Hal Halpin is the founder of the Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA), a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to giving a political voice to gamers across the United States. Gamasutra Features Editor Frank Cifaldi, along with Game Developer Managing Editor Jill Duffy and Features Editor Brandon Sheffield, recently sat with Halpin to get a broader scope on his vision, the legal challenges the organization is likely to face, and the need for consumer awareness in the face of legislative ignorance.
Gamasutra: So tell us briefly about the ECA. We've had time to poke around the site a bit, but tell us in your own words.
Hal Halpin: ECA is a 501(c)(4) [non-profit agency], so that's a membership organization that's different than a (c)(4), which is pure charity, or (c)(6), which is trade association. There aren't any other similar membership organization for movies, music, or games, so we're sort of inventing the wheel. And that's probably as many good things as bad.
What we sort of parallel ourselves against, in terms of modeling, is AAA or AARP or moveon.org, because they're also membership organizations. They're also involved in advocacy, which is sort of the root of our business, and then they also provide lots of services to the members, especially AAA and AARP, where you subscribe or you become a member for a fee, and you get many times the value in terms of other things that they're supportive of with their services.
So that was sort of the genesis of it. It came about as a result of an IEMA board meeting, the organization I used to run. We had a board meeting, and came out of it, and I realized that a lot of the conversation that we were having had sort of stopped being about the retailers and what they could accomplish inside the industry, and started becoming about the consumers, and what their wants and needs are.
That's when I realized that it's unusual that there are all these trade associations representing all these other parts of the industry, but no one's out there representing consumers and gamers.
GS: "Used to run?" Are you done working with retailers entirely now?
HH: Well, technically I'm still president emeritus of the IEMA [the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, which earlier this year merged with the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) to become the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA)], although I don't have any day-to-day interaction with the new organization.
GS: So it looks like the primary mission…actually, I have a printout right here, I'll just read it! "The primary mission of the ECA is to give gaming consumers a voice and ensure that state and local politicians hear their concerns and appreciate their demographic power." How are they, theoretically I guess since the ECA just started, being heard? What kind of channels are we talking about here?
HH: We're a web-based organization, so hopefully all of it will be digital advocacy. And – a lot like MoveOn.org, actually – a lot of what we're going to try to do is motivate people to sort of express to us their wishes and their opinions, and then we'll be doing advocacy through our government relations team at the state and federal level, and my sort of fondest wish is to motivate people at the local level to go and actually testify, to present petitions, and to be able to sort of show that gamers as a group are not pimply-faced little kids. They're adults, and they can speak up for themselves, and I would love to get people testifying before committees.