BREAKING (UP): Activision and Vivendi Jump Ship From ESA

May 2, 2008 -

The Entertainment Software Association, the trade association which represents US game publishers, is losing Activision and Vivendi as member companies.

UPDATE: We've just received confirmation from the ESA. Rich Taylor, ESA Senior Vice President of Communications and Research, issued the following statement:
 

While the Entertainment Software Association remains the preeminent voice for U.S. computer and video game publishers, we can confirm that Activision and Vivendi Games opted to discontinue their membership.

The ESA remains dedicated to advancing our industry’s objectives such as protecting intellectual property, preserving First Amendment rights, and fostering a beneficial environment for the entire industry. Our high level of service and value to members and the larger industry remains unchanged.


We began working on this story this morning after reading online reports that Activision would not be exhibiting at E3 in July. Beyond that information, GamePolitics observed that the ESA's new website lists neither Activision or Vivendi as member companies.

The two game publishers, of course, are in the process of merging into Activision Blizzard. The reason for their decision to leave the ESA remains unclear at this point. Also unclear is whether any additional game publishers may defect from ESA member ranks.

The loss of two of its larger member firms will likely have a significant impact on the ESA's revenue base. In addition to its own operations, the ESA funds E3, the Video Game Voters Network, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences and the D.I.C.E. Summit. Any or all of those entities could feel the repercussions from the ESA's loss of member revenues.

UPDATE 2: We've got comment from Activision now:
 

After careful consideration, Activision has decided not to renew its ESA membership for business reasons and will not be participating in any official E3 activities.  We appreciate the work that the ESA has done over the years in promoting the interactive entertainment industry with state and federal governments and wish the ESA best of luck with the show.


UPDATE 3: Kotaku is reporting that four more publishers (NCSoft, Codemasters, id and Her Entertainment) won't participate in E3, although they are not dropping out of the ESA). Kotaku also has quotes from Wedbush-Morgan's Michael Pachter, who blames ESA president Mike Gallagher for the current issues with the publishers:
 

Lowenstein was a very savvy industry veteran who paid attention to the goings-on in the industry and cared what the community had to say. The new person... whose name completely escapes me because I've never met him or heard from him, is far less knowledgeable and sophisticated about this industry than Doug was and is going to make some rookie mistakes.


 

Doug used to be a very visible spokesperson in congress... when you'd get these [things like] Barack Obama saying videogames are corrupting our youth or MADD saying that Take-Two should pull GTA off the shelves, you would hear Lowenstein immediately shoot back. I would guess that Activision doesn't perceive the same value from the ESA as they did under Doug's leadership. I criticize [Gallagher's] lack of drive to learn about the industry.

 


Comments

@mogbert

"I’m a little foggy on what the ESA does, what the ECA does...."

To answer that question the ESA represents video game publishers while the ECA represents the video game consumers.

Brett Schenker
Online Advocacy Manager
The ECA
www.theeca.com

@Stinking Kevin

So apparently you missed these two paragraphs:

In March, GamePolitics reported that the ESA shuttered its New York office, and in so doing fired that office's head, senior VP and general counsel Gail Markels. Markels, who reportedly earned $317,000 in 2005, successfully led all the ESA's litigation efforts against unconstitutional video game laws.

The ESA apparently trimmed its lobbying initiatives throughout 2007 while budgets rose, according to a report made by GameSpot on public filings. Last year, the Association spent a record $2.86 million on lobbying — even though it chose to confront fewer issues, removing lobbying on online gambling, taxation of virtual property, and Internet privacy in favor of focusing solely on constitutional, copyright and relevant trade issues.


It's stuff like that as well.

@Gray17

From that it looks like the ESA is in danger of becoming a RIAA rip-off. And kicking the person who headed up their successful defences whilst the California Law is about to go to appeal to an unpredictable 8th Circuit probably didn't do wonders to install confidence either.

Thanks for the updates GP.

I find it interesting that despite the focus on copyright protection on the ESA's part, that ultimately, their lack of visibility (lobbying) in the public arena seems to be a major part of the departures.

Someone might almost mistake that as taking the moral high ground. After all, consumers hate the copy protection hoopla and the ESA is quickly becoming an RIAA clone in that regard. Bad things happen to organizations that actively pursue lawsuits against their own customers...

I guess I'd much rather have someone defend my right to make and sell a product that some people might find offensive than have someone you're supposed to be in league with bullying the poor consumer over something that is a hugely overblown issue like piracy.

