A new FTC "secret shopper" study found 13 percent of children were able to buy M-rated video games from retailers, a significant improvement over a 2009 study in which 20 percent of children could buy the adult-rated titles.
The new results represent a massive turnaround for the industry since 2000, when 86 percent of unaccompanied children could buy an M-rated game. That number has improved consistently throughout the decade, and from 2008 onward FTC studies have found M-rated titles were significantly harder for children to obtain than R-rated movie tickets and DVDs, as well as CDs with a parental advisory label.
“The ESRB is the gold standard," Entertainment Software Association president and CEO Michael Gallagher said in a statement responding to the news. “Those who would criticize the industry’s commitments are either ignorant of facts or are actively pursuing a political agenda.”
“These numbers demonstrate once again that industry self-regulation can and does work," said Bo Andersen, president and CEO of the Entertainment Merchants Association, in a statement. "There is no need for punitive government regulation, such as the California video game law that EMA and the Entertainment Software Association are currently challenging in the U.S. Supreme Court."
Wal-Mart was the worst of all retail outlets in the video game portion of the study, with 20 percent of secret shoppers able to purchase M-rated games. Target performed the best, allowing purchases in only 8 percent of cases, followed closely by GameStop at 9 percent.
The FTC recruited an unspecified number of 13- to 16-year-olds for its latest study, asking them to attempt a purchase without a parent present between November 2010 and January 2011.
In 2006, the ESRB's Retail Council teamed with politicians to set up a "commitment to parents" initiative aimed at increasing voluntary retailer compliance with its rating system, which bars M-rated titles from children under 17.
[UPDATE: ESRB president Patricia Vance released the following statement to Gamasutra in response:
"We are extremely pleased to see the Federal Trade Commission confirm not only that the video game industry continues to have the highest rate of enforcement at retail, but that it continues to climb higher than before. The strong support that the ESRB ratings have enjoyed from retailers is crucial, underscoring their firm commitment to selling video games responsibly. We congratulate game retailers on this indisputable validation of their efforts, and commend groups like the Entertainment Merchants Association and our own ESRB Retail Council members for their ongoing work and progress in preventing the sale or rental of M-rated games to those under the age of seventeen."]