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Gamers On Trial: The ECA's Hal Halpin on Consumer Advocacy
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Gamers On Trial: The ECA's Hal Halpin on Consumer Advocacy

October 25, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8

GS: Is that where a lot of your personal motivation lies?

HH: In terms of this new organization?

GS: Well, sure, but also in terms of what you want to do with it for yourself and for the community. Is that really the kind of heart of what you're interested in?

HH: Again, from my perspective, I see it as a much more urgent matter probably than the average member that we have now or could get in the future, maybe more than the average person in the industry, because it was what I used to do. And so having been on the front lines, I can see that when you're up against a hundred bills a year, all doing the same thing, and people are copying each other from state to state, and then all of a sudden the target starts shifting from publishers to retailers, and then all of a sudden the first bill came out last year that was anti-gamer; you don't need a crystal ball in order to realize that this year, the issue is not going away. The anti-gaming groups are out there in force, and if this continues to head toward anti-gamer legislation instead of just anti-games, that someone needs to be on the front lines.

GS: Why do you think that shift happened?

HH: Because they were being unsuccessful against the First Amendment argument being made. Essentially the ESA and the IEMA and the VSDA and IGDA and ESRB were continuing to go up against them, and saying, "Here are all the great reasons why this is illegal, and you're not going to be able to enforce any of this." And often times we find that legislators were just pushing it through anyway, knowing as we were going in that it wasn't going to pass muster. But as that failure rate increased, we started getting more vocal as an industry about how you're wasting time and taxpayers' dollars, and here they are in Louisiana fighting against anti-games legislation when they have Katrina to worry about.

That could be one of the reasons they looked to a new target, it could be that they were just running up against too many walls. They have probably as many attorneys if not more on their side than we do on our side, and so people are getting creative. And if no one is out there defending consumers, and consumers are kids who don't vote, from their perspective, it's a win-win. So that's what I was saying earlier, that we need to change the perception, we need to enlighten them about the fact that the average gamer is 30 years old or 33 or 27. We're still talking about a voting-age person who is an adult, and who is well-educated, who is not a pimply-faced kid who needs protection.

GS: We talk about who the average gamer is in so many different ways, depending on what games we're talking about or who we're talking to, and I definitely believe in that theory that change happens because old people die and young people grow up. [laughs] And that's the reality. We say that the average gamer is 30, and we're in that mindset that things are changing because young people are growing up, and sometimes the average gamer is 55 and female, or, you know. So it seems really murky for those of us who do know what's going on, and somehow crystal clear for the average people who read Newsweek or whatever.

HH: An interesting statistic I read in AARP magazine recently is that the average age of a U.S. senator is 60, the oldest it's ever been in our nation's history. And the first thing that came to my mind is, "Wow, the average age of a gamer is 30!" There is a disparity, and so it wasn't crystal clear for me before – and I was knee-deep in it – until I read that. You know, you're out there seeing all sorts of different politicians, and you don't know how old they are, and the ones that get the most spotlight are usually younger than 60. And so you don't think about it in those terms.

One of the more interesting things I think we'll be able to bring to the table is a tremendous amount of research. I'm really excited about our research division being developed internally, both in what we can provide to the industry in terms of factual feedback, as well as to understand the consumer better, and who the consumer actually is. I know that it's a little bit threatening to some companies, I got a call from one the other day that seemed very concerned about the research that they provide to the industry, because it's going to be on a significantly smaller basis than what we would be able to provide. And I'm not sure if media outlets might be concerned that we're going to start an enthusiast magazine. That's not our business, and we're not really interested in starting whole new ventures that are going to be apart from our core. But we are interested in making sure that people are serving the demographic correctly. And so, if it's being honest and it's being pure, then to me it's worthwhile.

GS: That brings up an interesting question, though. If you do have the power to do all this research, and you're a consumer advocacy group, most likely that information should be released for free, right?

HH: I don't see any reason why it shouldn't. That said, we're ahead of even establishing a division.

GS: Right. But if you do, that would, I think, be useful for a wide range of people.

HH: In theory, the way it normally works, as I understand it – and this is brand new eyes on it – is that we would do a tremendous amount of research internally sort of looking inward into our own membership, and then release publicly the top line information that we thought would be the most useful for everyone, and then release privately to the industry or to other advocacy groups or empowerment organizations more detailed information. It would actually be our own members that would get the most. Now, you could argue that with 250,000 people employed by the industry, a lot of them should be accredited ECA members, and would therefore get access to the same information.

GS: Let's talk about the ECA's acquisition of Game Politics. You said that you weren't advocating or decrying any particular politicians, is this going to be an issue?

HH: Dennis [McCauley] will still be allowed to have all of his own views, and we'll express on the bottom of the page in all the legalese that need be that his opinions are his own. He's not a full-time staffer, so he's allowed to have his own opinions, and frankly the success he's enjoyed over the last few years with enthusiast magazines and sites regularly using him as sort of a conduit, we wouldn't want to stymie any of that. So that all remains the same. And frankly the forums that he has going, and all of the people and that discussion and that interaction, we want to encourage them.

GS: Are there issues with avoiding a political stance? It seems like a potentially powerful tool for changing politicians' minds via the ECA would be, "Here are the people that are in favor of you, vote for them." Or, "These people have helped pass pro-game initiatives, and these people are working against it."

HH: You sort of touched on a much bigger, long-term thing we'll be talking about. And with as an example I mentioned earlier, they actually have a PAC which is a separate organization that they fund. So the political action committee can run around and do much more educational stuff. And that's entirely possible in the future. To have a PAC you really have to be successful and really grow your organization. The ESA doesn't have a PAC. But there is strength in numbers.

There are 30 million in the U.S. alone that meet ECA's potential universe. We get three million of them, and all of a sudden we have pretty big coffers to do that sort of thing.

Article Start Previous Page 8 of 8

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