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FTC Finds Improvement in Game Ratings Enforcement

31 Mar, 2006 By: John Latchem

A Federal Trade Commission report released March 30 indicates retailers have done a better job enforcing video game ratings over the past five years.

The rate at which minors were successful in buying ‘Mature'-rated games dropped to 42%, down from 69% in 2003, 78% in 2001 and 85% in 2000.

The survey, conducted between October 2005 and January 2006, involved 406 stores in 43 states. The FTC sent “undercover mystery shoppers” ages 13 to 16 to attempt to buy ‘M'-rated games without a parent; ‘M'-rated games are considered appropriate for those 17 and older.

The results were cheered by the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, the trade group that represents the leading retailers of the $10 billion game industry.

“The FTC's results very clearly indicate that the nation's leading retailers of games have steadily improved and are quickly approaching the compliance rates of the Gold Standard: movie theater owners,” said IEMA president Hal Halpin.

National chains scored better than local or regional sellers. Only 35% of the undercover underage shoppers could buy the restricted games at national retailers, compared to 63% at local and regional stores.

The study also showed improvements in retailers “carding” underage children who tried to buy ‘M'-rated games, increasing to a 50% rate in 2005, from 15% in 2000. Also, 44% of stores now provide information about the rating system to their customers, up from 12%.

“The FTC shopping survey results affirm what we've been saying, which is that voluntary retail enforcement of video game ratings works, and that retailers are genuinely dedicated to making their enforcement policies succeed," said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association, the trade group representing U.S. computer and video game publishers. "Retailers must continue to move forward with these important efforts, and we know they remain committed to even higher enforcement levels in the months ahead."

“The industry's efforts to restrict minors' access to ‘M'-rated video games are making a quantifiable impact,” said Bo Andersen, president of the Video Software Dealers Association. “The industry has made the most dramatic improvements between reporting periods since the first survey in the year 2000. VSDA looks forward to working with the FTC and its member retailers to progressively improve ratings education and enforcement policies.”

The results are in line with a Mediawise survey released late last year that gave the industry a ‘D+' grade in turning away underage shoppers.

Separately, parents who do buy ‘M'-rated games for their children need to pay better attention to game content, according to a study by the Kids Risk Project at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The ratings are assigned by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which also adds content descriptors that appear on video game boxes to inform consumers about content. The Harvard study concluded these labels are sometimes inadequate.

From a database of 147 ‘M'-rated games, 36 were played by researchers over a period of 42 hours. The results were printed in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

All 36 games involved intentional acts of violence, but only 35 had descriptors for violence. About 98% of all games received the violence descriptor.

The games depicted 6,011 character deaths from violence, 145 per hour; of these, 4,268 were human deaths, 104 per hour.

Sexual themes were depicted in 13 of the 36 games, but only five were so labeled. Profanity was found in 24 games, but only 11 were labeled. And the use of illicit drugs was noted in 21 games, but only one game listed such on the descriptor.

The study found nearly all ‘M'-rated and ‘T'-rated (13 and older) games contain violence, although ‘T'-rated games contain a higher percentage of gameplay violence, but ‘M'-rated games have more depictions of blood. And ‘M'-rated games more likely to contain unlabeled content.By playing each game for one hour, the researches reported observing 90% of the content indicated by the ESRB.

“Parents should not interpret the absence of a content descriptor to mean the absence of content,” the study warned.

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