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Parents TV Council Criticizes 'Abysmal' ESRB Retail Compliance
Parents TV Council Criticizes 'Abysmal' ESRB Retail Compliance
October 27, 2010 | By Kris Graft

October 27, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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    32 comments
More: Console/PC



Parental advocate group the Parents Television Council this week criticized retailers' "abysmal" performance in enforcing Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings.

The group issued a "PTC Action Alert" this week covering the results of a "secret shopper" study that sent 109 "activists" aged 12 to 16 on 109 visits to local stores in 14 markets across 11 U.S. states.

In 21 of those visits, or 19 percent, the retailer was willing to sell an M-rated game, meant for ages 17 and up, to the underage customers. That's an improvement over the PTC's 2008 secret shopper survey, which found roughly 35 percent of retailers not enforcing the ESRB's ratings.

In a 2009 Federal Trade Commission study, regulators found a similar 20 percent rate of retail non-compliance with the ESRB's ratings, but noted the game business still "outpaces" other entertainment industries in self-regulation of mature-themed content.

"Compliance with ESRB guidelines -- even by the ESRB's own retail partners -- has hardly improved in two years," the PTC said. "With such an abysmal performance rate by the video game retailers, it is no wonder that statehouses around the country have passed legislation on this issue."

[UPDATE: In a statement, ESRB Director of Communications Eliot Mizrachi criticized the PTC's study while praising the industry's retail efforts to stop improper sales of adult-rated games.

“Altogether, retailers’ rate of restriction for Mature-rated games is the highest of any entertainment product tested by the Federal Trade Commission, including DVDs, CDs and admittance to R-rated films in theaters," he said. “Putting aside their questionable methodology – which precludes their studies from being compared to those commissioned by the FTC - the Parent Television Council’s mystery shopper results actually reveal significant improvement despite their efforts to disguise that fact."

"Frankly, the latest PTC member sting operation actually verifies the effectiveness of the ESRB rating system and the ever-increasing support it receives from retailers,” he continued.]

The results of the secret shopper sting come less than a week before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Schwarzenegger vs. EMA, which will decide the fate of a California law seeking to place government-mandated restrictions on the sale of video games to minors.

Enforcement of the bill was immediately halted after it was signed into law by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005. The law was then blocked by a U.S. District Court Judge in 2007, deemed unconstitutional by the California 9th Circuit Court in 2009 and is now up for U.S. Supreme Court review.

Opponents of the bill argue that similar laws have been struck down in the past on free speech grounds, while supporters of the measure say violent games harm the psychological well-being of children, and therefore must be regulated by the government.

"The industry’s PR spin about how ratings empower parents is specious if unaccompanied minors are able to purchase adult-rated games," said PTC president Tim Winter in a statement. "Parents deserve to be assured that reasonable age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level."

Winter continued, "A California law that would simply put consequences in place for retailers who sell exceedingly violent games to minors has been fought tooth and nail by the gaming industry and will come before the U.S. Supreme Court in a matter of days. We urge the Court to uphold the California law and heed the calls of concerned parents by requiring retailers to check IDs."

A detailed breakdown of the results of the PTC's latest study are shown below:

SSChart2010.gif


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Comments


Alan Rimkeit
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"Opponents of the bill argue that similar laws have been struck down in the past on free speech grounds, while supporters of the measure say violent games harm the psychological well-being of children, and therefore must be regulated by the government."



Please show real double blind studies done over a longer period of time(over 5+ years) backed up by being recreated in opposing studies all backed by the scientific method. Otherwise it is all hype and BS.....



And if video games did get singled out then they also need to make it illegal to sell mature rated books, movies, and music to minors as well! Equal treatment for all media!

Lance Burkett
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Here Here

Christer Kaitila
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"With such an abysmal performance rate by the video game retailers, it is no wonder that statehouses around the country have passed legislation on this issue."



Just in time for the Nov. 2 court date... What a sleazy press release. Pure propaganda. If you carefully read the numbers, it proves things are improving and that ESRB ratings DO work.

Alan Rimkeit
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It is an election year. Mud will be slung no matter what and people fall for political BS every time. Yee is doing this to help out the Dems because they are getting hosed by the Republicans. Not that I like either, but that is opportunistic politics for you!

David Delanty
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I was just going to point that out. Why are these guys calling the performance abysmal? The rate at which minors could acquire mature content games has been cut in half.



In! Half!



A 48% decrease over the course of two years, coupled with the explosive expansion of retail outlets like Gamestop, this self-righteous "council" of parents should be lauding and complimenting the industry!



I'm just flat out confused by these kinds of people. We're doing way better than every other entertainment medium at restricting minors from purchasing mature content, yet we still get beat the hardest. Flat. Out. Confused.

Tom Baird
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Because they are not interested in the ESRB's performance. They are trying to push the California bill, and thought distorting the findings of their survey was a good idea, once it showed results they didn't want.

David Delanty
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@Tom.



So it's just like what I pointed out earlier when the bill's author Yee outright lied about there being no warning on video games that they contained violence. Yee stated there were no warnings, even though the ESRB label is displayed (with a listing of what mature content will appear, violence, vulgarity, nudity, etc.) on the box, the manual, every advertisement for the game (both still medium and trailer format), and at the front end of the game itself.



These guys are trying to support the bill, but by distorting facts so egregiously, they're just going to get their efforts tossed out in a court of law.



It's nothing but fabricated lies and inconsistencies! That's why this bill must fail. Agree with the bill or not, we do not pass legislation by making up a bunch of stuff and ignoring reality. At this point, it has gotten so absurd just how far the bills backers are going to make their case. Just absurd.

