FTC Undercover Shopper Survey Gives Highest Marks to Video Game Retailers

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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