Jim Sterling recently wrote an open letter to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the trade body representing video game developers and publishers. In it, he chastised their decision to support the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill currently being debated that, if passed would turn virtually every video game-related web site into a felon, my own included. As is most of Sterling’s work when he’s taking it seriously, it’s a poignant, powerful read. It points out the hypocrisy of a group that mobilized gamers to rally for a positive decision in the Brown v. EMA case that was brought before the Supreme Court yet goes against the wishes and interests of those same gamers when it suits its larger members. (For a full read on SOPA, including the ESA’s latest stance, I fully recommend Josh Moore’s article on the bill, which he read in its entirety.)
Unfortunately, Jim’s piece either misses or ignores the point of what the ESA’s role is.
The Entertainment Software Association is a trade group. Their job is to lobby on behalf of their developers. Nothing more, nothing less. Things that normal people think about like balance, fairness, and the Constitution are completely and totally irrelevant to a trade group. Their job is to get as much as they can, no matter what, for their member organizations. Their goal isn’t to gain a stronger foothold for their members. In its purest form, their goal is a monopoly, and every step taken towards that end is a success.
When looked at from a purely business angle, the ESA’s statements on the matter, and their spinning around the piracy issue, make perfect sense. Jim Sterling is right to call out the ESA for hypocrisy. However, in their world, emotive words like hypocrisy have no meaning. If slavery were legal in 2011, the slave traders from Amistad would be Fortune 500 companies; and if prostitution were legal, a talking head would be on Bloomberg discussing the future’s market on Korean imports. Their goal is money, and anything that gains them a larger share of money is in play, so long as it doesn’t either get them in jail or become a Pyrrhic victory. When gamer support could be expected for the Brown v. EMA case, they called it out; we were a tool to be used in a fight. Now that we’re on the other side, the spin doctors are out in full force to blunt our advance because we’re against who they represent. The ESA, in the purest form of their business goal, doesn’t think SOPA is enough. If someone drafted a bill stating that anyone found violating the tenets of this law could be placed under indefinite detention like a Guantanamo Bay detainee, they would support it. Whether they use that law with full force is irrelevant; they want the option. They want the hammer because it brings power and control.
Enough has been written about SOPA and what a horrible deal it is that anything I have to write about it is redundant. The mere possibility of going to jail because I dared to play a Nintendo game in a way that they don’t approve of is chilling to the core. But if we’re to properly fight this, we need to know who our friends and enemies are. An organization whose sole existence is to benefit their companies in any way possible is no friend of ours. If anything, it’s our fault for turning our backs so they could get the knife in.