Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC Secret Shopper Survey

March 25, 2013 -

The Federal Trade Commission today released the results of its "Secret Shopper Survey" to test whether retailers were doing their part to keep adult entertainment out of the hands of children. The results of that survey are here, but the take-away is that retailers are continuing to self-police - without government intervention, I might add - just who buys video games, music and other entertainment.

While the FTC says that there is room for improvement, it also pointed out that only 13% of its underage shoppers were able to purchase M-rated video games, while a historic low of 24 percent were able to purchase tickets to R-rated movies. In addition, for the first time since the FTC began its mystery shop program in 2000, music retailers turned away more than half of the undercover shoppers. DVD retailers also demonstrated steady improvement, permitting less than one-third of child shoppers to purchase R-rated DVDs and unrated DVDs of movies that had been rated R for theaters.

“Our underage shopper survey shows continued progress in reducing sales,” said Charles Harwood, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But retailers can still strengthen their commitment to limit children’s access to products that are rated or labeled as potentially inappropriate for them.”

The FTC arranged for 13- to 16-year-olds unaccompanied by a parent to attempt to buy R-rated movie tickets; R-rated DVDs; unrated DVDs that were R-rated when first released in theaters; music CDs carrying a Parental Advisory Label (PAL) that warns of explicit content; and video games rated “M.” During April and June of 2012, these teenagers attempted to buy these products. Here are the results:

Movie tickets: the FTC says that ratings enforcement at the movie box office is at its highest level since the FTC began its mystery shopper program in 2000, with less than one-quarter of underage shoppers able to buy a ticket to an R-rated movie - down from one-third in 2010.

Movie DVDs: Thirty percent of shoppers were able to purchase R-rated DVDs compared to 38 percent in 2010, and 30 percent were able to buy unrated DVDs, down from 47 percent in 2010.

Music CDs: Less than half of underage shoppers (47 percent) were able to purchase CDs with Parental Advisory label, down from 64 percent in 2010 and 72 percent in 2009.

Video games: The number remained unchanged from 2010, with 13 percent of underage teenage shoppers able to buy M-rated video games – the highest level of compliance among the industries.

Once again the video game industry and retailers show that the ratings system and the methods for enforcement continue to be the best of all the systems for entertainment in the United States.

So who was the best at turning away under-age gamers? Target. Breaking the data down among the major retailers tested, four of the six major game retailers refused to sell M-rated games to 90 percent or more of the underage shoppers. Target registered an impressive 100 percent enforcement rate for all 37 undercover shops, the first time a major retailer has accomplished this feat in any category when shopped on more than ten occasions.



Re: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

I was actually predicting enforcement would be more lax after Brown v. EMA, now that the retailers don't have the threat of government regulation hanging over their heads.

Re: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

This secret shopper survey kind of seems like a waste of taxpayers money to me. Also, it's not like teenagers won't be able to find that stuff on the internet anyways. And for free at that. Not saying it's a good or bad thing. Just telling it like it is.

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

Re: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

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: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

That would be some good information to have. It might explain why some retailers still sell to underage buyers. Perhaps the majority of M rated games sales are to the 16 year-olds while other younger age groups have a 100% enforcement rating.

Re: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

Target got 100% because they when ask for your ID, they swipe the ID into the register like a credit/debit card.

A little surprised that the video game rate stayed the same at 13%(expected it to be a little lower), but at least it was still better than the movie and music rates.

Geaux Saints, Geaux Tigers, Geaux Pelicans. Even through the darkest days, this fire burns always.

Re: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

What is really interesting is that Target seems to be singling out M rated games. Its enforcement rate on R DVDs is 50% and Unrated DVDs is at 56%. Meaning that 44% of underage kids can still buy unrated movies. Why the difference in policy, I don't know.

Re: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

That's easy.  It's because movies are wholesome entertainment while video games are the work of the devil.


Chris Kimberley

Re: Video Game Retailers Receive High Marks from 2012 FTC ...

I'm thinking it's more of that the newer games have to be bought back in the electronic area vs up at the front of the store registers. Because at Target the newer, higher price point, games are behind locked glass.

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