New ESA Boss, a Gamer, Plans to Flex Industry's Political Muscle

July 2, 2007 -
Mike Gallagher has been something of a mystery man - until now.

With his first E3 looming, the new ESA president gives a revealing interview to Seth Schiesel of the NY Times. Most notably, Gallagher professes to being a gamer, something his predecessor, Doug Lowenstein, was most certainly not.

Gallagher spoke of getting started as a lad with Pong and progressing to more grownup fare:
In the 1990s, as chief of staff for Representative Rick White, a Washington State Republican, Mr. Gallagher helped network the office computers to play Doom, the seminal first-person shooter game.

“I was the chief of staff, so it was my prerogative to be the office champion,” he said.

Gallagher also mentioned playing Zelda with his children on the SNES:
“So it’s 1995 and I’m working on Capitol Hill,” he recounted. “My kids are 5, 3 and 1, and we did the Zelda game for the Super Nintendo, and I really saw how games could be a catalyst in the home because my 3-year-old son is sitting in the middle with the girls on both sides, and he had the manual dexterity to run the controls, but he couldn’t read yet.”

“But my 5-year-old could,” he added. “So my daughter would read the screen to my son, and my 1-year-old is sitting watching this masterful production being put on by her brother and sister.”

Of the game industry's political troubles, Gallagher said:
I think there is a bit of a generation gap, federally, given that a number of the legislators — especially since Congress operates on the seniority system — are older. Video games came very late in their content-consuming careers, and so they’re not as familiar with the intense innovation, competition and excitement that come from video games.

Gallagher also touted Manhunt 2's Adults Only (AO) rating as an example of the industry's ability to self-regulate:
Mr. Gallagher defends the industry’s record on regulating and monitoring itself. He noted, for example, that the [ESRB] which operates independently from the [ESA], recently effectively banned the violent game Manhunt 2.

He also vowed that the ESA would begin to play the political contributions game:
The main challenge is connecting with decision makers and creating champions for the video-game industry in the policy-making arena. So working to set up a way for the [ESA] to participate in the federal election process is one of my top priorities. Contributing on the federal level is a very important part of our success going forward.

Comments

The guys who made Thrill Kill or the unedited Indigo Prophecy?

As I said before, I'm not going to drop names but I do know designers who have been disserviced by the AO rating from the ESRB.

Edit: that's 'too' not 'two'

Yea actually I have personally talked to a few otherwise i wouldn't say it.

@ Tom

Aren't we all designers? I am two. I have a whole demo and a buggy flash game under my belt.

So let's get more in deapth and include that they must have designed or produced a game that has been rated by the ESRB and still eel a disservice.

@Tom

So How do you know they feel this way? Do you know them personally?

Not trying to be a jerk, just trying to get my point across. Even if there were a few who did feel a disservice, they are out numbered by those who feel the ESRB is doing a great job and wouldn't change it for the world.

Personally, I think scrapping the ESRB or any part of it, would be a bad PR move as it would allow the anti game activists to scream, "See. We are right. We told you, they don't know what they are talking about."

E. Zachery Knight - Oh yea, I might just be a student but I am still a designer. So... me. I'm at least one designer and I state publically that if I were to release a game into the market it would be disserviced by the ESRB. even though currently I can only make indie games.

@ Tom

Name one developer/publisher (besides Take Two or Rockstar) who thinks they are shafted by the ESRB.

I want ones that have actually stated that, not ones that you are speculating about.

Shit.. who is making Bio Shock?

They made some chars invincible to avoid an AO rating.

@ Scrub King

I doubt there is any sexual content. It just doesn't fit the image that has been created about the game. So it most likely got AO over the extreme nature of the killings in the games.

No, the ESRB has stated since the creation of AO that the rating is for very intense violence and/or strong sexual content. Thrill Kill is another game that received the AO rating for violence. AO was not just intended for porn.

Developer is the wrong word, how about gamers and game designers. Even though I do think deep down many develop/publishing companies are lying through their teeth when they say they support the ESRB.

