It’s a Mystery: Underage Game Sales in the U.K.

In the United States, secret shopper surveys conducted by the Federal Trade Commission offer a pretty clear idea of how well the video game industry is doing at enforcing ESRB ratings.

But, how often are mature games sold to minors in the U.K.?

No one really knows.

Unlike in the United States, in the UK, BBFC ratings are backed by force of law. But, according to Spong, the British government doesn’t collect data concerning inappropriate game sales to minors.  When questioned about the number of retailers selling video games or DVDs to underage customers over the years, U.K. Labour government minister Vernon Coaker said:

Information on the number of recorded offences of retailers selling video games or DVDs to underage customers is not collected centrally. This is a summary offence and is not included in the police recorded crime statistics.

While Coaker was able to obtain data on “the number of police cautions issued, the number of fines imposed and the average fine,” these figures include both DVD and video game sales.
-Reporting from San Diego, GamePolitics correspondent Andrew Eisen.


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  1. 0
    tony selby says:

    to be fair Jack actually just shot his own hole into his views on legislating games in the US

    one of the biggest hurdles facing legislative laws on games aside from the first amendment, is simply the fact that they would be impossible or nearly so to enforce, as Jack has deminstated by stating that sting after sting found that UK retailers sell the games to minors despite the laws that are supposed to forbid them to

    which of course brings the question of how Jack would have ever planed to have the police enforce his laws

  2. 0
    Kincyr says:

    If U.K. Labour government minister Vernon Coaker bothered to use Google once in a while,…

    fixed it for you, jackass

    Oh, and Dennis’ journalist status and EZK’s Mormon status are genuine, which is more then I can say about your Christianity and soon, your lawyer status

    岩「…Ace beats Jack」

  3. 0
    DavCube says:

    News Flash, Mr. Thompson: This is a USA-based site. You are an attorney IN the USA. Kindly attempt to focus on USA matters, not UK ones, to further your cause. Or Canadian. Or Thailandish. (if that’s the correct term…)

    More than that, you should be focussing on trying to save your carreer instead of talking to a bunch of ‘nobodies’ on a freaking internet blog.

    You have 8 days, Mr. Thompson. TICK TOCK.

  4. 0
    Erik says:

    Gee, that story looks familiar.  Almost like I read it somewhere else before.  Oh yeah:

    Showing you to be a moron never gets old Jack.  But honestly, this current story isn’t refering to one piddly sting.  It is refering to all of UK and the criminal statistics on those charged with breaking said laws.  I know you are all about "stings", but ultimately theyare pretty moot.  Enjoy your retirement.

    Edit: But it is reassuring to hear you say that law backed ratings don’t work.  Will you be dropping this usless charade of a crusade now?

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  5. 0
    Jack Thompson Attorney and You Are Not says:

    Sting after sting in the UK shows that sales of games with 18 Certificates to minors are still occurring.

    If Dennis McCauley bothered to use Google once in a while, he would have found the following at Kotaku, which compared to GP is an actualy news site as opposed to an ECA whore.  The only "mystery" here is why Dennis McCauley hasn’t been arrested for impersonating a journalist and his Moderator not arrested for impersonating a Mormon:

    Trading Standards officers in Plymouth, England has used all the wit and wiles at their disposal to uncover a chilling fact – Plymouth merchants are selling children violent video games, and knives. Out of 34 shops tested using 16-year-old spies, five out of nine sold the underage teens violent games 

  6. 0
    SticKboy says:

    I was intimating that I don’t entirely disagree with you – in fact, you’ve convinced me to share your opinion across many points. So, as I said above, I presently have no conclusive opinion about the value of certification per se; despite the fact I think that certain ratings methodologies seem more comprehensive than others.

  7. 0
    SticKboy says:

    On the one hand, I totally agree with you. Science is only empirical barometer of truth, after all.

    On the other hand, I really don’t like the idea of chavs getting fresh ideas for ASBOs from Manhunt 2. Does this happen? Well, who here can say for sure? That’s just my instinctual, emotive reaction.

    And thus, with both Erik’s and Father Time’s words fresh in my memory, I have no conclusive opinion on this subject. I’d defer to GusTav2 (if he’s around…)

  8. 0
    Matriculated says:

    I would think that most people would agree that it’s not suitable for young children to be playing games like Manhunt. What age is it acceptable for kids to play games like that? That’s entirely up for debate and also is dependent on each individual child.