Briahna Russell
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I wish they would stop demanding that retailers be responsible for who gets the game. Why don't we penalize the people who buy them when they're underage, like we do for cigarettes and alcohol (although both are penalized, the point is that the buyer bears the blame too), which actually DO have proven negative consequences on people that use them?

E Zachary Knight
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Because games do not have a proven harm to the user? That seems like a good reason why we do not punish people who sell games to or buy games for a minor.



If games did have a proven harm similar to alcohol and tobacco, I could see a need to punish those who provide games to minors. But until then, no.

Alan Rimkeit
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EXACTLY

Briahna Russell
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I'm aware that nobody's managed to prove that idiotic claim; however, I can't see any real, effective way to actually make it work (that isn't "stop trying to legislate it").



I just hate that they're trying to lay all the blame and all the responsibility squarely on the retailers and not on the consumer.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Briahna Russell - Agreed, clearly this is a parenting issue and not a legal one.

E Zachary Knight
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For those who want to know, here are the results of the 2008 FTC study mentioned in the article:



http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2008/05/secretshop.shtm



2008 saw only 20% of kids being able to buy M rated games. Gamestop specifically blocked all but 6% of kids from buying M rated games. The worst offenders were Hollywood Video at 40% followed closely by Circuit City at 38% (note, both chains are for all intents and purposes dead at this point).



Some more interesting comparisons:



From the 2008 FTC study, Walmart and Gamestop on their own had more stores tested than all stores tested by the PTC in this study.



The 2008 FTC study had a total of 253 stores tested.



The FTC saw dramatic improvement in their M rated games sales enforcement compared to their 2006 study, 20% and 42% respectively.

Alan Rimkeit
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ROFL....

Alan Rimkeit
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double post....

Tom Baird
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"Compliance with ESRB guidelines -- even by the ESRB's own retail partners -- has hardly improved in two years,"



But their own findings note that in only 2 years there was an 46% decrease in sales to minors. In what Mad World is 46% hardly improved? They couldn't get the result they wanted so they resort to using distorted language.

Paopao Saul
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(smiles) Was that a Mad World pun?

Its very obvious that what PTC set out to do with this charade is to prove the ESRB doesn't work. They already had a preconceived notion as to what the outcome of this study will be. When the numbers did not support their claims, instead of giving credit to the ESRB, they belittled the results. Just speculation of course, but its pretty sad how massive these misinformation networks have grown...

Maurício Gomes
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If that is abysmal, I wonder what word to use to movies and other media that even more minors can get stuff that they should not.

David Delanty
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Hilarious.

Evan Combs
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Wasn't there a study posted not that long ago that said the video game industry did far better than any other industry at restricting minors from buying or viewing any material rated for only adults? I believe it was posted on Gamasutra.

Mark Harris
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Yup, that's the FTC study that Ephriam references above. All evidence suggests that the ESRB works very well, and that we outpace all other media in voluntary compliance with age restrictions.

Kyle Orland
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We linked to that in the fourth paragraph of the story, Evan:



http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/26369/FTC_Game_Business_Outpac
es_Other_Industries_In_Content_Guidance.php

Mary Brady
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"The industry’s PR spin about how ratings empower parents is specious if unaccompanied minors are able to purchase adult-rated games,"



Maybe they wouldn't be "unaccompanied" if the parents actually did their job and, you know, parent their child(ren).



Once again a case of soccer moms trying to ruin it for everyone when the real problem is them for being horrible parents.

Dave Dundy
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Maybe someone should let these geniuses know that the ESRB doesn't work at Toys R Us and Gamestop to prevent children from buying games. That's the job of the people who work at these stores. This coming from the same council that allows complete garbage on TV that probably makes kids dumber for watching. Please.....

Daniel Martinez
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Why are we so sheltered?

Tomer Chasid
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because parents have a great fear that if they don't control what their children see and hear than they are bad parents. They are unwilling to recognize the fact that they cannot control their kids to every extent. Its actually a form of abuse, whether they realize it or not.

Alan Rimkeit
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As a parent I agree completely.

Mary Brady
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Agree. My parents did that a lot when I was little. Mainly my mom.

Eric Geer
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1. US needs to stop trying to regulate everything--the more they regulate--the more problems we end up running into



2. How would a 12 to 16 year old get to many of these locations? From my living experience, these type of stores are not walkable distance from anything--so they must be driven--as they are not 17(driving age) So it would I guess either be a Parent or maybe a friend(if you were 16)---17 year olds are generally too cool for 15 Year olds or less. All the same their results are an EPIC FAIL and their purpose is even more so.



3. Anyone going down to Supreme Court on Nov. 2?---I'll be there. I'm quite excited to see the OpFor--oh silly soccer moms and overly conservative people---you make me giggle.

Tomer Chasid
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I would be careful when talking about deregulation. it causes major catastrophies in many cases. Most of the time executives are making guesses based on very little data or data they choose to ignore ... see BP, Exxon for more extreme examples.

Alan Rimkeit
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Eric did not say "deregulation" in a business sense. I do believe he meant the idea of not regulating things, such as ending Prohibition. At least that is what I got from his post.



Because anyone who studies history knows what a winner public legal policy Prohibition was. Prohibiting things people want to do is always a bad idea and a waste of tax dollars.

Tomer Chasid
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These types of studies are harmful to the parent-child relationship. For one, they decrease the responsibility of parents to deal with their kids getting their hands on material that is deemed inappropriate for their age. Parents can't control their kids, they can only influence them, but that doesn't stop parents from buying into this notion that there other entities more powerful than them that can pick up part of the parenting work. again, it is a form of abuse.


none
 
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