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Published on October 20th, 2009 | by simeon

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ECA President Hal Halpin Talks About Gamers Rights 2009

GVK: What are some of the biggest victories of the last year?

HH: We have had many, but some of the less public (but no less important) were
being invited to have a seat at the table. In several national coalitions
the ECA is one of very few (or the only) consumer group present. That
consumers are present in discussions involving matters of such importance is
fantastic, but that we were invited speaks volumes.

One example might be that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a workshop last spring to
discuss Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies. Participating were
some of the country¹s leading minds from trade associations representing
developers, publishers, retailers, intellectual property attorneys ­ from
all corners of digital products: music, movies, productivity software,
streaming technologies and gaming.

The sole consumer advocacy organization
to speak was the ECA. That alone is great, right?! But by having that
opportunity, we presented a centrist perspective and suggested that ­
perhaps ­ we can all come together to agree on the fact that End User
License Agreements (EULAs) are unwieldy, complex and generally over-reaching
documents that need to be standardized. And secondly, that if DRM is present
in a packaged goods product, it needs to be disclosed to the customer prior
to purchase ­ not after, when they won¹t be able to return the product.

As a result, those two considerations are now on the table and are being actively
discussed.

GVK: What are some of the biggest challenges outstanding?

HH: There are many legislative areas that are of concern for consumers, but the
single largest has to be digital rights. As we transition from a primarily
packaged goods model to a digitally-distributed business, the industry and
its customers face many challenges ­ not the least of which is where the
content creator¹s rights end and the consumer¹s rights begin. In the current
console model, the content creator transfers the vast majority of their
rights as an owner to the person who purchases the product. That process is
enshrined as the First Sale Doctrine, and is the reason why rental retailers
and everyday consumers can re-sell their games. There was a sale with the
intent to divest (on the part of the seller) and a purchase with the intent
to own (on the part of the buyer). Moving to a licensed model, like most
computer software is presently, a digitally-distributed product would be
essentially rented ­ on a very limited and restricted basis ­ to the
licensee, who would have few, if any, ownership rights.

GVK: Has the change in the White House affected your work in any way and if so
how?

HH: Probably the most impactful change has been in the area of Net Neutrality.
During the primaries, then Presidential Candidate, Obama promised to
preserve the concept and present-day realities of network neutrality;
meaning that the Onet should remain the open and competitive environment is
has been and is.

The alternative would mean having tolls or toll roads along
the information superhighway, packets prioritized, anti-competitive
throttling re-directing or blocking practices. More specifically, for
gamers, it would be allowing cable, satellite and telecom companies to
determine how, where and when you¹ll be able to play certain subscription or
online games, which retailers you be able to purchase from most easily, or
even what kind of lag/latency you¹ll experience. The President has since
made some promising appointments in key agencies and positions that give us
faith that that vow will be honored and net neutrality will be enshrined.

GVK: What do you think the greatest single threat to gamers¹ rights is currently?

HH: Again, generally, digital rights as it relates to consumers. More
particularly, I’d say that a challenge within that challenge may be that we
still have a lot of work to do regarding combating negative stereotypes of
gamers and gaming. While that¹s a challenge into and of itself, it¹s also
directly relevant to the digital rights debate because we may be the single
most impacted constituency, due to the lifestyle, habits and hobbies of
consumers of interactive entertainment. Being respected as such, as opposed
to the stereotype, empowers us collectively and individually.

GVK: With many politicians not being gamers and thinking of gaming as something
for teens and kids, how do you hope to find sympathetic ears amongst
lawmakers?

HH: While that is certainly a challenge, and one that I alluded to a bit before,
I’ve been watching a slow evolution in the overall perception of gamers and
gaming. Some of that may be to the credit of the diversification of our
demographics due to casual gaming, or more accessible and intuitive devices,
such as the Wii.

But it’s also likely due to the maturation of the medium
and its players. Generations X and Y grew up gaming, ingesting it as media
similarly to music and movies. There¹s a healthy respect for the medium and
an appreciation for games and gaming that¹s inherent. So as Gen Xers become
parents, move up the corporate ladder or become politicians themselves, we
approach social challenges differently and from a different perspective.

GVK: What more do you think retailers can do to prevent the sale of M rated games
to underage players?

HH: Well, this is a question that I can speak to with some authority, but not a
lot of objectivity, as I ran the retail trade association that represents
the major merchants of interactive entertainment for almost ten years prior
to founding the ECA. I can tell you that when we first became engaged in the
matter, our member companies had very little invested interest in inhibiting
the sale or rental of M-rated games to minors.

That fact was reflected in the first FTC sting results, which indicated that almost 90% of the time
minors were able to buy M-rated games. And over the course of the next
several years ­ with a tremendous amount of time, effort and money invested
in stepping up and being models of corporate responsibility ­ our retailers
reversed the statistics, surpassing our colleagues in the music and motion
picture industries, the latter of which had the benefit of working with a
much older and therefore better known ratings system.

To this day, those merchants remain committed and use retail space (in-store and on-line) that
would otherwise be revenue-generating spots, to educate consumers about the
ESRB, how to use it and why it¹s important. They have their clerks, cashiers
and customer service personnel trained and knowledgeable and built-in
features that block the purchase at the point of sale for minors. Beyond
that, I believed and continue to believe, that parental responsibility must
begin there. To ask more of the merchant is unfair and unprecedented,
compared with how DVDs, music and motion pictures are sold. They¹ve done and
are doing enough.


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