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FTC: Game Business 'Outpaces' Other Industries In Content Guidance

FTC: Game Business 'Outpaces' Other Industries In Content Guidance

December 3, 2009 | By Chris Remo

December 3, 2009 | By Chris Remo
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The video game industry better informs consumers about potentially objectionable game content than the movie and music businesses, and better restricts children from buying restricted content at retail, according to the Federal Trade Commission's latest entertainment marketing study.

That conclusion runs contrary to the opinion of some industry critics, who have argued that age-inappropriate games are heavily marketed to and easily obtained by children.

In a "mystery shop" test, the FTC found that video game retailers enforced ESRB-instituted age restriction policies 80 percent of the time. That figure is consistent with last year's findings, and is a considerable improvement from the start of the decade, when such policies were enforced only 15 percent of the time. GameStop and Target scored the best, with a 90 percent enforcement rage; Toys "R" Us scored the worst with 56 percent.

The FTC also determined that the game industry, moreso than other entertainment industries, has succeeded at buying ad placement for games with Mature-rated content in proximity to television programming and print media that is suitable for those games' intended audiences.

"Although there remains room for improvement –- particularly in the area of Internet advertising -– the video game industry outpaces the movie and music industries in the three key areas that the Commission has been studying for the past decade," the report concluded. It defines its "key areas" as "restricting target-marketing of mature-rated products to children; clearly and prominently disclosing rating information; and restricting children's access to mature-rated products at retail."

One red flag for publishers may be raised by a note on mobile games made within the report. Pointing out that the ESRB does not rate mobile games, largely due to "the sheer volume of game applications currently available for mobile devices," the report added that "responsibility falls on wireless carriers and individual publishers to provide content information and effective parental controls."

The FTC said most mobile operators -- including AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon -- do not offer game content ratings. Some, like Nokia and Apple, do -- but they don't use the ESRB's now-standardized methods.

"Although [those] mobile game sellers should be commended for instituting rating systems for their products," the report said, "the proliferation of different systems has the potential to create consumer confusion with the ESRB ratings, a system with which parents are already familiar."


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