating logos are available for all storefronts affiliated to this system. To this date, the licensed storefronts are: Google Play Store, Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Windows Store, Xbox Store and the Oculus Store.
The respective classification of games and apps results from an IARC questionnaire that is being filled out by the developer. To guarantee a consistent quality the USK is constantly monitoring these classifications using procedure-specific means.
1. How IARC works
The International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) represents the worldwide coalition of age rating organizations of computer and video games. Since its official founding in 2013 IARC provides a framework that is being implemented by technical platforms such as mobile app stores for the purpose of youth protection. This system enables developers to rate their games and apps using a complex questionnaire. Resulting from the information provided in the questionnaire an age classification along the guidelines of the respective rating authority (for Germany the USK) is being issued.
The USK is monitoring these classifications on a regular basis to guarantee its quality. Also external complaints can trigger a review. With this system, the USK works in the range of the legal parameters of the Youth Media Protection State Agreement (“JMStV") with regard to online media and broadcasting according to which the USK is recognized as self-regulation body since 2011.
The IARC system provides Age Ratings based on criteria of media deemed inappropriate for certain age groups. Aspects involving penal codes, copyright and other related rights and legal parameters are excluded.
Age classifications according to the Children and Young Persons Protection Act (“JuSchG”) result from a separate rating procedure in which governmental representatives issue the binding classification. These age ratings are primarily used for games distributed in stationary retail.
2. The age ratings explained
USK age ratings inform about a potential developmental impairment for children and young persons. Therefore they do not imply if a certain content deemed „USK ab 0 Jahren“ (all ages) can be understood or controlled by younger users. The age ratings and content descriptors give information about youth protection relevant aspects contained.
USK ab 0 Jahren (all ages)
Games and apps without age restriction feature contents without youth protection relevance. They can be directly aimed at children and young persons but also at an adult audience. For instance, utility programs, product catalogues or tool apps fall into this category. In the field of games, this includes family-friendly games such as skill, board and card games, sports simulations, platformers or simulations; all of which without content that must be deemed as impairing for children from a youth protection standpoint.
For example, WhatsApp is a very popular app in the “all ages” range. This product enables communication in closed user groups without the possibility of public exchange. Shared information and content can only be made available for contacts already present in the phone-internal contact list. The function of this app is therefore comparable to „classic“ forms of communication such as telephony, text messages or e-mail and by itself not necessarily relevant for youth protection concerns. Communication can still bear risks for children and young persons though (such as mobbing or grooming), so monitoring when using these apps and education on possible risks must always be given.
USK ab 6 Jahren (ages 6 and above)
Games and apps in this category can contain elements that may not be appropriate for pre-school children. They may contain occasional scary moments, a low accumulation of mild cursing or subtle erotic innuendo. If violent imageries are present they remain abstract and are not decisive for the overall product. Games in this age category involve more intense and competitive aspects (e.g. through faster game speeds and more complex tasks) such as racers, simulations, platformers and RPGs.
For example, Nickelodeon is a very popular app in this age category. It streams the contents of the TV channel by the same name. The range of contents from TV shows to small games may contain some forms of mild and bloodless cartoon violence. Due to its child-friendly realization these contents are generally suitable for children aged 6 and above. And despite the Age Rating of “USK 6”, it can also contain material suitable for all ages.
USK ab 12 Jahren (ages 12 and above)
Games and apps in this category can have an impairing effect on younger children through the inclusion of scary elements, shock effects, some explicit language, sexual contents or occasional violent imageries. Games in this category can feature much more of a competitive edge. The scenarios often remain very fictional which enables a certain level of distance for the recipient. Arcade games, strategy games, RPGs as well as some military simulations can be found in this category. Please keep in mind that social networks or apps with a focus on user-generated content might generally contribute to the youth protection relevance.
Social Networks like Facebook for example, do, by themselves, not offer any content but consist solely of information and communication publicly shared between all other signed-up users. The possibility to access content from users not personally known makes this category of apps generally youth protection relevant to a certain degree. Therefore, using these apps without parental supervision is generally not recommended below the age of 12, but they can, nevertheless, also contain communication risks for older children.
Video sharing platforms such as YouTube enable users to share and access user-generated video and audio content. The huge amount of content being constantly uploaded from around the world cannot be assessed in its ever-changing entirety. Statistics show that the majority of videos are harmless in terms of youth protection aspects though. Additionally, the app operator restricts extreme cases of sexuality or violence and guarantees to take respective actions against them. Despite these efforts, significant youth protection relevance can still be given in individual cases. Should the app operator choose to not take these precautions and restrictions in their terms of service and routines, a higher Age Rating will be displayed.
USK ab 16 Jahren (ages 16 and above)
Some realistically designed displays of violence, an accumulation of shock and horror elements, consistently explicit language or games and apps with an erotic or sexual focus are summarized in this category. This means that adults are part of the recipient group as well. Games frequently feature armed combat, a framework story and military missions. The genres in this categorization include, among others, action adventures, military strategy games and first person shooter.
