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Uh oh! Hip Hop Gamer is ECA's brand ambassador

Don't tell him to shut up or he'll call you a bad name
Feb 06
// Allistair Pinsof
Update: Heather Ellertson, vice president of marketing at the ECA, provided this response via email and Facebook: Gerard approached us wanting to know what he could do to help the cause. He's in the process of turning his li...

Fireside chat with ECA President Hal Halpin

May 05 // Daniel Starkey
We interviewed you a little over four years ago. At the time, the main threat to gamers was a sensationalistic public. The Mass Effect sex scandal was the big thing. Since then we’ve seen some major victories for interactive media in the courts, and some really great progress in winning over the American people. Within the past few months, however, it seems gaming has been slammed on all sides by publishers and politicians. With the rise of SOPA/PIPA, the introduction of warning labels on games and rumors about anti-used games measures for the next generation of consoles, where do you think the greatest threat to our medium lies in the coming future? The easy answer is with our digital rights, generally. As witnessed with SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and now CISPA, the movement by trade associations which represents the rights of companies in the movie, music and games sectors is persistent and well-funded. We're very proud of our success with SOPA and PIPA, being one of just a few nonprofits in the coalition, but it's clear from a recent visit to meet with Congressional legislators and their senior staffers that our digital rights, as consumers, will be our focus, politically.  Conversely, the rise and proliferation of DRM-free digital distribution, indie games and the recent Kickstarter craze have given a lot of gamers and developers some hope for the coming years. What do you think is the most promising development in gaming? Is there anything on the horizon that you can’t wait for? We're very excited about the direction the gaming community is heading. It's a decentralization of power; a shift from the publisher and platform-centric, to the developers and consumers. I don't believe that that's a threat to the third or first parties, so much as additional content and channels. Regarding indie games, we just recently created a Chapter dedicated to supporting those interested in becoming a developer and folks who are presently. Josh Hughes of Kaizen Games is heading up that effort and James Portnow of Rainmaker Games and Extra Credits lending his support as both a member of the new chapter, as well as an Advisor – who can act as the elder statesman. Kickstarter is really interesting, conceptually. I love how it empowers consumers to enable developers to create. And the fact that gaming seems to lead the charge for all of the different categories speaks volumes. My concern about Kickstarter generally is that folks understand that donating isn't the same as investing. Developers have been clear about what you get when you give, but there's also a possibility that some people will feel that the relationship entitles them to more. Let's say that X Game is funded, developed and becomes the next Angry Birds, making gobs of money… Will those who've felt a part of that process now feel owed a piece of that success? Will lawyers make that case in a class action suit? I'd hope not, but it's a concern... Aside from our SCOTUS victory, what was your highlight of the past four years? The U.S. Supreme Court decision was huge, to be sure, and ECA's amicus, petition and rally were all exciting to be a part of – it gave consumers an opportunity to help defend the industry and their craft, which is rare. From a policy side of the house… I'm breaking news here, so will probably not be popular with our Marketing department… ECA has engaged in over 60 legislative initiatives across the U.S. and Canada and have been successful every single time. Our members have engaged in issues ranging from bills seeking to add a tax to digital downloads – most recently here in Connecticut – to ratings and labeling. I attribute that track record to the hard work and dedication of our staff working in concert with our members. Netroots advocacy is very effective, as evidenced by our involvement in SOPA/PIPA, where our online advocacy tools helped people send over 100,000 letter to Congress in just the first 24 hours! Politicians that we met with on the Hill recently were still talking about how excited they were to see gamers and Gen X and Y constituents get so invested in the process. Picking one of those sixty efforts is tough because on some we were the only entity fighting for gamers and gaming…and the industry by extension... But it's tough to not choose SOPA/PIPA for just how impactful is was and how awesome to be involved with. Mark Kern from Red 5 Studios and the League for Gamers has recently gone on record stating that he felt that ESA and more specifically the Video Game Voters Network has let gamers down. Do you agree? I'm familiar with Red 5, but know very little about either Mark or his nonprofit. My initial reaction to their formation was confusion to be honest. Since ECA exists, is established and influential, why would there be a need for another similar entity that isn't? Wouldn't it be far more productive to simply lend support to an org that has full-time dedicated staff and who've all come from a decade each of running other nonprofits (IEMA and ESA)? I don't know… As for Video Game Voters Network, they've been publicly called out for being an astroturfing entity many times, including Destructoid. It's a machine that ESA turns on and off when needed, politically. Consumers sign up and provide their information to a database, likely believing that they're joining a nonprofit that represents gamers and our rights. But an ESA staffer only flicks the switch on when the rights in question align with their own