Q: Who sponsored New York’s video game law?
A: There were two identical versions, one in the NY State Assembly and another in the NY State Senate. The Assembly version (A.11717) was sponsorsed by Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D, Brooklyn). The Senate version (S.6401-A) was sponsored by Sen. Andrew Lanza (R, Staten Island).
Q. How was it voted on in the legislature?
A. The Assembly version was passed 137-1. The Senate version passed 61-1.
Q. How did the bill get to be law?
A. After approval by the Assembly and Senate, Gov. David Paterson (D) signed it into law on July 22nd.
Q. Is this the same legislation that former Gov. Spitzer was favoring before his hooker incident cost him his job?
A. No. The bill under consideration last year would have made selling an M-rated game to a minor a felony crime. There is no such provision in this law.
Q. What does the law require?
A. The law requires:
- Video games sold by retailers in New York State which have a "standardized" and "commonly used" (e.g., ESRB) rating must display that rating on the outside of their packaging.
- New console systems sold in NY State must have parental controls
- A 16-member advisory council, appointed by the Governor, will a.) study the relationship between violent media and youth violence b.) evaluate the effectiveness of the ESRB rating system and make recommendations concerning it c.) study the potential of creating a parent-teacher violence awareness program to identify and assist potentially violent student
Q: Does the law apply to games sold online as well as in retail stores?
A: No. Although Sen. Lanza’s website initially claimed that it did, a reading of the legislation shows that "mail order" businesses, which under NY law include online retailers, are exempt from the rating requirements. GamePolitics contacted Sen. Lanza’s staff, which said that the online comment was a mistake and does NOT apply. The law applies ONLY to so-called "brick and mortar" retailers.
Q: Are the current ESRB ratings & content descriptors sufficient to meet the requirements of the law?
A: Yes. As long as a video game available at retail displays an ESRB rating and its associated content descriptors (and they already do), the retailer is in compliance.
Q. What about small publishers or independently created games which are not submitted for an ESRB rating?
A. As long as they are sold via online, no problem. They aren’t required to be rated.
Q. Are used games subject to the law?
A. If they are sold at retail, yes, but not for online sales, Ebay, etc.
Q. Do all games sold in New York have to display a rating?
A. Not exactly. Only games that are rated must display the rating. If an indie developer, for example, created a game, did not pay the ESRB to rate it, and sold it on his own, through non-industry retail channels, doing so would not violate the law. For all practical purposes, however, that’s a non-issue. All major retailers require games to be rated by the ESRB.
Q. When does the rating requirement take effect?
A. 120 days from the Governor signing the bill, approximately November 18th, 2008.
Q. As far as the parental control requirement for consoles, when does that take effect?
A. September 1, 2010.
Q. Why is there a delay?
A. "In order to permit the industry to adjust accordingly." We assume that relates to giving retailers time to clear their inventory of any remaining older consoles which lack parental controls, or perhaps giving the industry time to devise parental controls (although they are already in place for the current console generation).
Q. Does the law apply to sales of used systems?
A. No, it applies to new systems only.
Q. Are PC’s considered game systems under the law?
A. No, they are specifically excluded.
Q. Are handhelds like the DS or PSP subject to the law?
A. No, they too are specifically excluded.
Q. Who will serve on the Advisory Council?
A. That is up to Gov. Paterson, who will appoint the 16 members. According to the law, 14 of the members should have expertise in juvenile violence issues, while one seat goes to represent video game retailers and another goes to represent video game "manufacturers" (we believe they mean publishers).
Q. How long do the Advisory Council members serve? Are they paid?
A. Three years. They are not paid.
Q. When does the Advisory Council take effect?
Q. What are the penalties for violating the law?
A. In regard to selling consoles without parental controls, to quote from the legislation: "Whenever the court shall determine that a violation… has occurred, the court may impose a civil penalty of not more than five hundred dollars for a single violation and not more than fifty thousand dollars for multiple violations resulting from a single act or incident." As regards selling a game without a visible rating, the penalty is a civil fine of $100.
Q. What has been the video game industry’s response to the law?
A. Prior to the Governor signing the bill, the ESA, representing game publishers, asked members of its Video Game Voters Network to urge the Governor not to sign. Now that the bill has been signed, the ESA has not said what course of action it plans to take. The EMA, representing video game retailers, also opposed the bill as unnecessary. While the organization has not officially declared its course of action, initial comments seem to indicate that it believes its members can live with the law because it essentially changes nothing. Moreover, there has been a law in NY State for some years requiring DVDs sold at retail to display ratings which apparently has not impacted retailers in any material way.
Q. Why is this law different from numerous other laws that the game industry fought (and beat) in court?
A. The main reason is that there is no attempt to regulate the sale of any game. Other laws typically called for a fine or even the arrest of a retail clerk who sold an M-rated game to an underage buyer. There’s nothing like that in the NY law.
Q. Are there other laws that the video game industry has not opposed?
A. Yes. There are laws requiring that information about the industry’s rating system be posted in retail stores on the books in several states, including California, Washington, Georgia and Michigan. In Maryland there is a law making it illegal to sell a video game containing pornographic content to a minor which was not opposed by the industry.
Q. What other groups have opposed the law?
A. A number of groups have expressed concern. They include:
- NY Civil Liberties Union
- Americans for Tax Reform
- Media Freedom Project
Q. Will any of these groups sue to block the law, even if the game industry doesn’t?
A. That remains to be seen. GamePolitics was in touch with the NYCLU on July 23rd, but they had not decided upon a course of action at that point.
Q. What would be the constitutional arguments against the NY law?
A. One argument is that by using government power to mandate that there must be a rating on a game or parental controls built into consoles, it is thus "compelled speech," a free speech no-no. The advisory council, it could be argued, is a governmental oversight agency that will impose its will on the industry’s content rating process.
Q. Are there political risks to the video game industry in fighting the law?
A. Possibly. Since the law basically affirms parental resources that are already in place, fighting the law might be portrayed by game industry critics in terms of the industry not being serious or committed to the permanence of its ratings and/or parental controls.
Q. Where can I find all GamePolitics reports on the NY law?
A. Click here.
Q. Where can I find a copy of the legislation?
Q. Is it true that before he was busted as a client of a call girl ring, former Gov. Spitzer attacked the inclusion of hookers in Grand Theft Auto when he was pushing video game legislation in 2006-2007?
A. LOL, yes. In fact, GamePolitics readers named him Gaming’s Biggest Political Hypocrite over the call girl issue.
GP: We will be updating this FAQ as new information/developments become known.