In the first decade of the 21st century, the Video Games Industry has found itself facing a lot of political pressure from Washington DC, as well as the politicians of various state legislatures. The Hot Coffee controversy started a wave of game legislation against the game industry, with many states passing legislature to impede the sale of video games that contained violent content (the levels of violence being legislated against varied from state-to-state).
Rising up against this sea of foes, was the Entertainment Software Association, then lead by Doug Lowenstein. Thanks to the dues paid by member corporations, the ESA was able to file suit in multiple state courts to block the aforementioned laws, and in many cases get them declared unconstitutional. Further, as an outgrowth of the ESA’s sibling organization, the Entertainment Merchant’s Association (or EMA came the Entertainment Consumer’s organization, or ECA, lead by Hal Halpin, which sought to bring a voice for those who play video games and other electronic media, so that someone is fighting for them. Among one of the ECA’s first actions was to join with GamePolitics.com, a blog that tracked attacks against gaming in the public sector, from politicians, and from the news media.
The reason I’m bring up this melodramatic alphabet soup is that there is dissension in the ranks – specifically between the ECA, and the ESA – and the ECA didn’t start it.
For the past few months, the ESA has been hemorrhaging prominent members, both from their prominent trade show, E3, and from their rankings in general. This started after Lowenstein left the ESA, and was replaced by former Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Mike Gallagher, no relation to the stand up comic or the talk show host. ESA members became dissatisfied for Gallagher’s perceived shortcomings. Particularly, that where Lowenstein was direct in attacking critics of the game industry as soon as they opened their mouths, Gallagher remained silent – something which became particularly damning after what was known as the “Sex-Box” controversy, when on a “news program” on Fox News, pundits claimed that BioWare’s game Mass Effect contained graphic sexual content, including rape. The allegations were so clearly false, and it was made so obvious that the “pundits” on Fox’s program had not played the game, that long time game industry critic Jack Thompson spoke out in defense of Mass Effect. Gallagher, on the other hand, was silent.
In response to Gallagher’s lack of response, recently many prominent members of the ESA have withdrawn, from Lucasarts, to Id Software, to Activision/Blizzard. Furthermore, NCSoft (publishers of City of Heroes), Codemasters and Her Entertainment have dropped out of the convention, while continuing to remain members of the ESA. Now, when these announcement were made, I wasn’t sure what to think. Now, with a recent development, I’ve come to see the bigger picture, that the departures were more like the smart employees leaving before everything goes straight down the crapper.
Here’s the new development. Mid-May, Gallagher announces that Texas Governor Rick Perry would be the keynote speaker at E3. It felt like an odd fit, but Austin has long been a center of Game Development, so there may have been more there then I thought. However, then video got out that conservative minister John Hagee was a supporter of Perry and vice versa, as Perry was recorded attending several of Hagee’s sermons. This is the same John Hagee whose endorsement was rejected by Republican Nominee John McCain, after Hagee said that Adolf Hitler was engaging in God’s will through the Holocaust, through some incredibly tortured “logic” that said that Hitler’s actions encouraged Jews to return to Israel.
Yesterday, video from one of Hagee’s sermons got out where Hagee said that only Christians would go to Heaven, and all others would go to Hell. The video clearly shows Governor Perry in attendance, seated behind Hagee as he was giving the sermon. Perry later said that he agreed with Hagee’s sentiments. Thus, as the video game industry is multi-cultural, with people of various religious faiths, GamePolitics called the ESA on it.
In a calm, calculated, measured response – the ESA went what can best be described as apeshit, releasing a press statement that not only attacked GamePolitics as not being a news site, but also indirectly attacked the ECA as well.
To be blunt – The ESA has it’s head up its ass. As big name publishers are leave the ESA, their war-chest to fight anti-video game legislation decreases. Now is the time not to attack those companies that leave as being traitors, nor attacking the consumers who are your most loyal audience. Right now you want to be on very good terms with the ECA, and with the game public, because they’ll keep fighting for their own rights, even when you won’t or can’t. Unfortunately, the actions of the ESA and it’s representatives demonstrate that they just don’t care about the people who buy the games of the companies they claim to represent, and if the ESA doesn’t turn this around right-fucking-now, they will have gone from powerhouse to irrelevant in the course of 2 years.