Washington Post Probes ESA Member Defections

Reporter Mike Musgrove digs into the ESA’s recent difficulties in today’s Washington Post.

Musgrove brings an interesting perspective to the piece, given that he wrote one of the early profiles of embattled ESA CEO Michael Gallagher last September. In response to Musgrove’s questions about losing Activision, Vivendi, LucasArts and id as member companies, Gallagher said:

There are hundreds of trade associations in Washington and virtually all feature member turnover and the ESA is no exception.

Increased membership fees due to the scaling back of E3 may be part of the problem, Musgrove reports, quoting Wedbush-Morgan analyst Michael Pachter:

These [publishers] got rid of E3 so they wouldn’t be spending money, and they suddenly find they are spending the same amount of money, but without the spectacle of E3. I can’t comment on whether the ESA is effective or not, but clearly several members decided that this is not the kind of reward they expect for that amount spent.

 For the industry’s largest players, those fees could be $4.5 million or more per year. id CEO Todd Hollenshead also cited membership fees:

Our departure from ESA is probably temporary and was not political. It was just a question of other priorities this year that we wanted to focus on… [The ESA] is a credit to the industry.

Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA), told Musgrove he knew of two other (unnamed) publishers that are planning to drop their ESA membership status:

Several [other publishers] are unhappy but remain with the organization… It’s really concerning for all of us. Anyone who cares about the games business should be concerned about what’s going on with the ESA.

Musgrove noted that Gallagher has maintained a relatively low profile since taking over the reigns, and that support was top-tier game publishers seems less effusive than it was in 2007:

[Gallagher’s] been kind of quiet since that [September WaPo profile]… After a Fox News show featured an uninformed pundit going off about the allegedly sexually explicit nature of… Mass Effect, some gamers complained that the ESA did not step in to defend the game industry…


While top-ranking game industry executives were quick to get on the phone or respond to my e-mail queries about Gallagher last year, they weren’t as chatty this year… Last year, Robbie Bach, head of Microsoft’s game division, got on the phone to sing Gallagher’s praises. This year, Microsoft sent me a statement: "We’re as committed as ever to the ESA, and we look forward to participating in E3 this summer." Nintendo released a shorter, nine-word statement along the same lines.

For his part, Gallagher told Musgrove:

When it’s necessary for the industry to have that loud, clear and public voice to defend itself from a baseless attack, I will be there.


Full Disclosure Dept: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics

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  1. Stinking Kevin says:


    Once again, it sounds like many of us here feel that one ding-mo on an afternoon chat show, calling one particular game a sex simulator without ever playing it, was a "baseless attack on the industry."

    I find that shortsighted, to a fault. Certainly, it was baseless attack against the one particular game, but not against the entire industry. I disagree that it should be the job of anyone, especially the ESA, to go around responding to every ignorant, ratings-grab comment made by every ethically challenged idiot who happens to be warming a chair on Fox News. Further, I believe that it is counter-productive to lend more weight to such isolated and inconsequential incidences of ignorance.

    I do think the comment was greatly unjust, but it was also completely insignificant. Nobody cared, except for us, and most of us objected for academic reasons, not actualities. In any case, in the end, the only lasting effect of the comment was to embarrass the foolish woman who made it, and to subject her book to the grandest-scale Amazon-bombing I’ve ever witnessed. If that’s what you call an "attack on the industry," it failed miserably on its own, didn’t it? So what need was there for intervention by the ESA?

    Wouldn’t it be better for the ESA to spend its resources defending games-at-large in the mainstream, instead of following up on random comments that no one except fairly hardcore, industry-savvy gamers even noticed in the first place?

    In other words, I agree that Gallagher has so far failed, badly, at giving the industry any unified voice or rallying cry, but I disagree that the industry’s leading trade organization should waste time or money raising the significance of such comments as Cooper Lawrence’s by even acknowledging them. Did anyone from BioWare or MS ask the ESA for help? Do we have reason to believe the dev and pub even wanted the ESA speaking on their behalf? If I were a member company, I think I’d rather my dues were spent fighting battles that might actually make a difference.


    As for the other branch of this discussion — E3 — wasn’t it the big publishers themselves, and not the ESA, that decided to "tone down" the conference in 2007? I seem to remember a flood of blog posts and comments (here and elsewhere) a couple years back in which we were blaming EA and the like for ruining the show for "the little guys." The way we were talking about it back then, it sounded like the ESA would have liked to keep E3 the big (and profitable, as I understand it) spectacle that it was, instead of downsizing the conference into oblivion. Also, I think all that downsizing happened back when Lowenstein was in charge, so I am not sure we should be blaming Gallagher too much for the death of E3. (Isn’t there plenty else to blame him for?)

