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Friday, August 15, 2014

Analysis: ESRB Ratings Across Consoles (Part 2)

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - We got this mound of data. What to do with it?

Note: This is Part 2 of the ESRB study from this article, "Study: ESRB Ratings Across Consoles (Part 1)". Please read it first to get the data, because I'm not reposting those nice charts in here.

Well, one thing is clear: The notion that Nintendo is more "kiddy" than their console competitors Sony and Microsoft is true and supported by the data. Something I left out in my study post is the hypothesis. I... actually thought that Sony would be a lot closer to Nintendo, or at least the PlayStation 2 would. This is because the PlayStation 2 was home to a lot of kid-friendly shovelware, and continued to be supported by publishers many years after its competitors, finally being dropped this year by Electronic Arts.

If you read the bottom of the article in the Methodology section, you'll see I made brief mention of how the ESRB's E10+ rating came to be, with Nintendo's Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. The PS2 was a lot more exposed to the effects of E10+ than its competitors because of its longevity. Because of its popularity and amount of exclusives, the effects of the pre-E10+ era raising the average age rating are also magnified. Apparently the PS2 almost has as many exclusives as the GameCube has games.

I suppose I overestimated what would happen with the PS2. On the other hand, look at the GameCube and you can see the pre-E10+ effect in action if you compare it to the Wii and Wii U. It's sort of remarkable how consistently close the Xbox, the Xbox 360, the Wii, the Wii U, and the PS2 and PS3 are together. And then you see the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

I don't know if it's just because this is a new generation and all the pre-established "Mature" IPs are going right out of the gate with their installments so the results are skewed, or if gaming on the non-Nintendo consoles really is going towards the more "mature" crowd. Is the latter a good thing? Well, of course not.

We cannot enter an era where the average ESRB rating is T. If you look at the tier list of ESRB ratings, the lowest one is Mobile at 7.0 years (that's rounded up). In my "What's OUR Goodnight Moon?" article from 2013 (I personally think it's an underrated and very important article in the grand scheme of things!) the point of the article was that there need to be games made to cater to introducing young people into a lifelong passion for gaming. All Early Childhood games (although you can see they just aren't made anymore, or made ever) are basically Edutainment, teaching you some life skills as a substitute/supplement for preschool. That is completely different than a game designed to ignite a love for gaming, which is not a life skill. (Well, I guess affection is a life skill.) If most games are way out of that age range, you can't enter the market that early.

Which leaves your only alternative to be Mobile trash. We're supposed to be teaching a love of gaming.

Anyway, I do think that once the PS4 and Xbox One get more games, the average rating will go down. If you look at how many games have been released on those consoles, you'll see it's not much. And people say the Wii U doesn't have games? Wii U apparently has more than half of what the GameCube got in less than half the lifespan.

Being "kiddy" is not a bad thing. In that respect, all the game consoles are "kiddy", because the average game released on ALL of them is marketed towards pre-teens. It really doesn't matter whether it's E or E10+. That's the best analysis someone can give.

...But besides that "let's all be friends" message, aren't you interested in why the handheld options are lower-rated than their console counterparts? Well, for a long time, handheld systems had low enough graphic and memory capabilities that a lot of the stuff that ends up making a game M (excessive blood, voice-acted swearing, sex) were not possible. It's how the Ace Attorney series infamously is now an M-rated series. Handheld systems also had a lower cost of entry for software than their console counterparts, both in terms of supply and demand. On the demand side, that means kids, who have less money, can enter the market. It's why 3DS-only people love that they can get Super Smash Bros. 4 for only $40. On the supply side, it means that you can have a wider range of developers, who still need to make a profit. The easiest way of doing so is targeting the mass-market, who is "Everyone".

With a console, you can assume that since it's higher priced, the barrier to entry is also higher. That means it's catered more to people with income... like older people. There is no coincidence that Nintendo consoles, which are priced lower than their competitors, attract a lower-aged demographic. It's a strategy to sell more hardware, but it also drives the demographic for the software.

Lastly, Microsoft is the more "Mature" of them all. This could be attributed to cultural differences between America and Japan. While Japan has a lot of higher-rated garbage, America likes to be more... gung-ho with its content. This drives up the ESRB rating. In America, it's cooler to have the higher ESRB rating. It's more edgy. It's a symbol of pride among schoolyard kids. Microsoft is more in tune to this culture, being an American company. Sony still has a lot of "Japanese" content and developers, who resort less to American gung-ho tropes than, you know, the Americans.