The trouble is they don't speak out publically. But they do think that the rating system is flawed. I'm not going to drop names because if they wanted it to be known publically it would be their responsiblity to do so.

VaMinion - I'll make a indie game within the next year to prove that there can be a reason to allow a player to tortue children. I've actually been planning it out for a couple weeks now but I have a few things in line ahead of it. Trust me, its not what you think but it does have to do with torturing children... in a sense...

@ Tom

Okay then. Name me at least one Designer or producer who have stated publicly that they feel they are being disserviced by the ESRB (besides any who work for Take two or RockStar)

Saw was oringinally NC-17, but they made changes to make it R. Admittingly, the changes were minimal.

@Brokenscope:

If you're talking about the little sisters, they're not invincible. You can still kill them, you just can't torture them. And frankly, I'm fine with that; there's no reason for a game to allow a player to torture kids (hell, I got moral quandries with killing noncombatant kids in games in the first place, but that's a whole other issue).

@Brokenscope

But have they stated publicly that thye feel they are being disserviced by the ESRB?

When you hear the term "adults only" what comes to mind? Ultra violence or porno? Yeah that's what I thought.

The fact is that the AO rating was intended and designed for "adult" AKA pornographic content. That is why consoles don't support it and most stores don't carry it.

So yes, the ESRB is labeling MH2 as a porno, and it's probably because there are some bare asses or some PG-13 sex scenes. Hot Coffee should have told you that the ESRB considers mild simulated sex that you can see on cable TV to be 18+ and AO. Yes, it's ridiculous and yes it needs to be changed.

This is why Manhunt 2 hot a raw deal and why I fear more games will get a raw deal if gamers don't get off their asses and mass email the powers that be about this glaring problem.

If I had money to start one I would. You can doubt me if you wish but most who doubt me usually find it to be a mistake when I prove them otherwise.

Yea its not perfect and really the problem lies within the ESRB... their employees. Compare the way the MPAA rates movies to the way the ESRB rates games. The ESRB is much more strict. If the ESRB rated movies I'm sure quinten tarentino's movies would all be AO, so would Saw and Hostle, among many many more. Yet yet were rated R by the MPAA

The ESRB is strict because they don't serve the gamer they serve the watch dog organizations that are made by parents that already look after what their children do. The watch dog organizations should not be listened to what so ever. It should be easy to learn and it is but it sohuld not screw over developers and gamers like it does today. You can deny it all you want but there are many gamers and game developers that feel they are being shafted by the ESRB. And they are.

Oh, and I forgot labor issues. ESA has been very active in trying to lobby for more "industry friendly" labor laws, especially in California.

Show me something better, that has no negative connotations, is loved by the government and watchdog organizations, loved and acceptted by all gamers and developers, is easy to understand and teach, has no loop holes and is geared for every possible outcome of content, then I will get over it.

So far the ESRB fills a good chunk of these requirements. They are not perfect, nor I am trying to imply that, but they are working harder for the game industry than any other group that is trying to rate games.

If you think they are so bad, why don't you put your money where your mouth is and start up a new organization to take over. Even if you did start one, I doubt that you would have anywhere close to the support of publishers and developers that the ESRB has.

I wont get over it, I'll fight it until I find it acceptable.

I think the ESRB rating system is flawed, you get over it.

Just before everyone goes on and hugs the guy, let's remember, again, that ESA represents the industry.

They might be on "our side" on game censorship/legislation issues (as long as it doesn't hurt sales...Manhunt 2 anyone?), but ESA is in the opposing side on many other issues most notably on modding game consoles.

@ Tom

Movies get NC-17 for violence as well. It is not just for porn.

If anything is innappropriate for people under 18 it will recieve NC-17 or AO. These ratings were never meant for just porn.

Just because the vast majority of stuff that was rated that was porn, that does not make it a rating meaning porn.

AO != porn. Get over it.

Im not argueing that its supposed to be, im argueing that it should.

When was the AO rating supposed to be reserved for pornographic games?

E. Zachary Knight-

By your ideals the MPAA would group movies like Hostle and Saw together with the porn industry.

He's definitely a figure of promise, future and hope. I'm glad to see that he's mentioning Jack Valenti as his rolemodel - that's the best way to lobby for games without offending any politicians (and even better, every politician will then know that JT is nothing more than a clown). I just hope he'll be a man of deeds, not just words. He desevers full support.

Mike Gallagher-

When will you admit that the ESRB's rating system is flawed and when will you pressure them to fix it?

I like the part whe he said as chief of staff it was his prerogative to be the office champion. “I have to play Doom for hours- it’s part of building a better working enviroment for my coworkers.”

I laughed at this. Would this be the same Doom that was 'responsible' for Columbine?

Silver_Derstin:

Just because the first amendment doesn't actually protect anyone doesn't mean we shouldn't try to be protected by it. If everyone in histories past were to have the roll over and die mentality you do we wouldn't even beable to speak out against those who govern us. I'd definately be dead by now.

I will always fight against the media and the government. I realize they wont ever give me the protection the first admendment should grand me. But that WILL NEVER prevent me from trying using it. They can sue me, throw me in a cage or kill me but they will never bring me down to a point where I think the best option is to bend over and be happy they arn't as well endowed as others.

Now I'm definitely starting to think we can get behind this guy. I had a good feeling about him initially since he used to work on Capitol Hill, we really needed somebody who knows how to play their game. Plus I always thought it was odd that one of the people supposedly running the industry wasn't much of a gamer.

@ZippyDSMlee

The MPAA didn't grow the X rating so much as shoved it to the side and came up with the NC-17. NC-17 is more or less the same as X, it might be a light notch under, but it doesn't have the stigma of and X rating.

That's exactly what the ESRB needs to do. They need to come up with a new rating that doesn't have the same stigma of AO.

@Terrible Tom

I never liked the ESRB. Their rating system is flawed to the core because it has too few ratings (Nothing between T and M, as an example), uses all sorts of "content descriptors" that are mostly inaccurate and misrated more games then I can think.

But did they misrate Manhunt 2, promoting VILE CENSORSHIP? Most likely not. They took their guidelines and checked off the things until it reached the AO rating. Probably with plenty to spare. They're not censoring anything, they're doing their job. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony never allowed AO games on their consoles. And this is a known fact ever since... oh... when the NES came out? So why haven't you and all the "FREEDOM OF SPEECH" activists rallied before Manhunt 2 was released? And Wal*Mart doesn't even hold M games in Quebec, so it's no wonder they wouldn't hold a Adult-Only game, but why haven't you cried tears of blood over this BEFORE.

The First Amendment doesn't protect anyone, sorry to tell you this. First Amendment, freedom of speech and all that shiznit doesn't stop ANYTHING. The media, the governement and the Illuminati/Seven Wise Men/Knight Templars will always control the information and tell you what to know and what to not know. Face it, all you know is what they want you to know.

So I guess all M rated games are Gangster games then.

I want to make it clear that I'm not against porn games at all. I think porn games should be cut some slack by retailers and console systems. Yea just about everyone disagrees with me on that but I think it should be availbe on consoles and in stores, its just my opinion. I do have a problem with grouping together porn and extreme violence. Not in a sense that they are in the same product(thats fine in my book). Its unfair not only unfair to those who wish to make a pornographic game and it is also unfair for those who wish to base their story around extreme violence. Yea they are in charge of setting an age limit but I think their rating system plays into this "self-regulation" garbage that the industry keeps spitting out. Basically what they are saying is there is no need to censor video games because we are doing it already. It is upsetting. It is not responsible they are just doing this to try to keep watch dog organizations and pricks like Jack Thompson off their back. Which isn't going to work they are going to relentlessly attack the game industry reguardless of how strictly it "regulates" itself. I always hear about how loyal the game industry is to their own, and from what I'm seeing from how the AO rating pretty much plays into censorship so easily and commonly(yes it is a common thing) I have no other option but to say that the loyalty claims are a load of shit. The game industry is to blame for much of it, not only from the ESRB but also from Sony, Nintendo M$ and also video game retailers. Loyal my ass. If the game industry was so god damn loyal to their own they would provide a stronger opposition to the watch dog organizations, looneys like Jack Thompson and LaRouche Minions, and also to all politicians which try to win votes by demonizing an industry. But instead right now they are just trying to appease them by saying hey look, we are going to rate this AO so the developer has to water it down to make it more acceptable. Look we are looking after children and are responsible because we are forcing this company to censor themselves. Fuck that shit if your going to group everything together just drop AO and raise M to 18+ and let Sony, M$, Nintendo and video game retailers decide which games they want on their consoles and which games they want in their stores. Don't forget the biggest part of the game industry are the GAMERS. Without gamers Sony, Nintendo and M$ wouldn't be making shit off video games and either would retailers. And the same to the ESRB, without gamers you guys wouldn't have a job. The ENTIRETY of the game industry owes EVERYTHING to gamers. Stop kissing eachothers asses and sucking up to those who oppose you and start standing up for gamers and game developers because without them Sony, M$, Nintendo and retailers wouldn't be making the billions of dollars they are.

