ESA Bounces Back With Nastume, SouthPeak
The Entertainment Software Association appears to be mounting a comeback, adding two companies to its roster after a rough 2008 that saw the departure of several high-profile members.
Japanese developer and publisher Natsume Inc. announced it had joined the ESA today, only one week after American publisher SouthPeak Interactive revealed that it had also signed up. Executives from both companies expressed confidence in the ability of the ESA to represent their interests and the videogame industry as a whole. "Our industry needs a strong and active trade organization and we are pleased to support that effort," said SouthPeak Marketing Vice President Richard Iggo, while Natsume President and CEO Hiro Maekawa referred to the group as "the voice for the videogame industry."
The addition of two companies to the ranks of the ESA is a much-needed spot of good news after last year's departure of developers and publishers like LucasArts, id Software and Activision Blizzard. Criticism of current ESA Chief Executive Michael Gallagher appeared to be at the root of the problem although none of the departing companies actually made such claims, and eventually not just the relevance but the very existence of the ESA was brought into question. In a look at the ESA's future written last year, The Escapist's Sean Sands said the organization was in "full-on self-destruct mode."
Fortunately, the ESA's predicted demise appears increasingly unlikely. While SouthPeak and Natsume don't draw the same water as id and Activision, the growth in membership coupled with high hopes for a resurgent E3 in 2009 point toward a newfound relevance for the group in the future. "We are proud to represent the videogame industry," said Gallagher, "as we continue to fight piracy, combat unconstitutional legislation, and expand our industry's contributions to the economy and society overall."
Personally, I don't believe that ESA's policy towards preventing copyright infringement in the market is effective. They attempt a physical allocation of manpower to deal with piracy, when in fact in can be seen from examples such as Valve and Blizzard Entertainment that a digital world requires digital enforcement. Effective patching and necessity of an active internet connection can often suffice in place of any such "enforcement".
Why on earth would you ever pirate a game such as Counter-Strike or Starcraft? The majority of the allure of these games is the thrill of playing online versus other players. With the hosting capabilities provided by the developers and their associates, the player base has responded positively and is actively involved in further contributions to the games livelihood. Valve has an active modding community spurred from their open source code that is amazingly supported (*1), and Blizzard has set up forums (*2) specifically for player feedback.
The ESA's Internet Piracy section of their Anti-Piracy Training section clearly states "Since the program's inception in 1998, the ESA has obtained the takedown of more than 150,000 sites dealing in pirated entertainment software." (*3) They neglect to mention how many they miss, because in reality there is just no feasible and reasonable manner in which a network as broad as the internet can be policed effectively by an individual or group of people for that matter. The ESA's website also notes that global piracy "cost the U.S. entertainment software industry over $3.0 billion in 2007, not including losses attributable to Internet piracy." (*4). If this is true, and the method that they employ has seemingly done so little to stop it (The ESA has been around since April 1994) does it not seem that they are ineffective?
The numbers posted on their website actually have the potential to harm the video game industry. With such large deficits and estimates posted, many small developers may feel urged against publishing their games and making them available to the general public. This, of course, is assuming that small developers feel the need to do research into their future market. If they're anything like me, they probably wouldn't give a rats *insert alternative word for rear end here* about what the ESA says and distribute their games in a similar manner as Valve or Blizzard Entertainment.
The ESA's effectiveness is and has been diminishing since it's creation. The fact of the matter being, despite piracy, the market for gaming has been growing without the ESA's help. Of course, policing has helped, but not nearly enough to be as effective as they claim or want to be. I'm sure we all recall the incident that was "Spore"?