Thanks for reading this all. Sorry about no pictures! Give a comment about your thoughts.

Ludwig hopes this was worth the wait. He has played games across the E-M spectrum, and never liked how people dismissed certain games as "kiddy". He enjoyed the purple GameCube and thinks the handle was one of the best features of it.

By 2022, the industry continues to have its game slowly increase in average age appropriateness.


  1. The notable exception to the gung-ho rule is Metal Wolf Chaos, a game so gung-ho American, it was never released outside of Japan.

    Let's not forget that some companies try to get their games Rated M for Money (
    In general, I don't think it's fair when people judge a game based solely on its rating, whether it's someone who *only* plays M-rated games, or someone who will never, ever, ever play an M-rated game no matter why it got its rating (or someone who *only* played E-rated games). Any of those absolutes will result in the person missing out on great games.

    And then there are companies who just make the game without trying for any particular rating. Just think how easily Dual Destinies could have gotten a T rating like the rest of the series (I personally think since Trials and Tribulations got a T, Dual Destinies should have, but I'm not the ESRB). Imagine how different Microsoft's market might look if its flagship series was rated T (people still question why Halo is rated M; apparently the Flood is what pushed it there).

    Consoles do end up giving off a certain perception, whether or not the data supports it. If someone had randomly asked me, I'd have probably said Microsoft = M, Sony = T, Nintendo = E. In my mind, I associate Microsoft with violent games, Sony with JRPGs (which are usually rated T, at least in my experience), and Nintendo with fun colorful things, even though I've played violent games on Sony and Nintendo consoles, JRPGs on Microsoft and Nintendo consoles, and fun colorful things on Microsoft and Sony consoles.

    1. M For Money is a discredited, though. I like to think publishers know this. ...I mean, they DO do market research, right?

      There was this tragic guy on Miiverse who was like "No More Heroes is rated M for Manure, so I'm not going to play it!" And I was like, "your loss."

      Remember when Call of Duty was rated T? It was always T on the older consoles/any portable, but now it's an M-rated series. Why is that? Is it because Activision has exhausted the creative limits of what T can provide them? Is it the hyper-realistic graphics that bump it up to M? From what I can tell, they've incorporated stronger themes in newer games, like drug references, stronger language, and "intense violence" over just good ol' "violence".

      Is that because they need to be as Michael Bay as possible to try to wow the crowd? Does that mean that we're destined to progressively be shifted towards the M spectrum across the industry as developers want to progressively out-do each other and their previous works?

    2. You would hope, but I'm not sure I have confidence in them. xD

      I'm not familiar enough with Call of Duty to know all that. :P But I would imagine it has a lot to do with the crowd that claims a game can't be realistic if it doesn't have more of those "stronger themes," as you put it. I remember people who were pleased that Silent Hill Downpour used the f-word, because the rest of the series just wasn't realistic without it. (Because when you're playing a game about a malevolent town manifesting a person's inner demons as monsters and/or cultists trying to summon their demonic god, it's the profanity that determines the realism!)

      And I've seen people on Miiverse complaining that Dual Destinies wasn't M-rated enough--they feel that once Capcom learned the game was getting an M rating, they should have added in stronger language and sexual themes.

      And, I mean, there were people who decided Watch Dogs was going to be awesome as soon as they learned it had nudity.

      "Be as Michael Bay as possible" is almost word-for-word an explanation used by us disgruntled survival horror fans for what happened to the Resident Evil series. Instead of having games that required strategic thinking and puzzle solving, Capcom decided to cater to the masses with lots of shooting and explosions and action-film-esque tropes.

    3. Well it's their business. They're still around, so they're supposed to be competent at what they do.

      Does the CoD crowd really care about realism? Or do they care more about shooting stuff? That realism stuff is what that Panama dictator and his evil trial lawyers are claiming, and I don't buy it. (In more ways than one.)

      Hey, we got some wonderful bondage reference(s) in Dual Destinies. What more do you want?

      Hey, I thought Resident Evil 4 was supposed to be one of the best games on the GameCube, and it's BECAUSE it "revolutionized" the series.