    Unfortunately the BBFC or PEGI can’t review each individual sale that’s made so they need to draw a line somewhere. Should the 15 and 18 lines be lowered? Perhaps. A 6 year old shouldn’t be playing GTA but I don’t see why a 14 year old couldn’t. At the very least they should scrap the 18 rating altogether and introduce a 16. In the UK you are able to have consenting sex and (up until last year) smoke cigarettes but you aren’t allowed legally buy Grand Theft Auto.

  9. 0
    Bennett Beeny says:

    I still don’t get why many so-called game advocates here are so willing to cede the high ground to the enemy and repeat the anti-videogame mantra that violent video games shouldn’t be in the hands of kids when there is NOT ONE scientific peer-reviewed study saying that violent videogames are in the least bit harmful to children.

    Saying that videogames are harmful to kids is like saying apple pie is harmful to kids.  Not one study agrees with either notion, but I guess if you claim that apple pies are harmful often enough, even apple pie lovers will want to keep apple pies away from kids.

    A knife is harmful, but videogames aren’t.  The only way to make videogames harmful is by fashioning the DVD on which they’re stored into a makeshift shiv.

  10. 0
    Bigman-K says:

    I agree with you on that one. I find the idea of restricting or censoring access to Free Speech media from teenagers (lets say those 14+ and in high school) esspecially when it’s done through government force of law as rather rediculous, purposeless and sad.

    It’s my opinion that those nearing adulthood should have the ability to form their own viewpoints based on unrestricted and uncensored access to materials that presents ideas, information, messages and opinions.  To do otherwise would leave their minds a blank as well as leave them unable to cope with the real world as we know it.                   


    "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  11. 0
    darkenchanter says:

    It’s far too early to be lowering ratings from 16 to 18. The first thing we need is to get ALL games passed with a rating.


    Joining the Manhunt 2 rush on the 31st!

  12. 0
    ezbiker555 says:

    Hahah, Jack, epic fail. The only fake here is you! Denis is more of a man than you will be becasue he has the balls to speak the truth about whats going with the video game industry. Not you, no, you just point the finger and never admit any truth. so shut your mouth.

    If anyone should be arrested, it you jack.

  13. 0
    SticKboy says:

    What a load of rubbish!

    WTF is a "non-standard ratings process"? Can you give an example of a "standard" ratings process? What makes it standard? By whose standards are you abiding?

    How would using PEGI in the UK make it easier for a company like Codemasters or Eidos to sell games in Europe? Unless you’re talking about individual developers, in wjhich case you’ve really lost the plot!

    Exactly how does Dr Byron’s report intersect with the argument for tax breaks (not exemptions!)? I fear you’re conflating the two (very seperate) issues.

    What is your evidence to suggest the videogames industry in the UK has banded togather? ‘Cos there have been a few quotes from Tiga in the press? Pur-leeze…

  14. 0
    TheSurRealFakeJackThompson says:

    Actually many of the game publishers and developers in the UK favor ditching BBFC and going solely with PEGI due to BBFC’s long history of nonstandard ratings processes. PEGI also makes it easier for the UK game industry to sell throughout europe. 

    THis entire brouaha has come to a head with both the Byron Report and demands for tax exempt status that movies enjoy to be extended to games.

    It has motivated the industry in the UK to band together and move on this.



  15. 0
    Canary Wundaboy says:


    I just started my Xmas job at Gamestation, the manager and assistant manager spent a full hour hammering the procedures and ramifications of age verification and trading standards checks, with the help of a DVD as well.

    Trading standards carry out regular checks on all age related products, not just films and videogames but also alcohol and cigarette sales. For overall UK data it would be advisable to contact Trading Standards directly and ask.

  16. 0
    Tony says:

    He’s not saying there are no statistics, only that it’s a local matter.  Trading Standards will be regularly carrying out checks on shops and making sure they’re adhering to the rules.  The reason it gets merged into the DVD/Video statistics is it’s exactly the same process and probably the same people doing it as well.  Why should central government care about something so minor?

    From my experience the shops are pretty rigid on not selling to minors.  They’ll happily sell to parents who then hand the game to their underage child, but that’s not the shop’s problem so they don’t have to care about it (and prosecuting parents for this is generally considered bad press so isn’t done).


  17. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    Just to be clear, this line:

    "But, how often are mature games sold to minors in the U.K.?"

    …is not referring to games rated "Mature" by the ESRB.


    Andrew Eisen

  18. 0
    GusTav2 says:

    Not to mention that as there are not ‘Mature’ games in the UK it unlikely that any are sold to minors.

    Each local Trading Standards will have mystery shopping data on compliance with the 18, 15 and 12 classifications. I’ve seen a few stories in the local press about this. They also enforce the age restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, solvents etc.

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