The Brains Behind E3: The ESA

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Entertainment Software Association Talks About The Future

When dazzled by all of the flashy lights, life-size models, news releases, and hot video game trailers that is the E3 extravaganza, it’s easy to forget that someone has to do all the grunt work of putting such a spectacle together. Someone has to crunch the numbers and measure the floor space and make sure that the gears keep spinning, and that the whole thing doesn’t Red Ring of Death on the thousands of attendees, and millions of gamers who wait with bated breath for public release of hotly anticipated gameplay teasers.

In the case of E3, that someone is the ESA – the Entertainment Software Association. During this year’s E3, GiN sat down with ESA senior vice president of communications Rich Taylor, to ask about E3 and the ESA’s agenda for this last year and the coming one.

GiN: What efforts are the ESA planning in the coming year?

Taylor: Well that will be determined by our members and their needs. Right now we really just work very hard to create an environment that allows the great creative minds of the industry to do what they do best – which is make great games and get them to consumers. We like to think that we represent the publishers of video games, but we also help advocate on behalf of consumers and their interests as well.

GiN: How has E3 been this year? What have been the greatest hurdles and successes?

Taylor: You know what, so far so good. This is day one and we’re thrilled. We have great showing of attendance, we’re going to hit our mark of about 45,000 people expected here, and a little over two hundred exhibitors. We sold out the floor space in record time. We have marketing all over Los Angeles – if you drive around you know that the circus of E3 has come to town. So E3’s off to a great start.

Challenges-wise, we just want to make sure it’s a great experience for exhibitors, for the attendees – which include retailers, journalists, industry analysts. If they have a good experience, we consider it a good show. And after every show, we survey them all, and we find out what they liked, what they didn’t like, what we can improve, what we can change, and we make those tweaks – and that happens right after the close of the show, so when 2011 ended we turned right around and got to work on 2012, and you’re seeing the results today.

GiN: So you’re saying you sold out space in record time – is it a jump from last year?

Taylor: We also packed last year as well. We’re very fortunate to have an industry that’s doing well, that folks are interested in, engaged in. But we’re also very proud to have a tradeshow which is the number one in its class in the world that represents this industry. I think you’ll recognize that if you’re in this world, or have an interest in the world of video games, you really do need to be at E3. So there’s a real eagerness to find a place to fit in, a place to belong within the show, and we’re fortunate to be able to provide that.

GiN: So do you feel that E3 is growing, and hoping to continue to grow?

Taylor: Yeah, well, there are natural kind of caps in place so that it doesn’t become too large. We could have 200,000 people come through the doors, but then you wouldn’t be able to navigate the aisles, you wouldn’t be able to actually experience the games. There would be too many people between you and the experience. So really what we want to have it be is a real quality experience no matter what your goal is at E3 – if you’re the one in the booth putting on the show, the exhibit, we want to make sure that works for you. If you’re a game journalist we want to make sure you get to your interviews and get a chance to experience the games. All those things we want to have be as smooth as possible, so we really have worked very hard with the leadership of the ESA to figure out what are the right numbers what are the right sizes and we feel pretty good about where we are right now.

GiN: In finding the ideal balance?

Taylor: Yeah, the sweet spot.

GiN: So tell me a bit about the ESA’s projects to help growth in the gaming industry – I’m thinking specifically of stuff like the scholarship that the ESA offers. What’s the status of the Fund this year, and does the ESA plan to continue that?

Taylor: Yeah, we have the ESA Foundation. The Foundation provides scholarships for young folks heading to college. They’re available for women and minorities, and it has been a very successful program, we’ve had some amazing students take advantage of the support that we’ve provided.

The Foundation is something I really encourage people to look at, because there’s some amazing things going on. The Foundation provides money to support programs where education and interactive technology are working together. So where folks are using games or game technology to teach or to learn, that’s stuff that’s happening through the Foundation’s support. You have some amazing things happening, everything from using video games to teach at Colonial Williamsburg, to Native American tribes using games to make sure that younger generations don’t lose the native language of the tribe.

We’re seeing just really cool applications that really make you proud to be supportive of and part of an industry that allows this to happen. We have games where kids who have cancer play a game that helps them understand how the medications help attack the cancer in their body, and they find that when the kids do that they feel like they have more control over their treatment and are more likely to stay on their medication and really be dedicated to their care and recovery.

And so when you see something like that you think, wow, we’re really fortunate to be able to be supportive of something that special. And we have a lot of things like that, so I really encourage folks to check out the ESA Foundation and what they’re doing.

GiN: I’m personally curious – you say the scholarship is available to women and minorities – have you seen what are the ratios on that? Are you seeing a lot of women taking advantage of that?

Taylor: We are. Absolutely we’re seeing that. We’re seeing so many more folks interested in studying in the space that becomes computer and video games. It’s a progression people want to pursue really at a level we’ve never seen before. I think because folks have grown up playing the games, they’re fascinated by it, they enjoy it, they want to pursue it, they’re passionate.

And now you have over 300 colleges and universities offering programs related to the study of it, so there are more folks who want to study it, and more universities providing that opportunity, and it’s a really neat marriage going on right now.

GiN: And if people want to find out more about the Foundation they can just find it through the ESA website?

Taylor: That’s exactly right.

GiN: In your opinion, what would you say would be the biggest threat to games and game makers right now?

Taylor: A lot of folks who have been following us at all as an industry know that last year we had a very pivotal moment where the US Supreme Court looked at a law that was passed right here in the state of California.

GiN: Brown vs EMA/ESA?