I'm very interested to see how the rest of this unfolds. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that there is dissatisfaction with the new ESA boss. Seriously, has he done anything that stands out in recent memory? At least Lowenstien was a voice you saw in the headlines from time to time regardless if you think he brought about any real change or not.

Thanks, but I didn't miss that. I'm just not sure what it has to do Pachter's opinion of Gallagher, or with the general suggestion in various comments here that Vivendi quit the ESA because it doesn't do enough to "defend" games' reputations from crackpot editorials in the media.

You aren't suggesting that Vivendi quit jsut because the ESA downsized, are you? And I assume you aren’t suggesting that those anti-game laws would not have been over-turned if it had been some other suit, instead of Markels, who was in charge of hiring the lawyers...?

So what, then? Vivendi quit because the ESA is no longer lobbying on issues of online gambling, tax of virtual property, and internet privacy -- "stuff like that" -? I doubt that, too.

The ESA is an association of businesses. We tend to personify businesses, but in reality, they make decisions based on money, not emotion. I am not convinced that Vivendi quit due to Gallagher's silence in the mainstream, because I don't see how Gallagher speaking out in the media would do much to help their bottom line.

@Stinking Kevin

It doesn't have anything to do with Pachter's opinion of Gallagher. It does have plenty to do with why people are saying that Vivendi and Activision might be withdrawing from the ESA due to dissatisfaction with the ESA.

If the ESA is not representing their interests, for example, if the ESA isn't talking congress out of trying to lobby a tax on World of Warcraft accounts (virtual property), and so on, then Vivendi isn't too likely to continue to fund the ESA.

Similarly the ESA administrated E3 has lost a lot of it's hype and value in the last year or so. Why fund and go to that, when you could host your own successful show?

@ Stinking kevin

"Took notice of what?"


just meant generally about the fact nobody steps up to confront the blatant lies being spread through media time and time again. Perhaps if somebody did rigourously come forward to help gamers when we are the ones on the forums defending for instance the recent controversy over GTAIV, we wouldnt have half the problems we do from people like JT, because he wouldnt be getting air time, as as soon as he opened his mouth somebody official would shut him down.

ITs the complete lax attitude that lets things fester n grow worse, and the problems we have to put up with (all the stupid out of context crap about for instance cop killing simulators, training kids to kill etc etc) wont go away unless they are dealt with.

To get the stigma away from games that many people see, it needs to be tackled proactively.


Personally i dont think its of value to get into the whole Lowenstien and Pachterthing its a bit daft to bring it up as it just takes attention away from the important issues at hand, so i do agree with you the whole namecalling thing is pretty dumb! But the general point about the sit back and do nothing Laissez-faire attitude is valid.

I just feel we need a united voice to stand up and help us be taken seriously. i mean why do politicians constantly get away with teh lies they spread with not an official said about it. Why did nobody stand up n comment on the MADD statement. I mean we can all see how ludicrous it all is but it isnt going to go away unless people stand up and do something.

oh .. n the reason i think it shouldnt be up to individual publishers to defend individual games they have funded, is a simple one.

As soon as it becomes selective like that, all you get is JT n people shouting ''well of course they'd say that they have to make sure it sells its their game, so nothing they say is fact''


if we have one body stepping up to represent everyones interests its a far better structure.

I think this was GP's first non-GTA4 article in a week.

@Brett

Thank you! That cleared it up in a way I wasn't expecting when I asked the question. I was more expecting someone to say this group does this and that and says this and that except this and that.

I think it's important that someone speak for the gaming companies in congress, if for no other reason that without gaming companies, where would we be as gamers?

However, I think it would be a lot easier if it wasn't a bunch of 50+ year olds in the government. It will be 2030 before we start seeing the chance of people who "get it" in government.

Also, apparently CodeMasters may still be in for E3.

@mogbert

Actually, I'd expect that the "seeing people who 'get it' in government" would happen before 2030. In fact, I'd say it is just around the corner, quite honestly. Just because there are a lot of video gamers in their mid to late 30's, and even 40's out there... So the government offices are already getting populated with gamers...

Maybe if more people in the industry voiced their concerns on the lack of action, the ESA would start striking back. If that could come of this, then I'm glad.

"Lowenstein immediately shoot back"
I have to ask, did he really?

I don't recall him being that active, but I do know he would not do so if it involved a certain someone...

Ooh, this is gonna get interesting, isn't it?

