The steep decline in sales of M-rated games to underage buyers reported this morning by the Federal Trade Commission is a clear victory for the video game industry on both the political and public relations fronts.
Taking a victory lap is the organization responsible for operating the video game industry's rating system, the ESRB. Via press release, ESRB president Patricia Vance commented on today's FTC report:
Video game retailers have clearly stepped up their efforts to enforce their store policies, and they deserve recognition for these outstanding results. We commend and applaud retailers for their strong support of the ESRB ratings, and will continue working with them to help ensure that these levels of compliance are sustained if not further increased.
The ESA, representing US video game publishers, declined to comment, referring us instead to the ESRB.
Bo Andersen, president of the Entertainment Merchants Association, a trade group representing a number of video game retailers, also weighed in. For retailers, the report is a mixed bag. They scored superb numbers on game rating enforcement, but were criticized by the FTC for sales of R-rated and unrated DVDs to underage buyers. Andersen said:
Retailers don’t want children to be able to purchase or rent video games and DVDs that their parents do not want them to have. As a result, they have made real and significant investments in enforcing the voluntary video game and motion picture ratings in their stores. The FTC’s latest ‘undercover shopper’ survey demonstrates that these investments are producing strong results... While we are pleased with the progress that has been made in ratings enforcement, retailers still are not where they want to be as an industry.
On the consumer side, Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association, remarked:
This is an extraordinary accomplishment from the nation's leading interactive entertainment retailers, as it clearly shows their increased commitment of keeping mature-rated games out of children's hands. Perhaps most impressive is the incredible reversal in their failure rate over such a short period of time and with a comparatively new rating system.
This is truly a vindication for video game merchants who have been falsely damned by anti-game advocates and special interest groups, who now don’t have a leg to stand on.
GamePolitics also offered several high-profile game industry critics and watchdog groups an opportunity to comment. So far we've not heard back from the Parents Television Council,
the National Institute on Media & the Family or California State Sen. Leland Yee. There was one critic we did hear from, though...
Despite the eye-popping retail enforcement numbers, anti-game activist Jack Thompson refused to give credit to the video game industry. Instead, he credited... Jack Thompson:
I'm more than happy to take credit for the improvement. The threat of legislation has improved performance, not some altruism on the part of the Strauss Zelnick's [or] the industry. To America's parents: Jack Thompson is delighted to have helped.
Of course, Thompson would have been all over the FTC numbers had they been unfavorable to the video game industry. Classy, Jack...
UPDATE: Dr. David Walsh of the National Institute on Media & the Family has now weighed in. NIMF claims a bit of the credit as well:
The results of the [FTC's] latest undercover survey are good news for retailers and the [ESRB], but most of all for parents... With its consistent pressure on the video game industry, [NIMF] played a significant role in improving ratings enforcement and education. Similar to our... Video Game Report Cards, the FTC survey shows that specialty retailers, such as GameStop, continue to lead in enforcement and the rental companies need to step up their efforts...
Full Disclosure Dept: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics…