The Slippery Slope: Practical Implications if California Assembly Bill No. 1179 is ruled constitutional
Supporters of censorship in video games often talk about the “slippery slope” of what MIGHT happen without regulation and oversight.
In the case of Schwarzenegger v. EMA/Entertainment Software Association,the State of California makes the case that protecting its citizens against violent video games is a core public policy concern.
But I have not seen much analysis regarding the opposite slippery slope.
Let’s put aside the 1st Amendment issues for the moment (that’s really a posting all to its own). Have we given enough thought about the business impact of this law if it is ruled to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court?
- First and foremost, let’s start with the clear fact that there will be less “M”-rated video games. It’s unlikely that all of these “M” titles will be replaced with lesser-rated titles (although some presumably would). Content will be driven towards “clear” categories of “acceptable” content.
- According to the Entertainment Software Association (“ESA”), in 2009, over 120,000 people in the United States are employed in a job which depends on game software. Odds are that if you’re reading this post, you or someone you know make a living due to this vibrant industry. It is not a significant leap to presume that less titles will have a direct correlation to less jobs creating those titles. Admittedly, exactly how many people might lose their jobs is impossible to say, but it surely will have a large negative impact.
- In addition, many creative minds in the games business may take that creativity to other, less regulated mediums, further reducing the number of games created.
- I would expect that original titles will be the first to be affected. Publishers will not want to take a chance that an unproven commodity might ultimately be deemed too violent and criminal.
- Independent developers will suffer the most. Publishers will likely put the responsibility on the development community to create “legally” acceptable content. This risk may prove to be too much to bear on that segment of the industry, forcing more development projects away from the independent studios.
The likely result of this vague and overly subjective legislation would be that most games would be non-innovative and contain un-original content. Much of it will be developed by publishers that face significant legal exposure if they were to create “offensive” content. Accordingly, their incentive will be to avoid pushing the envelope.
As retail sales necessarily suffer from the lack of available “hard-core” games, consumers will likely find the more violent games via the internet…at least in the short-term. Logically, the next step will be similar regulation of the internet (the draft legislation only applies to “retail” sales or rental of violent games).
Obviously, the exact financial impact is virtually impossible to estimate thoroughly, but it’s conceivable that it will be in the BILLIONS of dollars, considering the fact that the video game software and hardware industry generates revenues in excess of $20 billion per year.
I don’t believe that Governor Schwarzenegger fully considered this economic impact when he assessed his purported policy concern.
If he did, he would have recognized that over 50,000 California citizens are employed in the game/software business.
I would expect that the State of California to view this industry as a model for growth in a challenging environment. Instead, some look to stifle it.
There are a host of reasons to support the ESA’s position against censorship. Upholding freedom of speech is a worthy reason all on its own.
In addition, the direct economic interest needs to be considered relative to the tenuous and flawed public policy concern espoused by the censorship proponents.
The slope is too slippery to anyone’s livelihood that depends on the video game industry.
Please show your support for the Entertainment Software Association’s fight against censorship.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 2, 2010.