Taylor: Exactly right. We prevailed in that, so there is a misperception by some that oh, okay, well, there’s no more threat – but you know there will always be folks looking for easy explanations for complex situations, and sometimes it’s an easy political point to score or editorial point to score to blame video games for something that is happening in the world, or the ills of society.

You know, when you look at how many people are playing games and see that 49 percent of American households have games, that an incredible percentage of Americans are playing games in some form, that alone should tell you that games are not driving people to do things that some would accuse the industry of promoting. If that were the case there’d be chaos in the streets, because everyone’s playing games.

So we have threats in terms of regulatory threats when people want to find ways to say you can’t play certain types of games, or you can’t have access to certain types of games. You have folks who are trying to keep games out of certain communities or perhaps libraries, or whatever it may be. Any time the hand of government in particular is trying to tell people what they can or can’t do, or can and can’t enjoy, that’s a concern. It should be a concern for everybody no matter what your interest is, but it should be a particular concern for gamers and those who care about creative expression in the video game industry. So we’re ever vigilant on that.

We’re also just always looking to make sure that games are, frankly, protected – too often piracy continues to be a problem that plagues our industry like it does many other creative industries. The folks who are the brain trust of our industry and the leaders of the companies within it do a lot to really make legitimate purchase of a game more attractive than theft of a game. It’s not necessarily something you’ve seen happen in movies or music or others that have been damaged by piracy. There’s a lot of benefits if you buy a legitimate copy of a game, there’s so much extra content you’re eligible to obtain, and it’s a very smart approach, just trying to reward legitimate commerce. But there’s still a lot of piracy, both in physical goods where people just make copies of games, and then you have online piracy as well, as broadband becomes more available and people have higher speed computers it becomes easier to take games for free.

So we’re very much aware of that issue and dong what we can to educate folks about it, and to prevent it where we can – which brings us back to where we started, which is that we’re all about promoting this industry in a way that lets creative folks do what they do best, however that is defined. Whether it’s fighting back regulation, or helping promote incentives in states who want to attract some of the great jobs that our industry brings to their state. You see Texas and Louisiana, North Carolina and other states, who said please come here video game industry, bring your great jobs, take part in our community, go to our schools, contribute to our tax base. And they’ve seen the benefits, by attracting industry. So that’s something else we do. It’s not always fighting something, a lot of times it’s promoting the good.

GiN: So in keeping with what we’ve been discussing, and going back to the Brown vs EMA/ESA decision, how have the effects of that been felt since the ruling? Has it impacted any lawsuits that might already have been in existence or that might be pending?

Taylor: No, I think it may have hopefully correctly discouraged other lawmakers – be they local, state, or on a more nation level – from trying to pass legislations hostile to the constitution, to the rights of both creators and the consumers. So hopefully that is what’s happened.

What I think has also happened is we’ve seen – and this has been a trend – a wider understanding and acceptance of what games bring in a positive way. So you have things like the Smithsonian in Washington DC having an exhibit about the Art of Video Games, first time that’s ever happened. You have the President’s Active Lifestyle Award – which used to be the Physical Fitness Award when I was growing up – saying video games are now a way that you can achieve your physical fitness goals. And you have the Secretary of Health and Human Services, joined by former Olympians and tennis champions like Billie Jean King, standing together and saying games are great exercise.

GiN: Yeah, anyone who’s really played with their Kinect knows that.

Taylor: Yeah, exactly right. You know we have competitions that have been chaired and blessed by government officials that have been promoting design and building of games by middle schoolers and high schoolers – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM Competition we call it – and it’s some of the most amazing, creative talent you’ve ever seen. You know, eighth graders creating these games out of nothing. And we had a great ceremony just a few weeks ago in Washington DC where we acknowledged a bunch of the winners.

So you’re seeing just really exciting pockets of activity, in both government and in private space, where people are saying, you know, video games are not only just fun, but they’re actually really positive and productive.

You know it wasn’t long ago, when I joined here about five years go, I used to talk about how our goals were changing the way people thought about games. It used to be too often when people thought about games they just thought one issue and that would be violence – and it was a naive way to look at this incredible industry. Well as the industry has evolved and done a better job of telling its story, and expanded the kind of titles that folks can have access to, violence isn’t even on the board anymore.

You’re looking at physical fitness, you’re looking at education, you’re looking at arts, you’re looking at all of these different ways that gaming is being embraced, and I think the ESA has done a nice job on behalf of the industry. But more importantly the creative talent in our industry is being appreciated in the way they deserve.

GiN: And to add to the examples of the wide use of games, I have a grandmother who is in her retirement home, and whenever I call to check up on her, she says things like, "Tonight is Wii bowling night downstairs, maybe I should go down there."

Taylor: How great is that?

GiN: Yeah, I tell her, "That’s great grandma, you go do your Wii bowling!"

Taylor: How great is that? I love hearing that.

GiN: We’ve kind of covered a lot of the other questions I was going to ask, so let’s get straight into this one, about SOPA. The ESA has gotten a lot of flak over its support of SOPA, with a lot of news people calling to boycott the show. Why did the ESA choose to support SOPA, and are you still supporting it?

Taylor: Well, I mean, the fundamental idea behind the legislation was that creative works and copyrighted works shouldn’t be allowed to be just randomly stolen on the internet, and that it needs partnership from the online community as well as the creative community to combat that. We said from the outset that we were engaged in the debate in hopes of helping shape consensus that would achieve those goals. We had members who were strongly in favor of it, others less embracing of it.

All I can say is the goal of protecting someone’s creative works is not incorrect. And we hope the day will come where folks can come around and come to agreement on that basic fundamental fact, and then figure out how best to address it.

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