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The Downside of Anger

16 May, 2005 By: Kurt Indvik

The video game business faces some interesting challenges ahead, even as mobile game platforms and a new generation of consoles prepare to re-energize the business.

First, is the continued legislative and regulatory pressure on the industry regarding the level of violence in many of its video games, much of it generated with a lot of street-level anger. Literally dozens of bills are pending around the country seeking to regulate in some form or another, access by minors to more graphically violent games.

I am not going to use this space to argue the merits of these efforts, as I have already stated in this column on several occasions these efforts are misplaced and, as the VSDA and other trade groups have been able to prove in numerous courtrooms, largely unconstitutional.

But speaking as a parent, and as an middle-aged adult, I can certainly understand why many people in this country generally are shocked at the level of violence and the maliciousness of it, found on many of these games. (And I have played some of them, and very poorly…thankfully). Many of these people are vocal enough in their shock to raise the vote-getting antennae of many a state and federal legislator who sees an opportunity to make political hay on the issue.

This is not going to change and no matter how many times courts rule in favor of free speech when it comes to game content (and rightly so), this pressure is going to continue. The language in federal, state and local legislation and regulation will get more clever, and legislators will find ways to make it more difficult for retailers to conduct business, even if they abide by the self-regulating industry standards about selling and renting rated games to age-appropriate kids, from “Teen” to “Mature” to “Adult Only.”

There are no easy answers to this issue. The bottom line is, while many may abhor some of the games that are brought to the market, we must defend their right to be there. From an industry standpoint, however, I am not sure that's the best public relations position in which to be.Secondly, it looks like if the game business is going to go Hollywood, as it has been increasingly doing so over the past few years, Hollywood's talent is going to want more of a cut. Today's announcement about the breakdown in talks between game publishers and the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists shows that the talent needed to truly make the connection between the game and the movie is going to have to be reckoned with by game publishers.

In the short term, a possible strike will slow or stop development of many movie-based games. In the long-run, assuming the various sides can work out a deal, it will likely increase the cost of movie-based game development. With trends in game pricing edging downward margins on movie-based game properties will probably be lower and pressure to increase unit sales, especially in the first few weeks when the property is hot, will ratchet up…gee, that sounds just like the movie business.

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