A Nielsen Games survey of Grand Theft Auto IV players has found that 17 percent of respondents were between the ages of seven and 16.

According to the results of the survey, 61 percent of those “younger gamers” had purchased Grand Theft Auto IV themselves, while the remainder had it purchased for them by someone else – most often, a parent or guardian. “Interestingly enough, parents/guardians were pegged as the biggest facilitators for getting the controversial game into the hands of these young respondents, garnering 80 percent of the response,” Nielsen said in its report. “Friends, siblings and other relatives rounded out the other 20 percent of the response.”

Unfortunately, the Nielsen survey did not determine the percentage of parents who made an informed choice to let their kids play the game, as opposed to those who were merely uneducated about or indifferent toward ESRB ratings or the game’s content. There was also no breakdown of ages beyond “under 17,” the ESRB-recommended minimum age for purchasing M (Mature) videogames.

Despite the fact that under-17 gamers are still able to get their hands on games like Grand Theft Auto IV, an FTC report from earlier in the year determined that ESRB ratings worked effectively, with videogame sales showing far greater compliance with recommended age ratings than sales of movie tickets, DVDs and music. In that survey, the FTC found 20 percent of underage “secret shoppers” were able to buy M (Mature) rated videogames, compared to 35 percent who were able to buy an R-rated movie ticket, 47 percent who purchased an R-rated DVD and 54 percent who bought PAL (Parental Advisory Label) music CDs.

On a related note, the same survey determined that despite Sony’s protestations, the promise of exclusive episodic content on the Xbox 360 did have some impact on gamers – 25 percent of those who purchased the 360 version of the game said they did so at least in part because of it. Sony executives had earlier downplayed the importance of exclusive DLC, saying, “Perhaps they’ll be shipping some episodic content in the fall, but there is a whole lot of product shipping on the PS3 in April and I personally don’t think there’s going to be a huge percentage of folks who jump into downloadable content for another price when they’re still playing the core product.”

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