FTC Cracking Down On Videogame Stores

    March 31, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Sales of M-rated titles to minors happened more frequently at local and regional videogame retailers than national chains.

The Federal Trade Commission used secret shoppers between the ages of 13 and 16 to attempt to purchase videogame titles rated M for Mature. Titles rated M by the ESRB are not supposed to be sold to anyone under 17 without an adult being present.

In its investigation in 2005, the FTC found 63 percent of shopping attempts at local and regional stores succeeded. The national chains fared better, with only 35 percent of the secret shoppers successfully purchasing a M-rated title.

The FTC described the operation’s scope on its website:

The shop, conducted between October 2005 and January 2006, involved 406 stores in 43 states selling electronic or video games. Three hundred and six of the stores were national retailers, while the other 100 were local and regional sellers.

Though M-rated videogame titles have come under fire over violence and suggestive themes, problems came to a head in 2005 when the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game proved to contain a sex scene that could be unlocked with a third-party code modification called “Hot Coffee.”

GTA: San Andreas publisher Take Two Interactive saw the ESRB relabel the title with an AO-Adults Only rating. That caused big retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy to remove the title from their shelves. Also, the publisher faced lawsuits over game.

Attempts to ban sales of M-rated titles to minors by four states have failed court tests of constitutionality each time. WSJ’s Washington Wire blog commented that game publishers oppose efforts to criminalize or legally penalize game sellers in civil cases and were heartened to see the drop in sales to minors from the last study in 2003, where 69 percent of the secret shoppers could buy video games while underage.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.