Friday, July 15, 2005

Dear Doug

Let’s get right to the stupid.

Opportunism was rampant yesterday. Democrat Hillary Clinton had a press conference where she equated the hot coffee mod in GTA: San Andreas to pornography.

Ma’am, if you think that’s pornography, welcome to 1965. Ask your husband—he can explain it to you.

Here’s a link to her incoherent ramblings:

That was followed by a hysterical “open” letter from Republican Jack Thompson, who I assume must be somebody, to the Entertainment Software Association. He managed to mention God and the Nazis in a letter about violence and sex in videogames, which I always find impressive. True, he didn’t talk about the tinfoil diaper he wears to protect himself from unwanted alien anal probes, but I guess we can’t have everything.

Here’s a link to his incoherent ramblings:

Here’s all you really need to know about what they said, though (from MSNBC):
The senator’s legislation would impose a $5,000 penalty on retailers who sell to underage consumers video games that are rated “M” (for mature) or “AO” (adults only) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an industry group.

There’s the meat. Clinton wants to criminalize the sale of restricted-rating games to consumers who are under the age limit.

I’m not going to talk any more about what a bad idea this is, because I’ve already discussed that at length.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the Entertainment Software Association and what jackholes they are.

While all this rabid hysteria is foaming around them, the ESA is sitting around with its thumb up its ass, denying that there’s a problem.


The ESA is allowing everyone else to control the pace and path of this discussion. Fires are burning and they’re blithely claiming that they can’t even smell smoke.

Hysteria can only exist in the absence of data.

And that, my friends, is the problem.

How easy is it for underage consumers to buy games with an “M” or “AO” rating? Well, we have absolutely no idea. And because we have no idea, it creates a huge window of opportunity for politicians, who are opportunistic by nature, to exploit the issue to pile up political capital.

Now here’s the question to the ESA: you don’t want underage consumers buying inappropriate games, do you? Then why the hell haven’t you established whether that problem actually exists? Would you rather let the freight train of stupid gather speed until it runs over you?

Because you guys seem mentally incapable of handling this, please allow me to do it for you.

First, you need to get the MPAA and RIAA involved. If selling games in violation of age restrictions is criminalized, they’re going after rap music and violent films next. Count on it. So the three of you all have a stake in this.

Second, here’s your press release. I don’t trust you to write it yourself.
The Entertainment Software Association today launched a comprehensive initiative to protect children from exposure to age-inappropriate content. The PLAY (Protect and Lead America’s Youth) initiative will make quarterly checks on over 5,000 retail locations in the United States to ensure that children are not purchasing software in violation of ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) guidelines. Compliance data will be made publicly available four times a year, after each survey has been completed. In addition, educational point of sale materials will be offered to all retailers to better educate both retail employees and consumers about the ESRB guidelines. These materials will be prominently displayed in retail locations across America. “Thank God I pulled my head out of my ass before it was too late,” said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association. “We seek a partnership with parents to protect their children from inappropriate content, while at the same time allowing them to enjoy the rich variety of games that are suitable for their age.”

Here’s the important part, Doug: now you actually have to do something. This program has to be set up. It’s not as tough as it sounds, though—this is where the MPAA and RIAA can help. There can be a coordinated program between you to check broadline retailers (Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, etc.) where music, DVD’s, and games are all sold.

Here are the steps.
1. Create a master database of locations for both broadline retailers (Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, Fry’s, etc.) and specialty game stores (EB, Gamestop, etc.). Don’t worry if it’s not comprehensive at first—it will improve over time. Every chain can provide a flat file with all their retail locations. This is also the appropriate time to send the store’s national headquarters an informational flyer about the program and how it will work.

2. Select the survey locations. I know that 5,000 locations sounds overwhelming, but it’s only one hundred two-man teams surveying fifty locations each. The entire survey could easily be done in a week if it’s organized well, even if the MPAA and RIAA weren’t involved. You also need to rotate these locations--don't survey the same 5,000 every quarter.

3. Hire the teams. The two-man teams should consist of one teenage kid (fifteen or sixteen years old) and one adult. The kid tries to buy something he shouldn’t, while the adult supervisor watches from a discrete distance. If the attempted purchase fails, the adult supervisor congratulates the clerk, locates the section manager, and offers the new point of sale materials for display. If the attempted purchase succeeds, the supervisor can find the manager for that section and provide a packet of information to help educate the employees, in addition to suggesting display of the point of sale materials.

4. When the surveys are completed, data is compiled and released publicly—with much fanfare.

So if there is a problem with underage kids buying “M” rated software, you’ll actually have data to work with. Identifying whether a problem exists is the first step in managing the problem. And having legitimate data to measure and compare is the next step—without it, you’re just a bunch of monkeys in the trees, flinging your crap at each other.

And if only one percent of the surveyed stores made an error, you’ve just proved there isn’t much of a problem. Then all politicians have to attack are parents who are buying the game for the kids to play. Politicians don’t like to attack parents, generally, so they’ll say nothing, and as long as you do the quarterly surveys honestly and report the data, this problem goes away. And if a problem does develop at some point, you have both the methods and the tools to fix it.

I know this sounds expensive. Not really. It’s much less expensive than paying lawyers one hundred billion dollars an hour to challenge laws passed by state legislatures all over the country. It also improves your image, and believe me, that could use some polishing.

That really wasn’t so hard, was it?

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