The Entertainment Software Rating Board has responded to Utah's bill HB 353, amendments to the Truth in Advertising Act, which would expose retailers to lawsuits if they promise not to sell inappropriate games to underage gamers and then mistakenly do so.
In an open letter to "Utah's parents and leaders" published on Kotaku, ESRB President Patricia Vance calls the bill a "grave mistake," pointing out that it could very easily undo years of effort and progress which has seen the number of retailers who refuse to sell M-rated games to underage gamers leap from 15 percent nationwide in 2000 to 80 percent as of May 2008. Retailers in Utah itself enforce game ratings at an even more impressive 94 percent, according to a recent survey.
"While the intent of this legislation would be to hold retailers accountable for compliance with their stated policies - presumably in that negligible 6% of instances where they fail to comply - the unfortunate reality is that it would introduce a liability that will likely force many retailers to seriously consider abandoning their voluntary policies and ratings education programs, undoing years of progress made on behalf of parents and their children," Vance wrote.
"Utah State Representative Michael Morley, the chief sponsor of this new amendment, was recently quoted in the Deseret News stating that, 'If they're one of those places that thinks, "Well, as long as they have a heartbeat and some money we'll sell to them," then this won't have any impact on them.'," she continued. "That statement reveals exactly why this law would be so destructive. It would effectively penalize responsible retailers that have policies, and provide safe harbor for retailers that refuse to adopt a responsible policy in the first place. That is downright senseless. If the goal is to make sure our children are playing age-appropriate games, there is a better way."
"The proposed legislation is looking to fix a system that is not broken. Instead, we should all be focused on figuring out ways to encourage parents to use the excellent tools already available to them to make informed choices about the media their children consume. Punishing retailers for promoting responsible sales policies is irrational and counter-productive," she wrote. "I write in the sincere hope that Utah chooses to empower its parents with information rather than undo the substantial progress made by retailers to date to serve the best interests of Utah's children."
Bill HB 535 was recently passed by the Utah State Legislature with an overwhelming 70-2 vote and will now proceed to the State Senate.