    4. True enough.

      I have no idea. xD

      :P Ask them, not me!

      Silence! *Blackquill desk slam*
      Note that I said it's the opinion held by "us disgruntled survival horror fans." The majority of gamers could name RE4 the best game of all time, and we'd still be pointing to it as the point where the series went downhill. :P
      Maybe RE4 is a good third-person shooter, and it certainly changed the series, but it was the beginning of the descent into action, the first game in the main series that left survival horror behind. It's like when people get excited over RPGs that finally "progressed" beyond turn-based combat.

    5. Well, it's still really liked by fans of good taste:

      If RE4 was the point where the series started to go down hill, is it considered a bad game or is it just considered the start of bad things to come?

    6. It's the point where the series stopped being survival horror.
      I'll give it enough credit to say it's not a bad game, it's just not a classic Resident Evil game. There are some survival horror fans who WILL say it's a bad game, though.
      I've been trying to think of a good comparison, and the best I can come up with is Super Paper Mario. Some people think it's a good game, some think it's a bad game, some think it was the beginning of the spiral downward that led to Sticker Star. But no matter where you fall, Super Paper Mario was a very different style of game than the previous ones.

    7. Oh, with one clear difference being that some people insist RE4 really is still survival horror. I don't think anyone claims Super Paper Mario is just like the previous Paper Mario games.

    8. Hm, go ahead and analyze these poll numbers for me from that survival horror perspective:
      2002, right after REmake:
      2003, pre-RE4:
      2007, post-RE4:

      Yeah, people are... common sensical enough to make a clear distinguishing mark after TTYD.

      Do people really still claim RE4 is survival horror? Even Wikipedia makes a clear distinction with how the series went starting with RE4:

      The whole RE4 Wikipedia article is about how it changed from horror to action.

      " In a later interview, he mentioned that he was put under enormous pressure by Capcom, threatened with the series' cancellation if the game had not sold well.[56] According to the game's producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi,[55] the development team felt depressed and were hard to motivate after the focus of the game shifted from horror to action."

      Replace "Capcom" with "Miyamoto" and "horror to action" with "RPG to whatever-genre-Sticker-Star-is" and you get Sticker Star!

      Apparently only Guinness World Records thinks it is a survival-horror game, but Guinness is a terrible company from personal experience and should be ignored completely.

      The difference between RE4 and Sticker Star development-wise is that one was a success and the other was... not.

    9. What am I analyzing? XD Resident Evil seems to be the clear favorite by a landslide in every poll. The release of RE4 doesn't seem to have really changed that, and the polls themselves don't mention it as a factor.

      Yes, everyone *should* realize RE4 is not survival horror... but I'll still see people talking about how RE4 is the best survival horror game ever, saying RE needs to go back to its roots by making another game like RE4, hoping The Evil Within will be as great a survival horror game as RE4, or simply naming RE5 as the point where the series changed, even though, from a gameplay perspective, RE4 and RE5 are extremely similar.

      That's the most common one--people who criticize RE5 for being action horror, while praising RE4.

    10. Yeah, it's a landslide, but do you think that RE4 made it... MORE of a landslide?

      "RE needs to go back to its roots by being like RE4"
      Well, you'd think going back to your roots would be being RE.

      Well, here are a few top hits on the subject:

      IGN's link is basically an "RE4 changed it all" vs. a "RE5 changed it all" person. RE5 person (Audrey) is obviously wrong.
      Kotaku's link puts the split at RE3 vs. RE4. ...Well, it's just a Reddit infrographic. Typical Kotaku is a terrible site.
      GameFAQs has the most intelligent discussion here. ...Which is typical, I like to think.
      Gamesradar says it's a great game BECAUSE it's action. So no confusion here.

    11. Reply Part 1: The Poll Analysis

      I don't think RE4 makes it more of a landslide.In the post-RE4, the percentage of votes it received jumped by a huge amount, but we encounter serious problems if we try to compare them.