  2. Anonymous (but not like *chan) says:

    "When it’s necessary for the industry to have that loud, clear and public voice to defend itself from a baseless attack, I will be there."


    Or, in other words: I AM JUST RECACTIONARY.

    How about being proactive about positive coverage, you schmucks?

  3. Conejo says:

    Agreed.  the ESA has not been there when obvious and easily correctable mistakes have been made in the media.

    the ESA obviously failed E3 on such a massive scale that people are leaving due to the repurcussions

    the ESA goes on a bitchfest about GamePolitics’ journalistic integrity.

    there are serious problems they need to face if they want to stay together.  as stands, now they just look like the asshole in the room, the drunken relative who embarasses everyone at the family party.

    Here are we — and yonder yawns the universe.

  4. Hevach ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    "When it’s necessary for the industry to have that loud, clear and public voice to defend itself from a baseless attack, I will be there."

    That’s a real hoot. I think there’s a lot of things in this vein the ESA could be doing, and it’s not doing any of them.

    First off, the Mass Effect crap should have been a huge deal. Maybe it wasn’t a critical battle, but with such a clear and easily broken lie, if it was followed through and embarrassed the people involved, it would have gone to discourage editors, discredit opponents, and ultimately would have been leverage in later controversy. GTA, on the other hand, isn’t as clear cut of an argument, since the disputed content is actually there, even if it’s distorted. A couple high profile PR victories would have helped regardless.

    Second, I think Thomspon’s downfall should be dragged accross every news desk in the country, in part to strike before he gets a permanant (and likely more damaging) career as a talking head, and also to discourage the bandwagon when somebody inevitably takes his place.

    Lastly, there’ve been several critical PR losses over the years with regards to school shootings. It’s so often cited that the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters (among others) practiced in video games. Even though it’s a lie, and could have been stamped out at the source, it wasn’t, and now they’re so deeply imbedded in common knowledge that they’ll probably never be stamped out.

  5. black manta says:

    I’m really getting sick of the apathy over at the ESA.  They really need to get a CEO with some real balls.

    Doug Lowenstein was OK, but he should have been more willing to directly confront the likes of Jack Thompson when it was needed the most, particularly during Hot Coffee.  His farewell "duck and cover" speech ultimately rang hollow as he himself should have been more strident and vocal in defending the most controversial games, even if he personally didn’t agree with them.

    I wanted to like Gallagher.  Initially he seemed to be more like a hands-on guy and seemed to take mopre of an active interest in the ESA.  I was concerned about his ties to the Bush Administration, though, but most people at the time seemed OK with him regardless.

    But then he started showing his true colors.  First was his pro-DRM stance.  And then of course the Mod Chip raids.  Only a Bush crony would consider using the Department of Homeland Security (our new Gestapo) for such a thing.

    Defending video games from baseless attacks?  I’ll believe it when I see it.  So far, as others have said, the silence has been deafening with regards to Mass Effect and GTA IV.  In the case of the former, EA and the gaming community did that, and we shouldn’t have had to.  But that’s OK, really.  Why?  Because we’ve long since learned not to trust institutions like the ESA to ever say or do anything on our behalf in defending our pastime from the media.  We’re getting used to to having to do it ourselves, even if we don’t like to.  But we realize what the alternative is if we do nothing.  So we pick up the banner and do the fighting, which really is as it should be anyway.  The grassroots organizations end up being the most successful in that regard.

    So it’s no wonder, then, that the major publishers are leaving the ESA like rats leaving a sinking ship.  But while I wish I could say I’d be glad to see it go, I realize that without the ESA, there would be no one to challenge the unconstitutional laws when they go to court.  I’d like to think the ECA could fill that void, but the money and the resources aren’t there at the moment.

    So the only solution at this point would be to get Gallagher to step down and have someone more competent with a less authoritarian attitude to take his place.  I think maybe with someone who’s a bit more friendlier towards consumers and developers will eventually win back a lot of the companies who have now left.

  6. Anonymous says:

    the only defense coming from anywhere in the gaming industry in reent times was the amazon attack of ms. lawerence.  gamers were forced to countersmear ms lawerence because there was relitively no representation for gamers. gamers were forced to take matters into their own hands, which never should of happened.  the esa should of spoken to fox, atleast. despite the existence of the esa, there is no evidence for any representation. 

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hm, being a "Washington insider" may not have gotten Gallagher any pull when it comes to legislation, but it certainly seems to be good for a nice knob polishing from the Washington Post.

  8. Christophe Janson ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    To put it as simple as possible. The ESA is weak and has no energy left whatsoever. We need a new one, a ESA that actually love games and are willing to fight every battle for them.

