Undercover Shop Finds Decrease in Sales of M-Rated Video Games to Children

Results from the 2005 Nationwide Undercover Shop Demonstrate Need for Continuing Improvement

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today released the results of its latest nationwide undercover shop of electronic and video game stores. The FTC conducted the shop to collect data on the extent to which retailers prevent children from buying video games that have been rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as Mature. The FTC also announced a second comment period for an upcoming survey on awareness of and attitudes towards ESRB ratings.

The undercover shop saw a decrease in the number of M-Rated (for “Mature”) video games sold to unaccompanied children. Video games rated “M” by the ESRB contain content appropriate for those 17 and older. Forty-two percent of the secret shoppers – children between the ages of 13 and 16 – who attempted to buy an M-rated video game without a parent were able to purchase one. In the 2003 shop, 69 percent of the shoppers were able to buy one. National sellers were much more likely to restrict sales of M-rated games. Only 35 percent of the secret shoppers were able to purchase such games there. Regional or local sellers sold M-rated games to the shoppers more frequently – 63 percent of the time. The shop also marked other improvements by retailers, compared with results from the previous undercover shops by the FTC.

Nationwide Undercover Survey Results:

Was the shopper able to buy the M-rated video game? (Percent "Yes")

2000

2001

2003

2005

85%

78%

69%

42%

Did the electronic game store provide information about ratings or ratings enforcement?
(Percent "Yes")

2000

2001

2003

2005

12%

26%

27%

44%

Did the cashier or clerk ask the child’s age? (Percent "Yes")

2000

2001

2003

2005

15%

21%

24%

50%

2005 Survey Results for National and Local and Regional Retailers (Percent "Yes")

Able to Buy an
M-Rated Game

Information Posted
About Ratings

Asked Their Age

National

35%

51%

55%

Local and Regional

63%

23%

35%

The shop, conducted between October 2005 and January 2006, involved 406 stores in 43 states selling electronic or video games. Three hundred and six of the stores were national retailers, while the other 100 were local and regional sellers.

The undercover shop is the fourth conducted in connection with the Commission’s reports on the marketing of violent entertainment media to children. The Commission plans to conduct another undercover shop later this year to test whether young shoppers are able to buy tickets to R-rated films at movie theaters, R-rated movies on DVD, explicit-content labeled music recordings, and M-rated video games.

The FTC also announced today that is has published a Federal Register notice seeking public comment on proposed consumer surveys. The surveys are a follow-up to the Commission’s surveys in 2000 on consumers’ familiarity with and use of the ESRB electronic game rating system. The Commission is proposing to survey both parents and children to find out whether, among other things, parental participation in the selection and purchase of video games has changed since the 2000 survey, parental knowledge and use of the ESRB system has changed, and what parents’ level of agreement is with the ESRB ratings for games they have personally encountered through purchase or play with their children. The FTC intends to survey parents who have one or more children, aged eight to 16 who play video games or personal computer games. The FTC will also survey children aged eight to 16 who play video or personal computer games. The request for public comment, which is required under the Paperwork Reduction Act, was published in the Federal Register on March 30.

Copies of the Federal Register notice are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Contact Information

Media Contact:
FTC Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2180
Staff Contact:

Richard Quaresima
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3130