      The first poll, where RE comes in at 55.6%, has 19.77% of voters who don't like the genre at all. The next highest percentage goes to Silent Hill, with 14.12%. The remaining options were "Other," Dino Crisis, Alone in the Dark, Clock Tower, and D.
      The second, where RE has 46.7%, has 18.77% who don't like the genre at all, and 17.24% who named Silent Hill. The remaining options were Onimusha, Fatal Frame, Dino Crisis, Alone in the Dark, Clock Tower, and D.
      The third, where RE has 77.16%, has no option for people who aren't fans of the genre. The runner-up remains Silent Hill, at 15.25%. The rest are Fatal Frame, Clock Tower, Alone in the Dark, and Evil Dead.

      The biggest problem that messes up analyzing RE4's effect on the polls is that the post-RE4 poll ONLY surveyed people who liked survival horror, since it didn't have the "not a fan of the genre" option. If we went back to the first poll and eliminated the people who voted that way, RE's popularity jumps to 69.3%. The first poll also had an "other" option, missing from the third poll. If we eliminate that AND the non-fan vote, RE's place in the first poll becomes 71.83%. The results are much less dramatic if we apply the same change to the second poll, where RE's popularity becomes 57.5%.

      But those options aren't the only differences that make it hard to compare these polls. The first poll doesn't list Fatal Frame, one of the big survival horror franchises. And "Other" could include just about anything. The second poll feels like an attempt to rectify that, as it includes the same series, but cuts out "Other" in favor of Fatal Frame and...Onimusha. What the heck is Onimusha doing there? It has survival horror elements, yes, but it's an outright action-adventure series! And then the third poll managed to keep the big names, and didn't include "Other" or Onimusha, but decided to drop D and Dino Crisis for Evil Dead, which has action hack-and-slash games as well as survival horror games.

      If we really wanted to analyze the effects RE4 had on the series' popularity, we would need polls that targeted the same groups of people (either only survival horror fans, or both fans and non-fans) and asked about the same games. And preferably without the "Other" options, because there are people who think Alan Wake and Dead Rising are survival horror, so you never know what's going into that vote.

      However, all that aside, the reason behind the shift toward action in the Resident Evil series was to have greater mass appeal, so if RE4 *didn't* increase the series' popularity, there would have been no reason for Capcom to stick with that direction.

    12. Reply Part 2: The Rest

      See, the people who think it should go back to its roots by going back to RE4-style have convinced themselves that RE4 is both survival horror and the pinnacle of the series. On a side note, people who are either survival horror fans or are just rational enough to divide the series with RE4 on the action side generally agree that the 2002 REmake is the best. I've heard some people describe it as the best survival horror game of all.

      About IGN's article, yes. It's odd, considering my views on survival horror, that I'm in agreement with the guy who prefers the action games, but he's right. Hating RE5 for changing the series while defending RE4 is absurd. But Audrey's argument, as illogical as it sounds, is not uncommon. It's surreal to read that article, because I've seen the same debate hashed out on the forums time after time.

      The GameFAQs discussion looks pretty standard. People who like RE4 and are glad that old archaic survival horror stuff was eliminated, people who hate RE4 and think it destroyed the series, and people who fall somewhere in the middle.

      Capcom-Unity arguments usually devolved into utter irrationality, usually based on an extremely literal interpretation of "survival horror."

      RE4 is not survival horror. Whether you love it or hate it, it's not survival horror. A statement like that shouldn't cause as many arguments as it does.

    13. Oh, one other poll of interest just a few days after the 2007 Survival Horror one:

      (For fun look at the 2010 version of that since it has Phoenix Wright)

      I don't think all of the guys voting in the 2007 poll were just survival-horror dudes, but there is a very noticeable drop of votes from the poll before, asking about action-adventure, and then the votes increase the polls after. So definitely people who don't care about survival horror didn't vote, I guess.
      And those who didn't care but always vote (like me) would've probably voted for Resident Evil.

      (In fact I might've voted in that.)

      People who dislike survival horror and like RE4 should be happy to say RE4 is not a survival horror game.
      People who like survival horror and dislike RE4 should be happy to say RE4 is not a survival horror game.
      People who dislike survival horror and dislike RE4 probably don't exist.
      People who like survival horror and like RE4 should know what they like enough to say it's not a survival horror game.

    14. Wow, Phoenix Wright beat some big names there!

      Right, my main point was that the lack of the "I don't like the genre" option had the potential to skew the results.