interests. That stopped being speculation and became fact during the SOPA/PIPA situation, which is why VGVN's own members and the endemic press became so upset and concerned. Those feelings have since been dealt with and VGVN goes on, recruiting new members to replace those that left. I'm not sure what else can be done about it, as astroturfing isn't illegal yet. What will the role of the ECA be, moving forward? Well, there's really two sides of the house inside ECA. We've talked about the Government Affairs half – which doesn't normally garner this much coverage, so thank you for that – and the other side of the org is Marketing, which includes benefits for members, media representation, discounts off of games-related goods and services and supporting our community and social efforts. People join the association generally because of the many perks of membership and the cost for joining can range from zero to twenty dollars per year; zero if it's underwritten by a partner like Red Bull did last year, a dollar a year if you have a student or military domain extension, and then tiers up to a normal membership of twenty. So if someone's spending $60 on a game, X on accessories, Y on rentals…our discounts alone rationalize the cost of dues many times over. We also have non endemic partners such as American Airlines, Zip Car, Avis and Hyatt Hotels, all of which could save a lot of money for someone attending PAX, E3 or Comicon. More real life examples might be: I go out for dinner and drinks and use my discount, then come home order a game with my discount, renew my Xbox Live membership for 20% off, realize that I need a last minute gift for a friend's birthday and order something awesome from ThinkGeek with my $10 off coupon, and then plug in my Turtle Beach headset – which I scored for 15% off – and text a buddy who's not online on my Sprint phone, which cost me $50 less with my membership than it did him, without. Sales-ey, yes. But people can and some do save a lot of money. Given the drama between the gaming press and fans over the Mass Effect 3 ending, do you think there is a widening schism between fans and critics? No, I think that kind of thing is healthy in the long run. Sometimes the communication of the message isn't effective, but generally the message itself is. Here's an example: Hey, your review of X is crap! Versus: Hey I disagree with you about your review of X and here's why (insert something constructive and maybe even helpful, here). The first message is ignored, but the second is read and likely respected. Same between people who are on one side of a debate with folks on the other side, in a message thread or forums. People respect respect, even if they disagree with your position. Sometimes this is framed as a 'maturity' thing, which is incorrect and unkind. It's an opportunity to show each other and our detractors that we aren't the negative stereotype and won't perpetuate it. I’ve noticed myself becoming annoyed now and then by games that I feel I am forced to defend (i.e. Manhunt 2).  Regardless of actual content, they seem to push boundaries just because they can. Do you think any game has “gone too far”? Well, that's really an individual question in that it's a moral and or ethical point of view by which one forms an opinion. Prior to ECA, I ran the retail trade association that represented the leading merchants of entertainment and as such struggled through the ten year onslaught of anti-games and anti-gamer legislation along with the other trade orgs. Where I ended up is by asking the politician or media outlet how they judge which movies or TV shows they believe go too far. Interestingly, Republicans tended to be offended by sexual content, where Democrats abhorred the violence. But what defines 'too much' to one person, likely is fine to another. I think that developers should be free to create the art they want, but know that they have a social responsibility to their craft and fans. Do you think video games and by extension gamers have managed to shed some of their pop-culture stigma? The negative stereotype, absolutely progress has been made, but there's clearly a lot more to be done. One of the best things about social, casual and indie games is that they also attract people who wouldn't self-identify as a gamer. My position last year was: Everyone's a gamer. We all have and play games in some way shape or form (handhelds, phones, consoles, tablets, computers, kiosks), they're ubiquitous and they should be. If you asked my wife if she's a gamer, she'd say no. If you asked her which games are on her iPhone and if she plays them, she'd say yes. What's changed is perception. People aren't identifying as a gamer due to the old stereotype…less so every year…they're not identifying because it's not a predominant entertainment in their media diet. She may play a game here and there throughout the day, but spends more time reading on her tablet, listening to music or watching TV. The important thing to note is that she is playing games and it is a staple of that diet. My position this year is: Everyone's a game developer. While not true in the traditional sense, it is becoming so due to user created content. The more tools that are made available, the more the experience of playing and creating are intertwined. We had students from a local middle school in recently and they learned how to build a web page that teaches people who to create a website. Gaming is next. I have to ask- what is your favorite game? Ha! Probably still Mario Kart 64. Most anticipated is either Halo 4 or Assassin's Creed 3 for me. You? Is there anything else you’d like to say before we let you go? Sure. It'd be great to have your readers check out our site at to see for themselves if joining makes sense. For some it may be the discounts, others to support the organization that supports them, while others still may want to join up simply to be a part of the community and help use affect change.