ITS A TRAP! >_>

You know, I don't think I can recall a single time that the ESA has actually fought back when games were scrutinized. Did they ever?

Oh, and when did Obama say that games were corrupting America's children?

From esrb.org

"What is the ESRB?

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), formerly known as the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA)."

Also:

"Copyright and Credits

© 2006 Entertainment Software Association. All Rights Reserved. The ESRB rating icons are registered trademarks of the Entertainment Software Association."

I posted on 1up about this but I feel it needs repeating. Is this going to undermine the ratings system? I'm not sure, but JT and all the people like him are going to pounce on this as proof of their idiotic claims.

I wanted to comment on this earlier, but wasn't able to since this site is blocked at work.

For all the other reasons they Might have left the ESA, the one that strikes me as obvious seems pretty much impossible to miss, mainly, cause I've Been saying it.

The ESA HAS NO BALLS!!!

Since Gallagher took over, hell, even before that when Doug, they were pathetic. No courage, no proactivness, all they ever did was play defense in court. Never challanging there detractors publicly. It wasn't the ESA that went after thompson, it was Rockstar, It wa the FLorida bar, and it was Other judges, despite the fact that the ESA had PAGES UPON PAGES of evidence they could have used against the man, especially in regards to Doug L.

This is why the industry is slowly but surly going to walk away from the ESA and form it's own Group. To proactivly battle it's detractors. If the ESA wants to win back those who walked away, they have to start acting serious about fighting crap like FOX news and there "Mass effect scandal", or Jack Thompsons asine Bullshit about bully.

THe esa has long taken a "ignore it and it will go away" attitude to game controversy. Hate to say it, but I can understand why Developers would start to see that as a problem

@Yuki

How dare you! The ESA has always been there, like... uhhhh... like that one time... uhh... you know, that time they... uuhhhhhhhh... damnit.

Why would T2 want people to fight back? GTA4 is getting mad free publicity at the moment. If anything the ESA seems like it would just get in the way.

Well I haven't seen the ESA do anything except bust a few modders here and there and then crow about it, so I would imagine Vivendi have more productive things to spend their cash on.

My concern is if anti-games folk may use this to further their censorship agenda.

You can easily convince soccer moms and clueless politicians that the ESA is crumbling due to their corrupt desires to put porn in the hands of children: "ZOMG! Vivendi and Activision got fed up with being forced to distribute porn to minors and decided to leave."

What the ESA needs is a leader with the balls and charisma to take the fight to the very source of the issue.

I'm not really a fan of the ESA (or the ESRB) so I'm really interested in what will come of this. I agree with the comments that state the ESA needs to be more bold and needs to fight back a bit although I must admit a lot of people give undeserved grief to them for not fighting back against a certain washed-up "first amendment attorney".

What has the ESA done? E3(dead), Video Game Voters Network(doesn't really do much or anything), and the ESRB(broken).

I hope one of two things happens, either the ESA collapses and a new, stronger trade association is born or the ESA becomes a new and stronger trade association to combat government regulation and censorship and also begins to rectify past failures.

I personally don't know Mike Gallagher so I'm not really comfortable saying he lacks charisma but I do think something inside the ESA might need to change else there may be a few more publishers that may be willing to cancel their membership.

I really wish hack sites like Kotaku would stop giving Pachter coverage. So he knows the new guy at the ESA is ineffective but can't even remember his name? And Lowenstein was outspoken? What planet is he from? Lowenstein's inaction is a big part of the reason the industry's been stepped on so much the last few years. Pachter may be a good media personality but his knowledge is far less than these sites give him credit for. Like most Wall Street analysts, he makes guesses only, accepting praise for the few he gets right and ignoring the majority he gets wrong.

Pretty much all those organizations that claim to defend games haven't done a damn thing. That's why I stopped with the ECA. Maybe I should save up and start my own group or something. Still, I'd never get enough money to attack the censor monsters.

Grizzam512 - The IGDA's Jason Della Rocca never has a problem firing some comments back. Its awesome, but not everyone is a game developer. However, it doesn't really matter if you make games or not, many people play them. Thats why the ECA is awesome, because its built of gamers. What is more important than money is numbers, if the ECA continues growing I don't see any reason why the games industry and gamers won't see an improvement in the political realm.

[...] Game biz guru Keith Boesky offers his thoughts on last week’s stunning news that Activision and Vivendi have pulled out of the ESA. [...]

[...] With that much responsiblity, it does not look good when developers abandon the organization’s ship. [...]
 
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