To investigate how successful industry enforcement is in digital entertainment, the Federal Trade Commission runs a yearly “secret shopper” study, in which they hire 13-16 year olds to try to get into R-rated movies and buy mature rated media such as R-rated/unrated DVDs, CDs carrying parental advisory labels, and M-rated videogames. The study showed mixed results through the different forms of media. Sixty-four percent of teen shoppers who tried to buy CDs with the PAL label were successful. R-rated DVDs fared a little better with 38%, and box offices allowed about a third of the teens in the study into R-rated movies. The most successful segment left the others in the dust, and that segment was videogames. Game retailers only allowed 13% of their shoppers looking for M-rated games to get their hands on them. That 13% figure is incredible, and a vast improvement over the 20% mark from the FTC’s last similar study.
Perhaps this could turn the tide with anti-game groups? According to the official FTC report on this year’s study, their arguments hold less and less ground every year since every iteration of the FTC study shows higher levels of enforcement. These results have seemed to already have made some impact. Family advocacy group Common Sense Media is praising the efforts of retailers to enforce ESRB ratings in the Los Angeles Times, but not without adding their opinion as well, "It’s good to see signs that retailers are making progress on enforcing the ESRB ratings about content that’s not designed for kids," said Alan Simpson, vice president of policy for Common Sense Media. The VP of the advocacy group in San Francisco added, "But as the FTC points out, there is more work to be done. The study is a reminder of how important it is to have adults making sure that unaccompanied kids aren't purchasing M-rated games – and it raises serious questions about the ESRB’s troubling decision to use computers, instead of adults, to auto-rate downloadable games.”
I’m interested to see how this report will affect the outcome of the videogame laws in California, a high profile case which is still in limbo. And, on a personal note to the FTC, if you’re looking to offload some of those games you picked up during the study, you know where to find me.
… Fine, you can play too.