FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to Video Game Retailers

April 20, 2011 -

The latest Federal Trade Commission undercover shopper survey found that video game retailers continue to enforce the sale of "M-Rated" games to minors better than any other industry. Overall, sales of R-rated movie tickets, R-rated movie DVDs, unrated DVDs, music CDs carrying a Parental Advisory Label (PAL) that warns of explicit content, and video games rated "M" to minors were on the decline.

"Our undercover shopper survey demonstrates some progress," said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But more needs to be done."

The FTC recruited 13- to 16-year-olds, unaccompanied by a parent, to attempt to buy media content that was not appropriate for their age groups. The undercover secret shopper program ran from November 2010 to January 2011. Teenagers attempted to buy these products from national and regional chain stores and theaters across the United States.

The survey found that music CD retailers lagged far behind movie theaters, as well as movie DVD and video game retailers, in preventing unaccompanied children under the age of 17 from purchasing mature content. Nearly two-thirds of teen shoppers (64 percent) were able to purchase CDs with a PAL label, down from 72 percent in 2009. There was no statistical change in ratings enforcement at the movie box office. One-third of underage shoppers bought a ticket to an R-rated movie, up slightly from 28 percent in 2009.

Retailers of R-rated and unrated DVDs showed improvement in ratings enforcement. Thirty-eight percent of shoppers purchased R-rated DVDs, compared to 54 percent in 2009. Forty-seven percent purchased unrated DVDs, down from 58 percent in 2009.

Video game retailers continued to improve enforcement and were the most effective in turning teen shoppers away who were seeking "M" rated video games. Only 13 percent of teens were able to buy an "M" rated game, compared to 20 percent last time the FTC conducted a secret shopper survey.

Focusing on video games for a moment, the worst retailer in the bunch was Walmart and the best was Target. Walmart had a 20 percent failure rate, followed by Best Buy with 16 percent, Toys R Us and Kmart tied at 10 percent, GameStop at 9 percent and Target at 8 percent.

These findings are certainly bad news for anti-game groups who would like the public to believe that teens have easy access to "Mature" rated content without adult intervention.

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Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

"These findings are certainly bad news for anti-game groups who would like the public to believe that teens have easy access to "Mature" rated content without adult intervention."

You wish.  We all know full well that they will give that 13% figure with absolutely no context, and play it up as if it is huge.  That is, if they even bother using real research and statistics for once.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

The rate of minors getting M-rated games(13%) fell by almost half(down 35%) compared to the last FTC report(20%).

Survey says: One more for the good guys.

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Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

I'm kind of blown away that best buy was worst after walmart, every time I went in there when I was in high school they asked for ID.

-Austin from Oregon

Feel free to check out my blog.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

I'm betting the EMA case had a lot to do with retailers putting out the strongest numbers yet. They want to ensure that voluntary restrictions work to convince the Court that legislation is not necessary.

Of course, I've said it before, let's see how well the retailers do if the Court rules the law unconstitutional and says that violence cannot be restricted.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

Hm.  You think these numbers will affect the ruling?  I'd say it's a little late for that -- though fortunately the numbers last time out were pretty good too.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

I'm more inclined to believe the ruling will affect the numbers. If the court says that restricting sales through legislation is unconstitutional, retailers will not have the incentive to enforce the ratings anymore, since they made that commitment to stave off attempts at regulation.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

Then that's a fool move at it still won't be the last attempt at regulation.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

What I want to know is the age breakdown.  How does the age of the shopper correlate with the refusal of the sale?


Andrew Eisen

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

Seconded.  I'm sure more 16-year-olds got M-rated games than 13-year-olds, but I'd like to see the numbers.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

Here is the link to their summary and press release:


One thing to note is that Gamestop actually got wors this time around. The 2009 report showed kids being able to buy M rated games 5% of the time at Gamestop and 9% of the time in 2010. I wonder if the FTC sent more 16 year olds there this year.

E. Zachary Knight
Divine Knight Gaming

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

Until video games reach 5% or less, anti-game groups will still complain that it's corrupting the "children", even though M rated sale have had a steady decline in sale to minors. And I honestly believe that the anti-game groups will just use the year old data to say 1 in 5 M rated game make it into the hands of minors.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

more like 0%... until then, they will continue to insist video games need to be legally enforced, despite the fact that legal enforcement would not lower those percentages much more if at all. Though even that won't shut up the most zealous anti-game mouth pieces

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

You really think they'd be quiet even if it were at 0%?

The only thing that's going to get them to stop going after games is a newer medium to be afraid of.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

That, and they keep ignoring that other rating systems do NOT carry the force of law.

Re: FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to ...

BOOYAH!  Suck on it, all other forms of media!

...Err, I mean, another splendid display of tact and restraint on the part of gaming retailers, yes yes.



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