FTC: Game Ratings Keep On Keeping On

The Entertainment Software Rating Board's (ESRB) game ratings scale is now more effective than ever thanks to growing retailer participation and parental awareness, a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report indicates.

Through a mystery shopper program, the FTC found that 42% of unaccompanied children were able to purchase an M-rated game, a significant drop from 85% in 2000 and 69% in 2003 but unchanged from last year. Figures from this and last year bring game retailers in line with movie theaters, which in the FTC's tests allowed only 39% of minors to purchase tickets to R-rated films. Gaming retailers showed significantly better results than movie retailers, however, which allowed 71% of minors to purchase R-rated films on DVD.

Additionally, 87% of parents were aware of the ESRB rating system and over 70% claim to use it when their children want to play a game. Despite the high figures, many of those polled believe the system is not as effective at communicating violence levels as it could be.

To further increase the effectiveness of the ESRB ratings, the FTC suggests content descriptors be relocated from the back of a game box to the front. The report also questions the ESRB's limited enforcement of a policy that prevents M-rated games from advertising on a web site if 45% or more of its reader demographic is under 17.

Chris Remo contributed to this story.