The video game industry, desperate for good news of late, got some today.
The Federal Trade Commission this morning released results of its "2005 Nationwide Undercover Shop," a broad investigation into the issue of how well video game retailers follow the industry's voluntary ratings guidelines.
The key question, of course, is how readily children were able to purchase M-rated games. As reported by the FTC:
"The undercover shop saw a decrease in the number of M-Rated 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."
The report concluded that national chains were "much more likely" to block underage sales of M-rated games. Only 35 percent of secret shoppers were able to buy from national retailers. Local and regional stores fared much worse, selling the game to too-young buyers 63% of the time.
The FTC investigation was conducted between October 2005 and January 2006 and saw secret shoppers visit game retailers in 43 states. 306 stores targeted belonged to national chains, while 100 were local or regional.
The FTC also announced today that it is studying the idea of conducting consumer and parent surveys regarding the use and effectiveness of the ESRB rating.
GP: The FTC results are a mixed blessing for the industry. Ratings compliance continues to improve dramatically among the large retailers. Even so, a 35% failure rate leaves room for improvement - and provides some ammunition for critics as well. The 63% failure rate for local/regional stores is a greater concern, of course.