Parents TV Council criticizes 'abysmal' ESRB retail compliance

The Parents Television Council has issued a PTC Alert this week based on a secret shopper ‘sting operation,' meant to verify retailer compliance with ESRB ratings. Secret shoppers aged 12 - 16 were sent to 109 stores in 11 states where they attempted to buy ‘M’ rated games (for ages 17+) without adult escort. The PTC was not happy with the results. Citing that 21 of the venues (~19%) were willing to sell ‘M’ rated games to minors, the PTC has accused retailers of ‘abysmal’ compliance with ESRB standards despite the improvement of over 35% non-enforcement from 2008.

Above: PTC findings table

Alternately a Federal Trade Commission study from 2009 also found a roughly 20% ESRB non-compliance ratio among retailers, but noted that video games still outpace other entertainment mediums in self-regulation.

Above: FTC findings table

This 'study' comes less than a week before the Supreme Court hears arguments for the Schwarzenegger v. EMA suit to rule on the infamous California Video Game Law, which will determine whether or not minors will be legally allowed to purchase certain violent video games.

"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. 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."

ESRB’s Director of Communication, Eliot Mizrachi, sees things quite differently: “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. 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."

Yet again, we urge you to read up on Schwarzenegger v. EMA to better understand how it could affect our freedom to produce and play games (see the Video Game Voters Network's angle, for starters).

[Source: Gamasutra]

Oct 28, 2010


  • kurtzhair - November 7, 2010 5:34 a.m.

    What bothers me about this legislation is the potential for taxpayers' money to be wasted on such a trivial thing, and its seeming consideration of games as an artistic medium somehow less worthy of legitimacy and respect than others.
  • stevenbrianp - October 29, 2010 3:56 p.m.

    It isn't the fault of the companies selling these games to minors. The company can put out all the policy they want. They probably do care, but who doesn't care is the common salesperson standing at a register making 10$ per hour. It's just another barcode to them. They don't care if an 8 year buys a mature rated game. Why should they? I wouldn' if I had to live off that little money.
  • Heyexclamationpoint - October 29, 2010 4:58 a.m.

    I for one fully support minors playing morally depraved violent video games, which hopefully in turn will turn them into raving sociopaths and wreck havoc on our otherwise wonderful utopia. Hey, I get bored easily and I need entertainment.
  • Flux530 - October 29, 2010 3:52 a.m.

    The irony is, if you crunch the numbers, you'll find that the total noncompliance rate of the PTC study for 2010 is actually 15%. Last time I checked, 15% is less than 20%, right?
  • Pyrovizard - October 29, 2010 2:41 a.m.

    @Crabhand that's it in a nutshell so to speak
  • Crabhand - October 29, 2010 2:25 a.m.

    How the fuck are Kmart/Sears doing so badly? You'll notice how the most notorious game shop in the country has always had the lowest rates. I would guess that it's because they're actually INVOLVED IN THE INDUSTRY. It's not the government's responsibility to to regulate this shit when THE FUCKING DEPARTMENT STORES need to hire managers and cashiers who will enforce the ESRB ratings. And these retailers don't sell adult video games. If the PTC doesn't know the difference between MA and AO, they have no right to demand shit. Parents who don't regulate their child's entertainment and then complain about it and demand laws to make up for their failures are absolutely ridiculous. Instead of campaigning like a bunch of fucking morons, they should try spending time with their kids.
  • Shenlong4517 - October 29, 2010 1:45 a.m.

    Shouldn't the PTC be worrying about other things? Say, like their name suggests, television? A five year old could probably download some porn flick off a pay-per view service if it wanted to.
  • oneshotfinch - October 29, 2010 1:15 a.m.

    21 or less stores isn't a big enough network. I suspect that the Parents TV Council picked the least amount of stores just so they could produce stats that would support their view.
  • RebornKusabi - October 29, 2010 12:15 a.m.

    What hasn't been commented on here (on this site at least... The Escapist forum thread about this is more in depth about it) is that this isn't just an American thing and anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. The repercussions of this law could, admittedly at a worse case scenario but still, do a hell of a lot more damage than just stomp all over a flimsy age-old document that only matters to USA gamers. This law passing will actually affect the entire industry outside of consumers. Retailers will not sell M-rated games for fear of government crackdown and if they do, they'll not only sell them "behind the counter" (meaning non-visibly a la porn movies and mags) but advertising for them will effectively cease and the worse will happen as well. Say hello to, like movies have been doing (well, ones that don't start with Saw), all M-rated games getting edited down to T-ratings reach a broader audience and sell better than the invisible and behind the counter M-rated games. Lastly, what most people outside of the U.S. also don't realize, since most of the business in the games industry are done in the USA, as shown by the Japanese moving their development mentalities to the West, if the US undergoes these repercussions, what exactly do you think will happen to you? My advice? Like the end of this article said, go get educated before you simply assume this'll be a simple rating restriction like every country has lived with since the beginning...
  • Bonesqaw - October 28, 2010 11:54 p.m.

