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Game industry unrest swells as SOPA hearing approaches
Game industry unrest swells as SOPA hearing approaches
January 13, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

January 13, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Business/Marketing

As the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on the "Stop Online Piracy Act," major game developers and companies are publicly opposing the legislation, with some even promising to shut down their websites and games in protest.

Dissent against SOPA has snowballed since the Entertainment Software Association voiced its support for the bill last week, and companies such as Mojang (Minecraft), Red 5 (Firefall), Frozenbyte (Trine), Runic (Torchlight),, and Nvidia are among the latest to speak out against the contentious anti-piracy legislation.

Some of these companies are following Reddit's example, and are staging organized blackouts for their games and sites on January 18, coinciding with the House Committee's hearings on the bill.

According to a Twitter post from Mojang founder Markus "Notch" Person, the acclaimed Minecraft studio will shut down both and in protest of SOPA.

Firefall developer Red 5 is taking similar action, proposing to close shut down both its website and the currently running Firefall beta for a full 24 hours.

The studio also plans to protest against the ESA for supporting the bill, and told Shacknews that it has canceled its plans to attend the ESA-operated E3 Expo.

"We are extremely disappointed in this misguided legislation. We are also ashamed of the ESA for supporting a bill which is clearly not in the best interests of gamers or the game industry," explained Red 5 CEO Mark Kern.

Finnish game developer Frozenbyte also spoke out against SOPA on its website, noting that even though the team operates beyond United States borders, it wants to encourage its community to censorship around the world.

The Polish PC game vendor also joined the international SOPA opposition, arguing that even with the legislation's far-reaching implications for online content, it will likely fail to stop piracy in the first place.

"SOPA works in a fashion similar to DRM, if you ask us: it only will have an effect on people who are, by and large, honest consumers. Pirates who torrent via P2P methods will not be inconvenienced in the least by SOPA and PIPA [the Senate's 'Protect IP Act']; people who post 'letís play' walkthroughs of video games on YouTube, though, may be," the site's organizers explained.

Mark Gerhard, CEO of the recently acquired RuneScape developer Jagex, added his voice to the chorus, and told (registration required) that SOPA "will essentially create a national censorship firewall for American internet users, specifically this could crush the community element of online gaming and could result in a huge lack of freedom of speech, creativity and opinion sharing."

Torchlight dev Runic Games announced its opposition on its official forums, and said that the bill gives too much power to large corporations, and limits the rights of individual citizens.

In addition, Nvidia's Bob Sherbin explained, "We oppose piracy, as it hurts our game-developer partners. However, we do not support SOPA. We don't believe it is the right solution to the problem." The company also alleged that it was not contacted by the ESA regarding its position on SOPA, despite being a long-time member of the organization.

Over the last few weeks, other companies such as Riot Games, Epic Games, Trion Worlds, and 38 Studios all joined the growing crowd of game developers standing against the proposed legislation.

The U.S. Congress' SOPA hearings are due to take place January 18 -- keep an eye on Gamasutra for continuing coverage of the bill and its further effects on the games industry.

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Alan Rimkeit
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Read on and say YES!

"Under voter pressure, members of Congress backpedal (hard) on SOPA"

Joe Wreschnig
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I think the immediate question facing the game industry is how to handle the ESA's absolute silence - and therefore continuation of its long-existing support - on SOPA? And how do companies nominally (and sometimes materially) against SOPA justify their continued membership in the ESA?

If even the politicians they are funding are having second thoughts about the bill (as Alan's link suggests, and I'm very glad they are), but the ESA aren't, where does that leave them as responsible representation of the industry?

Why have we not heard one whit from the ESA in any reports, when the ESA's entire purpose for existing is to talk about issues such as this?

Alex Leighton
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I think the article from a while back said it pretty well.. They're basically in a lose-lose situation. If they support the bill, there's an outcry from consumers and some game studios (as we've been seeing). If they don't support the bill, there'll be an outcry from the people whose only interest in the games industry is making money, and they're the people who the ESA is primarily supposed to represent. Probably the best solution would've been to say nothing, and allow individual members to express their support or opposition. But then I'm sure someone would be asking why they never said anything.

Joe Wreschnig
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But they are saying things. They've given explicit financial, material, and vocal support to SOPA and PIPA in the past.

"If they don't support the bill, there'll be an outcry from the people whose only interest in the games industry is making money, and they're the people who the ESA is primarily supposed to represent. "

If there is an outcry, it's from people who don't understand how money is made. SOPA/PIPA does nothing to help the industry make more money. It destroys the ability of American technology companies (including entertainment technology companies, like game developers) to function in any normal way. It's true that there are some investors - and sadly also probably some executives - that have no idea how this works, but it is not the ESA's responsibility to kowtow to them.

Paul Shirley
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ESA is indeed in a hard place, stuck between members still salivating after the unilateral power to censor critics SOPA would give and the late awakening to reality of a growing minority.

It simply beggars belief that any in our industry didn't see SOPA for what it really is, a tool for penalty free censorship with no power against piracy, yet the silence has been deafening. Apart from those that lust after the powers it gives. Parts of our industry came late to the fight and it's too little, too late for ESA to react and damn near too late to reach the politicians.

So ESA continues to represent the powerful voices that see SOPAs defects as advantages they can abuse.

Simon Ludgate
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"it wants to encourage its community to censorship around the world."

"fight" censorship maybe? I think there's a verb missing there? O.o;

Zoran Iovanovici
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I wonder how many people are reading both the SOPA and PIPA bills word for word. If they did, they would realize that they are almost 75% the exact same bill. SOPA will likely be used as a front to gather all the news and attention so that PIPA can sneak in the backdoor and get passed while nobody is looking. This is very much like how the U.S. President used the distraction of the college bowl game weekend to pass the NDAA under everyone's noses. Part of me feels like everyone is being suckered into this and enabling the process of backdoor legislation by placing all the media attention on SOPA with only glaring attention on PIPA.

Furthermore, I can only hope that every video game company actually has staff on board who do read the bills word for word. It would be nice to see more game companies that actually oppose and understand the bills have the guts to just boycott E3.

Oh, and many of us who have worked in politics fear that the idea of the planned internet blackouts is only a superficial tactic, just 'banging the drum' so to speak. Mostly it's just good PR for the companies doing it. It's unlikely to have a major effect on politicians; it'll only increase awareness for the few people visiting the sites who are totally clueless on the two bills.

Joe Wreschnig
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I think it's more that PIPA has been placed on hold for months now, thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden (who also placed a hold on the equally bad COICA previously). I do agree there's a lot of uses of "SOPA" that could be better replaced with "SOPA/PIPA" in amateur activism, but I don't think it's a major problem.

Dennis Groenewoud
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Thank You All for being against SOPA, I do not live in the US so Im not able to cast a vote against SOPA so I trust that game companies like these will step up against this unjustice