The US Federal Trade Commission has issued its fourth annual report on the marketing of violent media to children, with praise for the games industry's ESRB rating system but criticism of ongoing marketing to unsuitable audiences.
The commission approved of the prominent placing of ESRB rating symbols on both advertising and packaging, saying that they "go far to ensure that parents have access to rating information when considering product purchases," and also noted "substantial" compliance with the industry's self-imposed advertising standards regulations, AdCode.
However, the FTC did note that in some areas the AdCode regulations - which advise against placing ads for M-rated games in media where people under 17 make up a significant percentage of the audience - are being ignored.
It also pointed out that the AdCode standards make no mention of advertising for T-rated games, and ads for these games often appear in media with a significant pre-teen audience - for example magazine Nintendo Power, which often carries ads for T-rated titles despite 42 per cent of readers being under 13.
While the jury is out on how serious that problem is - the issue of children playing T-rated games is generally considered much less contentious than the problem of minors accessing M-rated titles - the report did also highlight the fact that retailers are generally ignoring the ESRB ratings when selling titles to minors.
Some 69 per cent of unaccompanied minors were able to purchase M-rated titles in US retail stores surveyed by the FTC in an undercover investigation, a statistic which only dropped to 55 per cent in stores with stated policies of not selling to minors. Although hardly a positive figure, the report did note that this has improved over the past two years - falling from 85 per cent in 2000 and 78 per cent in 2001.
Responding to the report, the Entertainment Software Association - which created the ESRB ratings - issued a statement in which president Doug Lowenstein largely welcomed the report, but disagreed with certain aspects of it. Specifically, Lowenstein criticised the recommendations of restricting advertising based on the popularity of media with different audience sectors, saying that "a popularity standard is impossibly vague and impractical" (although the AdCode standard uses a very similar metric). Current standards in use are "reasonable and effective," he claimed.