This age category features a large number of commercial streaming services such as Netflix, offering a broad variety of professionally produced movies and series. As opposed to apps that only consist of user-generated contents such as YouTube, it has a direct overview of and responsibility for all content offered at any time. The “USK 16” is issued since such products should generally be installed by parents or adolescents as media with high youth protection (rated 18+) can in small percentages also be part of the catalogue. The descriptor “contents for different age groups” underlines, that this dynamic catalogue is not directed towards a specific age group. Tip: Parents can ensure that their children will only see contents suitable for their age by making use of the in-app parental controls and family accounts.
USK ab 18 Jahren (ages 18 and above)
Among other aspects such as the unquestioned display of drug use for example, realistic and explicit violence is the most common reason for the 18+ classification of these apps. Games in this age category virtually always involve violent game concepts that are prominent in the majority of game objectives. The genres include first person shooters, action adventures and open world games.
Products with a focus on dating between adults such as “Tinder” are contained in the age category.
Also forums like “Reddit” that do not restrict the contents shared by its users in terms of explicit real-world violence or sexual contents, and in which said contents can be accessed to a significant extend without filtering or moderating, are only suitable for adults (USK 18).
3. Additional content information
Besides the classification itself the system displays additional information about youth protection relevant contents. The following terms are being used:
- Gewalt (Violence) & Krieg (war)
The game/ app contains depictions of violence. Those depictions can be realized in different graphical styles spanning from comic-like and abstract to realistic. The intensity and contextual conflict situation of said violent displays varies dependent from the age category.
Descriptors: Abstrakte Gewalt (abstract violence), Gewalt (violence), Explizite Gewalt (explicit violence), Kriegsthematik (war themes)
- Ängstigende Inhalte (Fear)
The game/ app creates a sinister atmosphere or tension that could trigger anxiety especially in younger children.
Descriptors: Seltene Schreckensmomente (occasional scary contents), Ängstigende Inhalte (scary contents), Grusel/ Horror (scary and/ or horror contents)
- Erotik/ Sexuelle Inhalte (Sexual Content)
The game/ app contains themes or visualizations of erotic or sexual nature. The sexualized depictions or sexual references must always stay below the level of actual pornography.
Descriptors: Nacktheit/ Erotik (nudity/ eroticism), Sexuelle Andeutungen (sexual innuendo), Sex/ Erotik (sex/ eroticism), Andeutungen sexueller Gewalt (referenced sexual violence), Sexuelle Gewalt (sexual violence)
- Explizite Sprache (Language)
The game/ app contains coarse, vulgar or generally crude language and expressions.
Descriptors: Gelegentliches Fluchen (occasional swearing), Explizite Sprache (explicit language)
- Drogen (Drugs)
The game/ app contains references, themes or depictions of drug use. This includes legal, medicinal and illegal drugs equally.
Descriptors: Tabakkonsum (tobacco use), Alkoholkonsum (alcohol use), Drogenkonsum (drug use)
- Diskriminierung (Discrimination)
The game/ app contains visual, textual or contextual references to discrimination of social, sexual, religious or ethnical groups.
Descriptors: Diskriminierung (discrimination)
- Glücksspiel (Gambling)
The game/ app contains gambling using real currency and cash payouts/ losses.
Descriptors: Glücksspiel mit Geldeinsatz (Gambling with Cash Payouts)
The following descriptors can be displayed for information regarding interactive elements:
- Nutzerinteraktion (Users Interact)
The app enables communication, data exchange or general interactivity between users.
- Standortweitergabe (Shares Location)
The app shares the location of its users.
- Onlinekäufe (Digital Purchases)
The app allows purchasing additional content or items.
- Uneingeschränkter Internetzugriff (Unrestricted Internet Access)
The app allows unrestricted access to the internet.
- Inhalte für verschiedene Altersgruppen (contents for different age groups)
The app is a Streaming service or online shop featuring dynamic contents.
4. Frequently asked questions
How come many online and browser games do not display any age rating?
The IARC system is only available for licensed platforms that have integrated the procedure into their on-boarding process. We are expecting further platforms to adapt the system in the very near future. Information about new platforms can then be found on our homepage as well.
How can I control which contents can be seen or downloaded by my child?
Many platforms offer the possibility to activate and use filters (parental controls). They usually come pre-installed on mobile or stationary platforms. We therefore recommend to always performing the initial setup of any given device by yourself rather than letting your children do it. As a parent this gives you the possibility to restrict certain contents that might not be suitable for the age group of your child.
You can find instructions for parental control and family account settings using the following links:
Why has the age rating of a certain app changed recently?
When a developer missed to indicate certain contents of his game or app it is possible that the rating is incorrect as a result. If the USK finds that the information given in the questionnaire does not match the content of a specific game or app the resulting review might change the age classification after the game or app has been published.
Why does the IARC rating not match the age restriction found in the terms of service of an app?
Age restrictions listed in the terms of service are provided by the publisher itself for legal protection within the country of origin and can therefore differ significantly in their legal structure. They do not reflect any criteria based on youth protection but rather aspects such as legal capacity to contract or privacy regulations owned to foreign jurisdictions.
Where can I complain about an app or its age classification?
If you find a concrete game or app on a licensed IARC storefront that displays inappropriate content or has a classification you do not agree with, you can contact us using our complaints form. For any other questions on IARC, its functionality and the resulting classifications please use our contact form. For more information on IARC please visit www.globalratings.com
Where do I get more information for developers and storefronts?
You will find those in our publisher section.