    Not actually surprized that Gamestop and Best Buy do the best, they are dedicated game stores and thus the employees are more likely to know their shit. I'm in agreement that stores should enforce this as much as they do film, and that means of their own will, not government-forced
  • QWERTYCommander - October 28, 2010 11:45 p.m.

    Well, all I got out of this article is that I'm definitely going to K-mart more often.
  • aounfather - October 28, 2010 11:36 p.m.

    Thats what really gets me. All of these 6-16 year olds that they are so concerned with buying the games are having them bought for them by their parents. How many 12 year olds are gonna be able to shell out 60$ on their own to get these games without their parents knowing? Do the PTC really think that every preteen is buying a 60 dollar game and playing it without their parents knowledge. Its a little thing called parental involvement. If we don't have it, then the whole place is gonna go to crap anyway no matter what kind of laws we put on it. Its the same thing as what goes on with alcohol and...hang on while I rant for a hour! Grrr... people who have no idea what they are trying to do because they just want a cause to fight for without knowing their effects on society tick me off! Thanks, Pastor Tom LOL my recaptcha was Lunatics!
  • Doctalen - October 28, 2010 11:30 p.m.

    I dislike Gamestop not being able to sell M-rated games to me. I am 16 and 9 months, I have been playing M-rated games since I was 8. I find it ridiculous that, when no law has actually been passed, Gamestop won't sell me M-Rated games unless I have parental consent. I sit through all there bull shit about "pre-order this" "pre-order that" and "oh yeah let me tell you about this game in the most boring way I can while I 'ring' up your transaction". Really its that kind of bull that pisses me and my parents off. They know I play those games, they are cool with it, but they don't want to be bothered with this bull crap.
  • Pantas - October 28, 2010 11:25 p.m.

    @Felixthecat The big concern for us American gamers is that, if this law passes, more laws will follow that restrict sales of violent games even more (i.e. you can't buy them no matter how old you are). Not to mention that millions of dollars have already been wasted on this same law, which isn't really even needed in most cases.
  • y2kpikachu12 - October 28, 2010 11:19 p.m.

    I don't really get how they're disappointed with the results, only two stores numbers were worse and all others dropped substantially. I myself have never been able to buy an M-Rated game alone as they've always asked me or even asked my adult when they were clearly over 17.
  • hybr1dgamerx - October 28, 2010 10:36 p.m.

    im 16 i can buy m rated games but that's because i go to gamestop frequently and since the employees already know my parents are cool with me getting m rated games i can buy them :) ...u know i wonder if that would make a good policy in stores that sell video games,if employees ask the parents permission that the kid can buy m rated games, the kid wont need a parents permission to buy one,and all they need is a card (like gamestops reward card) that gives the ok.i know there's probably some flaws with this but im just thinking out loud :P
  • SeriousSean - October 28, 2010 10:35 p.m.

    To add to what Kingsman said, it could also create a dangerous precedent which could be applied to other forms of entertainment. Movies, music, books, comics, TV, etc. That's why pretty much the whole of the US entertainment industry is against it. If this passes then it's a very serious blow to the First Amendment itself.
  • elpurplemonkey - October 28, 2010 10:34 p.m.

    So 81% of retailers are complying with the ESRB rating then. And video games are being regulated better than any other form of entertainment. Leave it to a misguided organization like the Parents TV Council to put a negative spin on that.
  • doominatorx6 - October 28, 2010 10:32 p.m.

    OBVIOUSLY NOT FIRST This is just something I simply DONT understand. I mean the whole fuss of selling games to children. Nobody flips shit when a kid gets into an R rated movie (though it's quite challenging to do so lol) but a kid buys say, MW2 (because every 14 year old plays it, believe me), and pandimonium breaks out. Haven't they proven violence and shit in games has no link to what they (the players) do in real life? 9/10 parents (thats a doominator statistic, but would you be shocked if it was accurate?) don't give two shits about the ratings anyway. Kids are just like "MOMMY MOMMY I WANT MODERN WARFARE ALL THE OTHER KIDS HAVE IT AND THEYLL CALL ME A FAGGOT IF I DO GET A COPY AND I WANT IT NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW." Fuck modern society. And FUCK gamestop. It has nothing to with the story, I just FUCKING hate gamestop. I'll stick that "pre-order" up your asshole.
  • D0CCON - October 28, 2010 10:27 p.m.

    I've been turned down in Gamestop and Shopko. The Shopko one felt weird because I was turned down a week before turning old enough to get it. So I'm not mature now but in a week I'll magically be more mature? It didn't feel that way. It's nice to know I don't have to worry about that stuff now.

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