There's been a lot going on at the intersection of gaming and politics recently. SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and now CISPA, our recent Supreme Court win, and the like have given us all a lot of reason to hope and to remain on our guard...

Destructoid interviews ECA President Hal Halpin

May 01 // Daniel Starkey
We last spoke to him four years ago, when the Mass Effect sex scandal was the big thing in the news. At the time, Hal mentioned that one of the ECA’s major concerns was the rampant sensationalism of gaming stories in the mainstream media. This time, however, he said the attacks by major media corporations on our digital rights were top on the list. This “movement by trade associations… is persistent and well-funded”. Gamers have made a lot of progress, though; both in the courts and in the minds of the policy makers. “The ECA has engaged in over 60 legislative initiatives across the U.S. and Canada and have been successful every single time… Politicians that we met with on the Hill recently were still talking about how excited they were to see gamers and Gen X and Y constituents get so invested in the process." I believe that this is inspiring stuff and it gives a clear path to a brighter future for the medium. On the other end of things, the Video Game Voters Network, an arm of the ESA, has been accused of astroturfing. As a tool for political mobilization, Hal claimed that, ”Consumers sign up and provide their information to a database, likely believing that they're joining a nonprofit that represents gamers and our rights. But an ESA staffer only flicks the switch on when the rights in question align with their own interests. That stopped being speculation and became fact during the SOPA/PIPA situation, which is why VGVN's own members and the endemic press became so upset and concerned”. That line certainly echoes my own feelings about the organization. I was a huge proponent of the VGVN, before the SOPA/PIPA bit earlier this year, and I still believe in the fundamental idea behind it. If the ESA truly believed in political action and getting its members involved in the process, any time a game-related issue came up, they would notify the VGVN without applying any particular slant, simply informing voters that an issue exists. Sadly, I feel expecting that sort of objectivity from people who have such huge financial interests tied up in potential legislation might be asking a bit too much. Also on the list of topics was the proliferation of digital distribution. Hal said that the ECA is “very excited” about the future of gaming. “It’s a decentralization of power; a shift from the publishers and platform-centric, to the developers and consumers“. The popularity of titles like Minecraft and the continued success of smaller, albeit more focused games like Legend of Grimrock is a definite confirmation of this. Never before has there been so much freedom and so many options. Our own Josh Derocher almost exclusively plays indie titles. People don’t have to rely exclusively on publishers for games anymore, and that kind of competition is only ever a positive thing for the consumer and the industry. Kickstarter is a more recent extension of this. Consumers dictate what games get funded and what projects succeed. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the degree to which this might affect the industry. Some very interesting projects have received funding from tens of thousands of gamers. In many cases these projects might have never seen the light of day. That said, when I brought this up with Hal, he had some concerns, namely that “folks understand that donating isn’t the same as investing… Let's say that X Game is funded, developed and becomes the next Angry Birds, making gobs of money… Will those who've felt a part of that process now feel owed a piece of that success?” It’s certainly a valid question, and one that Gambitious seems like it wants to answer, but as with all of these kinds of things, only time will tell. Time however, seems to have been quite kind to gamers. As I mentioned earlier, back in 2008, the Mass Effect sex scandal was still hot news. Back then, games still had a lot of problems to overcome in the minds of the public. It seems that recently, though, that stigma has lost some of its sting. When I asked Hal to weigh in he declared, “My position last year was: Everyone’s a gamer… One of the best things about social, casual, and indie games is that they also attract people who wouldn't self-identify as a gamer.” I won’t get into the whole “casual” versus “hardcore” bit because I think it’s entirely trivial, but the fact that more people are getting exposure to interactive media really just means that our industry gets more exposure. While I might not be totally cool with some of Zynga’s business practices, for example, I by no means think their very existence is inherently a bad thing. This year, though, he said his position has shifted a bit. “Everyone’s a game developer… due to user created content.” That’s certainly an evocative statement, especially when we consider what sort of effect the democratization of any other media has on future iterations. What inspired a generation of Rock and Roll obsessives was the dream that one day they too might “make it big." Now that we are seeing small indie games making it big on the App market, on XBLA, and on Kickstarter, it’s just a matter of time before Hal’s statement is no longer hyperbole. As you’ve probably already figured out by now, I am a huge fan of the ECA and of Mr. Halpin. Still, I don’t like making unilateral recommendations for anything. What I will say, is that if you’re a politically minded person and you care about games, then it takes very little effort to check out the ECA and see what they’re all about. If you want to join up then, they definitely do everything possible to make the membership worth your time and money. Thanks again to Hal for taking the time to speak with us. 

