The annual report card from the National Institute on Media and the Family has been released, showing poor figures for the enforcement of ESRB videogame ratings and provoking a strong response from retail body IEMA.
Each year, NIMF conducts a series of random 'secret shopper' surveys to ascertain the extent to which videogames retailers are enforcing the voluntary ESRB ratings system, which is designed to prevent minors from purchasing games with adult oriented or violent content.
The results of this year's report, in its tenth year of publication, gives the industry a disconcerting D+ grade, suggesting that the self-regulation system is failing consumers. The report breakdown is as follows:
- Ratings Education: C+
- Retailers' Policies: B
- Retailers' Enforcement: D-
- Ratings Accuracy: F
- Arcade Survey: B-
- Industry's 10-year cumulative grade: D+
"There has been significant industry progress and reform over the last decade, but ever more violent and sadistic games are still ending up in the hands of children," stated the report's co-author, Dr. Walsh.
"We feel the ESRB, which is owned and operated by the videogame industry, needs to be overhauled. Retailers need to stop selling violent videogames to children, and lead all entertainment sectors by embracing a universal independent ratings system."
The report has already been cited as "further proof that we need to make sure parents have the tools and support they need to make informed decisions for their children" by Senator Hilary Clinton, who will be presenting her Family Entertainment Protection Act to congress in two weeks time.
There are questions being raised within the industry over the methodology of the NIMF report, which in turn raises doubt over the validity of its current findings. One such query comes from the Interactive Entertainment Merchant's Association, who continue to call for a detailed understanding of the research methods to be made available.
In a statement issued by the IEMA, president Hal Halpin said: "We were disappointed to learn that the NIMF continues to unevenly weight the results of their sting operations. The fact that they weight their conclusions by individual stores rather than by actual real-world market value is significant, both to the statistics as well as to the practical realities of sales. Not weighting the data evenly by market share may well account for the NIMF sting results quite literally swinging wildly back and forth over the past five years."
"We have repeatedly requested that the National Institute on Media and the Family disclose their methodology so that we may better understand how they cull their results and been denied year after year," Halpin added.
The more positive results that formed a small part of the NIMF report were understandably emphasised by Halpin, who concluded: "It is important to emphasize that the NIMF "secret shoppers" were turned down 56 per cent of the time when they attempted to purchase M-rated games.
This turn-down rate is a significant improvement since 2000, when only 19% were turned down. This overall trend demonstrates strong and growing retailer commitment to video game rating enforcement, although clearly we are not yet where we want to be as an industry."