ESRB Slammed By Parents Group For Sale Of Mature Games

by Matthew Kato on Oct 28, 2010 at 05:19 AM

The Parents Television Council (PTC) recently conducted its annual secret shopper program across the country designed to uncover instances where mature-rated ESRB video games have been sold to underage kids. The Council found that 19 percent of its underage shoppers were sold M-rated games, a figure that is down from 2008's 35 percent and – according to the ESRB – a rate that is better than other entertainment mediums.

"While this is an improvement..." admits the PTC "...it is hardly the level of compliance parents should expect from an industry that touts its ratings system as a solution." The ESRB's percentage in the PTC operation shows a big drop from the PTC's 2008 program, but the organization points out that the ESRB's 19 percent is only one percentage point less than a different study by the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) of underage shoppers in 2008. "Thus," concludes the PTC, "[retailers'] compliance with ESRB guidelines – even by the ESRB's own retail partners – has hardly improved in two years," concludes the PTC.

Despite the PTC's attempts to characterize the ESRB as having not gotten better with M-rated game sales to underage kids when comparing the PTC's current study to the FTC's, The ESRB has responded with a statement from Eliot Mizrachi, director of communications, touting the success of its rating system and giving some context with other entertainment mediums.

"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 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."

Regardless of whose figures are right, it'll be interesting how each side spins the numbers as the Supreme Court gets set to rule on California's law restricting the sale of video games to minors on November 2.

For more on the pending Supreme Court decision, check out Miller's excellent feature entitled "Enemy of the State."