@Tom
I've been agreeing with you for the most part, I do not believe that it was in any way a "good" thing for the ESRB effectively ban Manhunt 2 (Gallagher, or the reporter's, words not mine.) However, I do not see why you feel there should be a separate rating for pornographic games, such a thing does not exist in the movie industry (X isn't an MPAA rating anymore it's just a designation that movies traditionally gave themselves to say they didn't bother going through the MPAA's rating system and it later became associated with pornography, and NC-17 does not simply cover porn or even sexually explicit movies although most NC-17 movies are sexually explicit, in fact, there are very few NC-17 movies that can even be called pornography as most porn movies don’t want to spend the time or money having the MPAA rate something when they’re already pretty sure of its rating) and frankly why should it matter if there's inappropriate sexuality or inappropriate violence for a minor to view? It's both inappropriate. I would also like to ask, should this porn designation also cover gratuitous sexuality but presented in a more tasteful way that's plot-dependant and not just there for the sake of itself? Further, should there be a separate rating for a game which is gratuitously violent but the violence serves a purpose for either storyline or as an homage of some type (say the gaming equivalent of "Reservoir Dogs") vs. a game which is violent for the sake of it (the so-called "torture porn" e.g. the gaming equivalent of "Hostel.") The ESRB's job is to decide upon who is old enough to play a game, not the artistic merits of said game, if that was the case then we shouldn't just have a "porn game" rating we should have a "This game sucks, and if you buy it you will be wasting 50 bucks that could have better went to a good game or feeding starving children" rating.

Could it be ? A Republican I like ?

I see alot of "Nintendo is violating free speech" stuff and that they should release Manhunt 2. Sorry to say this but the ONLY thing the First Amendment stops is the government (and all of it's public institutions) from passing laws to prohibit free speech. Nintendo, SONY and Microsoft and all the retailers have a right to do what they want in their stores/consoles. If they don't want to then they dont have to.

If Take Two really, really wanted to release the game as AO they could open their own store and release their own console and release their own game on it. There is nothing that can stop them from doing so. I know they won't, but there is nothing that can legaly stop them from taking that option. There is nothing that can legaly force any company to release Manhunt 2 if they don't want to either. It is self-censorship but it is under a private company. It is just like you can't force me to curse, but you sure as fucking hell can't stop me from doing it either.

The ESRb didn't decide to ban. They decided to gve it an AO rating. Judging by the actions of of other ratings boards, this was probably fair. If you have issue with this being a defacto ban, you need to take it up with Sony, Nintendo and major retailrs. It isn't the ESRB's fault in any way. Taking into account the effect of a rating would being lettign political factors way too much latitude and completely destroy the system's credibility.

@ Zachary Knight

Manhunt 2 does have a sex scene that is portrayed on a TV while you kill people in a room. This is confirmed in one of the many previews. There may be more since there is a sex club level.

I'm sure this had a lot to do with the AO rating since the ESRB has shown its intolerance towards any type of sex in a game. Speaking of which the M rating has provisions for "strong sexual content" which by most definitions is two naked people havings sex. Hot Coffee had two clothed people having sex.

