The Agenda

Gene Hoffman on Crippling Video Game Innovation

As most of you know, the video game industry has been growing explosively over the last decade. Social games and casual games have been growing at a particularly fast clip, but immersive, narrative games are at least as important to the entertainment industry as Hollywood blockbusters. According to Gene Hoffman Jr. in an op-ed just published in Xconomy, a 2005 California state law is threatening to undermine our constitutional rights and sap the vitality of a flourishing American industry. How perfectly wretched:


There are two significant problems with the law in question. First, the definition of a “violent video game” is very unclear. The law adopts classic definitions for sexual obscenity, but those terms don’t make a lot of sense in the context of a video game. Does killing Nazis on the beaches of Normandy in a WWII game reach a level of violence “offensive to the community?” Troubling also is the State of California defending its law by citing social science research that considers Super Mario Brothers to be a violent video game. (See pages 3 and 28 of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s amicus brief in Schwarzenegger vs. EMA.)

The larger problem with the law is that it is likely to have broad unintended consequences in the development of the video game industry as online business models become more prevalent. The original bill sponsor and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) imply that the act was only intended to apply to the retail sales of boxes at local stores. However, the law as written is quite broad. It simply states that a “person may not sell or rent a video game that has been labeled as a violent video game to a minor.”

This, of course, would cripple firms that rely heavily on the freemium model, as Hoffman explains. 


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