      Looking at your breakdown there... I don't think the last three groups argue very much. Maybe the last group, people who like survival horror and RE4, might argue a little, because some of them might not understand the genre differences well enough to realize the games are two different genres, and that they happen to like both of them.

      The third group (dislike sh/dislike RE) exist, and probably result in people who claim the AAA market is oversaturated with survival horror games, but since they dislike BOTH, they probably wouldn't care to argue about the difference.

      I think the first group is probably the one that argues the most. People who dislike survival horror and like RE4, who want the Resident Evil series to continue to be like RE4, and therefore try to undermine the "please go back to survival horror!" pleas by insisting RE4 is survival horror.
      We'd often also encounter RE4/5/6 fans trying to get us to shut up about survival horror, because it's never going to be survival horror again, so we had no chance. This usually resulted in someone asking, "If we have no chance, why are you fighting so hard to make us stop?"
      So I present the possibility that some people who dislike survival horror and like the newer RE games are secretly afraid that Capcom will go back to only survival horror, so they try to present RE4 as survival horror.

      Then there are people who honestly have no clue what "survival horror" is, and instead of taking the actual game mechanics into account, offer a very literal definition. These people claim RE4 involves a character surviving horrific things, and therefore it's survival horror--just a modern one free of the archaic, limiting aspects of the original games. (This is where you get people who claim Silent Hill isn't survival horror, because there were just so many puzzles!)

      Then there are the trolls and arguers who have decided RE4 is survival horror, and therefore continue to argue just for the sake of arguing.

    15. Phoenix Wright also beat Marth and Vincent Valentine in the 2013 character contest, and Dual Destinies won the download-only game of the year award for 2013.

      Yeah, I'm sitting here and reading "People dislike survival horror but like RE4, and they're spiting survival horror fans by saying RE4 is survival horror even though they like RE4 and don't like survival horror" and I'm not believing that.

    16. It's also the 2nd favorite download-only title of the 3DS subreddit!

      Hey, I'm just trying to make some sense out of the insanity. XD
      I stopped visiting the Resident Evil forums of Capcom-Unity a long time ago because I couldn't stand it there anymore. I wonder if I can find some of those old arguments...

      This isn't about RE4, but you can see a short disagreement between me and News Bot about whether or not Revelations was the same as the classic games:
      My complaint is about the absence of backtracking, exploration, and recursive unlocking, which is one of the main reasons I consider Revelations to be only a step toward survival horror. He considers it to be exactly the same as the old games, just streamlined and therefore better.

      Here's one where the claim was made that Ada's RE6 campaign was survival horror. They emphasized that there are puzzles. I watched the video, barely saw anything like a puzzle, and commented on that. If you read the resulting conversation, you'll see they made me out to be someone who will never be satisfied with anything. It quickly devolves into the usual sort of argument.

      "Can you please point out the survival horror sections for me?"
      -"Ada's entire campaign of which we've seen."
      Uh-huh, nope.

      Here's another one, where we discuss Capcom's attempts to pretend Leon's scenario in RE6 is survival horror:
      Here's where it starts to get nasty: (Oh, that's also the argument where one action fan got in trouble for telling a survival horror fan to go kill himself.)

      Here's a good one, with the dazzling quote "more action = more survival horror":

      Okay, here's one. It begins with the sudden revelation that with RE6 the series is becoming action-oriented, includes defense about RE4 not being an action game, and gets to the classic argument about how RE3 is just as much of an action game as RE4.

      I'd actually forgotten about that. A lot of RE4/5/6 fans will insist RE3 was the first action RE game, and therefore we're hypocrites if we say 3 is horror and the newer ones aren't.

      And just to round it out with a different site, take a look at the final post on this page:
      "RE 4 was definitely survival horror. I got scared, i tried to survive, i got scared trying to survive. But no, RE 4 has just as much survival horror elements as RE 3."

    17. I'll read those Capcom-Unity threads when I get the chance to [when I'm logged onto Capcom-Unity so I'm not asked to supply a (fake) birthdate every new tab], but as for the GameFAQs post,

      "Who's saying it's Survival Horror? Majority of the people here know it's not Survival Horror. I usually refer to it as Action Horror."