Defending games and gamers isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s the popular press whipped into frenzy by politicians looking for a scapegoat and sometimes it’s corporations looking to squeeze a few extra bucks to make...


Hal Halpin, CISPA, and YOU

Apr 27
// Daniel Starkey
Most of our readers will remember our SOPA/PIPA blackout in January. Destructoid was joined by little-known sites like Wikipedia to protest the twin bills SOPA and PIPA that were working their way through the US House and Sen...


Donating money to oppose SOPA on the industry's behalf

Jan 14
// Jim Sterling
Over the holidays, I received a package from THQ, just one among many pieces of swag and nonsense that publishers ply bloggers with on a regular basis. However, unlike the usual bits of miscellanea, this was something a bit m...

Destructoid joins PIPA/SOPA Blackout Protest on 18th

Jan 12
// Niero Desu
When your kids say "Where were you when the government made the internet lame?" you'll hopefully respond with unflinching certainty: "raising hell." On January 18th members of the House Committee will be discussing PIPA/SOPA ...

ESA bad, ECA good

Jan 04 // Jim Sterling

Recently, we've been chatting quite a bit about the Entertainment Software Association, and its involvement with SOPA. The ESA is a trade association, looking after the interests of videogames while pretending to fight for fr...

Hal Halpin tackles the 'Anti-Streaming Bill'

