Consumers: Govt Should Regulate Games… ESA: Research Firm Did Us Wrong

A poll of U.S. consumers has generated an unexpected wave of controversy in the video game sector.

The hubbub began yesterday when public relations firm Hill & Knowlton released the results of a survey which indicated that 60% of U.S. consumers favored government regulation of violent and/or M-rated games.

In addition the survey reported that 51% felt that the government should regulate the content itself (aka censorship). 54% of those with kids at home believed that violent or mature game content could affect a child’s behavior.

Even those who self-identified as gamers were surprisingly pro-government involvement. 55% felt the government should regulate sales of games with violent or mature content while 44% believed the government should regulate the content itself.

Of the results, H&K exec Joe Paluska said:

While the industry is reinventing itself by broadening the content and the category, society still tends to view gamers as one-dimensional. The industry’s [bad] reputation centers on mature content due to the sensational nature of the content and subsequent publicity. As a result, our survey suggests that there’s an appetite for more government oversight even among the maturing Atari generation who now have children.

The other shoe dropped later in the day when the Entertainment Software Association, which represents the interests of U.S. game publishers, revealed that the H&K research had been dangled in front of the ESA a few months back as part of a business pitch by Hill & Knowlton.

An ESA spokesman told GamePolitics:

The research released today was conducted by Hill & Knowlton for a proposal the agency made to the ESA this summer… Hill & Knowlton’s decision to release these findings was both unprofessional and unethical and its timing is questionable.

The research was… only performed in an effort to help Hill & Knowlton win our business. In addition, the release of only part of the findings paints an inaccurate picture of the entertainment software industry.

The ESA was also angry that H&K didn’t release other, more positive results, including:

-More than two-thirds of 18-34 year olds currently play video games;
-Less than 1 in 5 Americans think playing video games is a negative way to spend time with friends and family;
-More than half of families think that video games are a positive way to spend time together
-Educational video games are perceived to provide more learning than TV or DVDs.

GP: As we understand it, it’s not uncommon for PR firms to commission research to use in making pitches to prospective customers. Does it help a public relations firm to win business if the numbers indicate that the would-be client has a problem? It would seem so.

Frankly, I don’t put much faith in polling, especially when it’s put out by corporations. Having read No Excuses: Confessions of a Serial Campaigner by longtime Democratic campaign manager Bob Shrum, it’s pretty clear that a good pollster can make the numbers sing whatever tune is desired.

The larger question remains, why did H&K choose to release this data at this time? Neither Paluska nor another H&K exec have so far returned my calls and e-mails requesting comment on the ESA’s allegations.

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