Video-game companies pulling the plug on industry association

[13 May 2008]

By Victor Godinez

The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

At a time when video-game companies are raking in record sales, it’s odd to think that the industry’s main trade association is collapsing.

But it sounds as if that’s exactly what’s happening, and E3, the big annual gaming expo, could end up crushed in the rubble.

Activision, which recently surpassed Electronic Arts as the world’s biggest game publisher, and Vivendi, another premier publisher, recently canceled their memberships in the Entertainment Software Association.

There were reports last week that LucasArts, makers of the billion or so “Star Wars” games over the last decade (including the upcoming and much more promising “Force Unleashed”), has dropped out as well.

There have been complaints that the ESA has not done an effective lobbying job for the industry over the last year or so, which could be one reason for the defections.

Also, one of the other main functions of the ESA is to organize the annual E3 conference.

Last year, E3 was drastically scaled down after some publishers complained that the event was turning into an expensive rock concert rather than a serious business conference.

But few who attended the revamped E3 seemed pleased with the new format, either, complaining that events were scattered all over Los Angeles.

Plus, with the rise of blogs and online video, game companies are finding that it’s easier and cheaper to get their message out on the Web, rather than hosting an expensive party for a relatively small slice of the game community.

So Activision and Vivendi won’t be at the official conference in mid-July (although they could have unofficial events at nearby hotels), and it’s looking as if LucasArts will be a no-show.

Id Software has also been noncommittal about attending, even though the company has some cool new projects under development that gamers probably want to hear about, such as the recently announced “Doom 4.”

Game publishers need some kind of trade group to represent the industry, and I think an event like E3 still has value.

It’s still the only time of year when mainstream news outlets such as CNN devote more than 20-second sound bites to gaming, for example. And there are always plenty of cool new games and systems unveiled that give hard-core fans the vapors.

If they can stop jabbing one another with pointy sticks for a few minutes, it would probably be a good idea for Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and some of the big publishers to sit down soon and figure out an alternative to the ESA.

Letting it die a slow death of a thousand cuts is distracting and detrimental to the game industry at a time when everyone should be celebrating the stupendous popularity (and profitability) of video games.

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