Jul 06 // Jim Sterling
Dtoid: What does the so-called "Anti-Streaming Bill" mean to you, as both the head of the ECA and as a simple user of the Internet? Halpin: It’s very concerning. I understand the intent that the legislators and trade associations have with the bill, but it’s so broad that it casts a very wide net, including people who innocently post video captures of their gameplay! Alone, that represents a huge community of people. Dtoid: Bills such as this one and the California Videogame Law always seem to falter at the first hurdle due to being so vaguely worded. In your experience, why do you think they're so vague? Is it an attempt to give companies more wiggle room when interpreting a potential transgression, or are they just being written by people who don't know what they're doing? Halpin: I think we’ve seen that bills that are aimed, like in this instance, at IP protection, are developed and shopped to legislators by industry representatives who word them broadly so that the industries have the most latitude in using them. Sometimes that strategy works out for them, other times not so much ... Dtoid: Although the bill was written with film and TV in mind, it seems worded to an open enough degree to include games as well. Do you think gamers should be worried by this? What direct threat does the bill represent to those who stream gameplay via services such as and YouTube? Halpin: Gamers should most definitely be worried! This bill, as written, will apply to anyone who plays and posts their gameplay online, which is a huge percentage of gamers. It could also apply to pro gamers who stream their gameplay for fans as easily as it applies to companies whose entire existence relies on streaming technology (i.e. Steam, Netflix, Gamefly/D2D, Major League Gaming, EA/Origin, OnLive and Gaikai, etc.). Dtoid: Do you think streaming videogames does represent a financial problem to publishers in any way? I personally see it was a good form of viral marketing and way to raise awareness of a particular game. Would you agree, or is there any real risk of a company losing sales due to people having seen the content ahead of time? Are companies perhaps putting short-term gains ahead of the long-term potential of allowing more open access to content? Halpin: Ultimately, I believe that streaming represents far more plusses than minuses for publishers. Are there concerns about piracy and privacy, IP protection and enforcement? Sure, but all of that exists currently. It would be short-sighted and fiscally-irresponsible for them to look at it in those terms. Upsides for them -- not always for consumers, mind you -- include, as you said, raising awareness, marketing solutions, renting options, eliminating resale of physical goods, additional revenue models and distribution alternatives ... including retail-based ones. Dtoid: If not the pushing of legislation, what should companies be attempting in order to keep themselves profitable while dealing with the way in which Internet users consume content? Halpin: Well, they could be concentrating on making more really cool games that people return to play both online and off! But seriously, to the best of my knowledge, none of the publishers/developers or their trade associations are behind or publicly endorsing this bill, and I believe, for the reasons that we’ve discussed -- doing so wouldn’t be in their respective best interests. Dtoid: What are this bill's chances of passing, and what do you believe the chances are of it appearing again in the future, perhaps with clearer -- thus more dangerous -- wording? Halpin: The bill has a good chance of passing this term, and if not this year, it’ll definitely be back next term. Let’s look at it this way: any legislation that has no opposition looks like an easy vote to legislators. If it looks ok on its face, and none of their constituents are against it, they’ll likely vote for it. Simple as that. Dtoid: Why is it that companies seem so adamant on fighting Internet culture as opposed to working with it? The record industry suffered because it resisted the Internet, and it seems that everybody else is intent on making the same mistakes. Halpin: I think it boils down to fear. The old-school mentality is to react defensively to new technology and offensively to consumers, assuming that they’re all ill-intended. The RIAA was cut from that cloth in terms of how they reacted a decade ago, and I think you’re right in saying that it cost everyone in the process, industry and consumers alike. What’s clear to me is that the trade and consumers need to work together, and we’re seeing more of that happening ... slowly. Dtoid: What can gamers themselves do to fight against these types of laws if they take issue with them? Halpin: Gamers can make their voices heard through the ECA and take part in our campaigns against this and other similar legislation, by signing up to our Gamers for Digital Rights working group. They don’t necessarily need to be members of the association to join and they’ll then be able to get as involved as they like – getting updated information, newsletters, write letters to legislators via our online tool sets, etc.

There has been growing concern over Bill S.978, a proposed "Anti-Streaming" bill that seeks to make felons of those who stream live entertainment without the permission of license holders. The concerns have extended to g...


ECA wants you to inform the President about gaming

Jul 27
// Matthew Razak
In case you don't watch the news or read a newspaper to stay up-to-date on current trends -- sadly, this is becoming an ever-increasing population -- the United States is in the middle of revamping its healthcare system. A ma...

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