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

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.


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