    18. I know, I was just pulling that out as an example of at least one person who insisted it was survival horror.

      Rational people know it and its successors are not survival horror, but there are some loud, argumentative types who argue it is. Maybe things have gotten better--I've avoided the RE forums of Capcom-Unity since 2012--but I still see RE4 praised as the high point of survival horror when it comes to topics like The Evil Within.

      Remember that guy on the Ace Attorney forums who was completely irrational and insisting we doomed the series by buying Dual Destinies, and no matter how logical people were, he just wouldn't stop arguing? Imagine if 90% of conversations felt like that, and you have the RE forums.

    19. Here you go, a perfect example of how it hasn't gone away yet--an article that claims RE4 revitalized the survival horror genre (which is what most of the RE4 = survival horror arguments come down to, that something was wrong with the genre and this approach fixed it):

    20. This comment has been removed by the author.

    21. I deleted my comment because I forgot some links and just had quotes floating around. XD

      Actually, forget the AA forums comparison. When you talk about NeoGAF, *that's* what really reminds me of the Capcom-Unity RE forums. When I left, it was mainly because the majority of people I talked to there had created their own group with the express purpose of being a safe place you could talk freely without being silenced/banned/attacked.

      Back to The Evil Within. It's being hailed as the true return to survival horror, while simultaneously being compared to RE4 in every other article.

      This one describes the action approach as being just the present form of survival horror and suggests it may "[shift] the tide for an entire genre the same way Mikami's seminal RE4 did."

      The Evil Within is "firmly within the survival horror genre" and the player is "constantly reminded of Resident Evil 4."

      The game meant to be "a 'pure' survival horror game [...] at first greatly resembles the Mikami-directed Resident Evil 4."

      The Evil Within is "the spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 that never was."

      "Resident Evil 4 was RE's last standing survival horror title and a good one at that."

      "Shinji Mikami, widely considered to be the father of the modern survival-horror, credited as the mastermind behind Resident Evil 4 [which] cast a big shadow, and the games that managed to step out from it were the ones that captured its essence and offered a fresh take on it" but The Evil Within might "be a bit too similar to Resident Evil 4."

      And an argument:

      Let me just say, there is nothing wrong with The Evil Within being like Resident Evil 4, or being a survival horror game, but it can't be both. Yet it's being marketed and hyped as a true return to survival horror, put up on a pedestal as the best that survival horror has to offer, while being compared to RE4. That's what I have a problem with.

    22. John from Capcom-Unity? Yeah, I remember him.

      ...What a loser.

      I guess what a lot of people are basically saying is that the pre-RE4 survival horror genre no longer exists, and it has "evolved". Like how platformers "evolved" from Donkey Kong arcade to Yoshi's Island.

      ...And then devolved to Yoshi's New Island, I guess.

      And you can point out how the survival horror genre still does exist in its old-fashioned form.

      Also, is the main character of that whats-his-face? From... uh...
      Oh, right. Nathan Drake!

      Come on, the Giant Bomb page makes non-gameplay comparisons to RE4. That's different than saying RE4 is survival horror.

      "Also, seeing as Resident Evil 5 was an action-horror game, Resident Evil 4 was RE's last standing survival horror title and a good one at that. "
      Yeah Kotaku is a disgrace we know.
      He does clarify in the comments, "RE4 was the turning point in the series, I do not deny that. But it was the last Resident evil that featured any sort of horror in it and it was and still is an amazing game."

  2. Yeah, there were a lot of Johns in the RE forums.

    Yes, that's a common claim, that those of us who want the old style need to accept that it's just old and outdated, and this is what survival horror is now. Which just isn't true. I do point out that there are still survival horror games. I also use myself as an example of why the nostalgia argument fails.

    Haha, he does have that generic Nathan Drake-esque protagonist look.

    I'll give the Giant Bomb page a pass for Dr. Salvador, but not for:
    "As a third-person game with an over-the-shoulder perspective and some shooting, it at first greatly resembles the Mikami-directed Resident Evil 4." That's gameplay.

    If the Kotaku guy thinks RE4 was "the last Resident evil that featured any sort of horror in it," either he's ignoring Revelations or claiming RE4 is closer to survival horror than it was.

    At least, as this research has shown to me, it feels like things are getting better. There isn't as much vehement insistence that RE4 is survival horror.
    ...Or maybe it's just because I avoid the Unity RE forums now.


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