I don't think violence plays that big a factor here since the first Manhunt already set a precedent that snuff film type killing is A-okay. There isn't that much difference between disemboweling a guy with a chainsaw and watching his guts spill on the floor and ripping a guys nuts off with a pair of pliers.

No matter how you cut it, the ESRB didn't like something in the game and decided to ban it with the AO rating. Something that is totally unacceptable and needs to be addressed by Nintendo, Walmart, the ESRB, gamers and everyone in between.

Saw was originally NC-17.

Not worked up. You said I didn't post anything substantial or informative. So I wrote up a fairly thought out (at least for my usual rants) that explains my views. It's funny, because I mostly support you, it's just your argument style, and ideas of replacements. EZ Knight hit it on the nail with developers not willing to defend. IMO, the ESA should be there to support the developers, not fight the battles for them. They can offer monetary support, legal support, etc. But the problem is that R* just pushes the envelope of violence in order to propel the industry forward. I love that they're doing that, but they should follow through with it, and not pawn it off on a non-profit (am I correct that ESA is non-profit?) organization.

Someone said it before that the big problem isn't the ratings, but the systems. While it is within their rights to not allow AO games, it kinda defeats the purpose of the rating system in the first place. M is R, and AO is X. There's a certain stigma related to it that console developers don't like associated with their system. If they either weren't so taken aback by said stigma, or if they created an acceptable rating that's suitable for adults only, that would suffice.

It's not a question of whether or not what the ESRB is doing is completely right, it is whether it is acceptable or not. And as I said, with a government hovering by, I don't mind losing what looks to be a few controversial games in exchange for keeping the government of our backs for a while more. Remember, this is a waiting game. As D-toid says, we just need to wait until all the old people die, and there's no more ignorance politicians trying to push their morals on the video game industry. If we push too far, they might eventually push back harder, and take away rights with bans, prohibitions, censorings, etc. However, if we at least keep them at bay whenever they attack, and not go too far on the offense, things can at least hopefully not get any worse. Choose your battles. Changing the ESRB over a few upset people (gamers and developers alike) is a step in the wrong direction until the government is more gamer friendly.

X rated movies were, and still are recognized by the MPAA. It just isn't trademarked, so it became a problem with anyone (mostly porn peddlers) slapping the X rating on unrated movies, which eventually led to the X rated stigma that exists today. NC17 was created for the sole purpose of that it was a replacement for X, but registered so that the MPAA could regulate what movies had it and which didn't.

Does anyone have a reference on Bioshock being theatened with an AO? I've heard it lots of times, but never outside these boards.

As far as movies, Saw Hostel did get the same rating as movies like Color of Night, Basic Instinct and Mullholland Dr, which got their ratings for sexual content. Granted, it's not as high a rating, but the MPAA isn't separating out violence and sex either. They don't have NC-17 and X. NC-17 replaced X, which was never exactly a real rating to begin with.

They do have random play throughs after a games release. It is kind of a policing tactic. They choose a couple of games at random each month, play them for a while and make sure that they meet the rating. But the playthroughs are in no way enough to rate a game.

the ESA and ESRB have no problem fighting the battles for developers. They have problems with the developers not fessing up when problems about their games. They also have problems with developers giving no support for the battle.

Personally, I think that if the developer does not have the balls to defend themselves, they should not expect others to defend them.

I was just spitting something out. I was unaware of that, Knight.

Also, testing isn't really a playthrough.

Either way, I'll resign my sugestion.

Its hard to say they are defending them when they give them unfair ratings.(kind of like they did with thrill kill)

If the ESA and the ESRB are tired of fighting the battles for companies such as Rockstar then maybe we should be concerned with replacing them with people who are willing to fight.

The difficulty factor is another issue.

If the rater cannot even get passed the first level, they are not even seeing the whole game. Then you ahve to have a gamer play the game. This may not sound bad at first, but a gamer would be more likely to get side tracked within the game and not catch everything.

Additionally, if word got out about who these gamer/reviewers were then there could be some bribing going on. A little incentive from te developer. ;)
 
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