  9. Anonymous says:

    "When it’s necessary for the industry to have that loud, clear and public voice to defend itself from a baseless attack, I will be there."

    Where were you during the Mass Effect fiasco? What about defending GTA4?

    Only thing I remember you doing is having your consumers prosecuted for mod chips, and not a lot of people loiked that.


  10. Stinking Kevin says:

    I wonder which laws and which states you are thinking of. I am unaware of any action the ACLU has taken against anti-game laws, and I am a longtime member who receives ACLU news and email updates several times a week.

    From what I understood, in my state (Michigan) at least, the ACLU did not see a need get involved because the ESA was already challenging the constitutionality of the laws. Here, the ESA was successful in its challenge, and then also in getting the state to pay for its legal expenses out of our tax dollars.

    I don’t think the EFF had anything to do with challenging the anti-game laws here in Michigan, either, and I haven’t read anything about it defending games from bad legislation in other states.

    Can you enlighten us?

  11. johnnyproz says:

    I was actually aware that it was the EFF that did much of the legwork and funding and not the ESA. I may be wrong however but according to what I have been following, its been the ACLU, EFF more so than the ESA which have done more to strike those video game laws

  12. Beery says:

    Yeah, that was fricken crazy!  Using the government to mount a witch hunt against the industry’s most committed customers.  I mean you can’t make this stuff up.  Some folks are just nutcases.

  13. odc04r says:

    Only thing that springs to my mind when I think ESA is the raids they conducted on modders with the help of homeland security.

    They kinda shot themselves in the foot with that one publicity wise…

  14. Gray-17 says:

    They will not fight for fair treatment from the government. They will only fight unfair treatment from the government.

    You might have hit across something there. If you define "Baseless attacks" solely as unconstitutional legislation, then the ESA is doing a decent job of defending itself from them.

  15. E. Zachary Knight says:

    The ESA, to me, seems to be a very defensive organization when it comes to Legislation. Only Legislation. They are not playing anykind of offense. They leave that to their member organizations.

    Well, I take that back. They do play the offense when it comes to their consumers. They will fight their consumers any day.

    But they will not work to develop a positive image with the public. They will not defend against negative image from the public.

    They will not fight for fair treatment from the government. They will only fight unfair treatment from the government.

    So, what is their purpose again? It is no wonder that their member organizations are leaving and it is no wonder why they have alienated their consumers.

    E. Zachary Knight


    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  16. Mirrikat says:

    Well in many situations the ESA does prove their worth. Who do you think brought legal action against the video games laws in several states? Without the ESA some of those laws might have went into effect.

  17. GRIZZAM PRIME says:

    The ESA is a waste. All thay have to do to prove their worth is to pony up and defend the industry, but you just can’t seem to do that. Seriously Mike, get you some balls.


    -GRIZZAM PRIME(c)is property of the U.S. Marine Corp. Wetworks Dept., and also The Incredible Hulk-GRIZZAM PRIME is not to be associated with GRIZZAM 512 or any other GRIZZAM entity under penalty of law, so sayith ZARATHOS.

  18. thefremen says:

    When it’s necessary for the industry to have that loud, clear and public voice to defend itself from a baseless attack, I will be there.

    So in his mind, Mass Effect was a graphically explicit sex simulator then? He never defended against that baseless attack.

  19. Korrd says:

    I have to agree with the general consensus that the ESA just doesn’t seem all that effective, at least from my perspective. I recall on several occasions thinking, "This would be a perfect opportunity for the ESA to flex its muscle." Instead we got… nothing. If Mr. Gallagher has been waiting for the right time to act, I’d question his ability to recognize it.

    The most memorable ESA moment in the past year? The mod chip raids. That was a sad, sad day for gamers and the industry.

  20. Zee says:

    From this, it looks to me like the ESA is basically just not giving their money’s worth and the decisions are basically just to bail on it because it’s not cost effective. The E3 was the industry’s main event, as well as something probably most gamers dreamed of attending. So scrapping that wasn’t the very best PR move, and one in a few bad decisions on how to deal with the public and media.

    as for Gallagher saying: "When it’s necessary for the industry to have that loud, clear and public voice to defend itself from a baseless attack, I will be there." I think he missed the chance by not speaking out for Mass Effect when it was needed, and I don’t believe I’ve heard him on GTA4 either, despite all that’s going on around it.

     Edit: @GP: "shouldn’t it be support for top tier game publishers" rather than "support was top tier game publishers"? Might be mistaken as I’m not a native english speaker, but it seemed off to me.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Er… Hate to say it Mr Gallagher, but it’s not you who decides when the situation requires you to dissapear into your phone box and get into costume. The whole industry has been under attack for several years, and you’ve been ‘choosing you moment’?

    I think you need to choose a little faster.

Comments are closed.