Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Video Game Voter's Network: Whose Interests is it Defending?

Interesting bit over at Gamepolitics discussing the problem with the quasi-astroturf Video Game Voters Network, an organization of gamers and game advocates created by the ESA for lobbying/outreach purposes. I like the idea of the organization, but have always sort of wondered who, exactly, lobbies for the interests of the consumers, instead of the producers.

Two cases in point:

I learned that the VGVN was run by the ESA; a publisher organization. Why would I, as a consumer, want to further the interests of a business? I’m sure it was in the fine print when I signed up with the VGVN, but that was quite awhile ago, before the new, in my opinion quite atrocious, [website] redesign was introduced. Also, I really didn’t like their new “Trailer” for the fight to stop video game legislation. I found it to be very condescending, as the VGVN is trying to reach gamers of voting age. Very much propagandist. It seems like they are trying to reach those who aren’t intellectually or physically mature enough to have critical thinking skills.
And then there's this one:

I wanted to separate myself from any involvement with the ESA after their little mod chip raid with the feds. Easier said than done. You can’t cancel your membership on their website. There is no option to do so. Contacting the VGVN about cancelling your membership is met with an automated ignore-a-gram Email. I really don’t think there’s any way you can cancel the account (without insider contacts, at least).

This is, of course, an age old tactic [of] organizations whose credibility (or revenue) depends on the number of members they have. Whether it’s done accidentally or on purpose, the end affect is the same… the VGVN membership numbers will be grossly inflated given enough time, if they aren’t already. VGVN will happily report membership numbers that include people with multiple accounts (if you change Email addresses, you have to get another account, for example) and inactive members who registered just to see what the thing was all about.
The VGVN has since rectified the joining vs. leaving issue, but the basic problem remains: since they're representing the interests of game producers, any issue where the interests of producers and consumers diverge is going to be ill-served by this organization. And there are a lot of places where said interests diverge: the legality of emulation, modding and backups, games being one of the few bits of media that you can't return even if it's terrible or out-and-out defective, possible issues of oligopoly or monopoly in the industry, among many others.

(Hell, there's something to be said for labor organization in that industry, too; game publishers are notorious for over-using "crunch time" to burn out promising designers and programmers, thanks largely to terrible management and budgeting. The ESA sure isn't going to support THAT, though.)

Sure, they're in harmony over not wanting the United States to go down the German path of treating harmless game designers like criminals out of ignorance and scapegoating, but the divergence is real, and definitely means that everybody needs representation, not just the big producers.

Edit: The ECA definitely looks like an interesting choice, but so far there isn't much there yet. I'd definitely keep an eye on it, though.

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