FTC Says Game Retailers Getting Better

The Federal Trade Commission has released results of its most recent yearly investigation of video game retailers, tracking how easy it is for minors to purchase Mature-rated software. The availability of games featuring violent and sexual content deemed "M" is a crucial point in much of the attempted game-related legislation that has sprung up recently. Drafters of bills which would federally regulate such games claim that laws are necessary since retailers do not do their job in checking customers' age and limiting game sales as appropriate. However, it looks like that situation is improving. While the results of this 2005 study are less than ideal, results have improved each year since the study began in 2000, making 2005 the best year yet.

This past year, 42% of underage shoppers were able to buy an M-rated game, down from 85% in 2000. Forty-four percent of stores gave ratings information, up from 12%, and 50% of involved employees asked the customer's age, up from 15%.

The shop, conducted between October 2005 and January 2006, involved 406 stores in 43 states selling electronic or video games. Three hundred and six of the stores were national retailers, while the other 100 were local and regional sellers.

The undercover shop is the fourth conducted in connection with the Commission's reports on the marketing of violent entertainment media to children. The Commission plans to conduct another undercover shop later this year to test whether young shoppers are able to buy tickets to R-rated films at movie theaters, R-rated movies on DVD, explicit-content labeled music recordings, and M-rated video games.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it appears that national chains, which generally have strict operating guidelines for individual stores, scored significantly better than local and regional chains. In fact, across categories, national chains scored almost twice as well as local and regional chains (the numbers given above are an average of all stores).

This is the first year that a majority of underage shoppers were not able to buy M-rated games. The steady improvement in each of the three categories is good news for organizations such as the ESRB, which defends the self-regulatory system of game ratings and will likely use these figures to show improvement when appealing further potentially harmful legislation.