Editorial Calls for Aggressive, Obama-Led Regulation of Used Game Sales

On the assumption that President-elect Obama is indeed interested enough in these issues -- and with Detroit and Wall Street cratering, that's a Hulk-sized leap -- an editorialist at Kombo has appealed for aggressive, White House-led regulation of the games industry once the new administration takes over.

This guy's made his case, and I'm not going to gratuitously flame it, but if video games aren't recession proof they're still taking nowhere near the beating of other staple industries in the United States. Just a week ago at the BMO Capital Markets conference, all three console makers expressed some form of qualified optimism about the coming year, even in a fragile global economy.

That said, this editorial wants Obama action on a number of points, and I'm betting the biggie would really set your teeth on edge:

• Rein in the used games market. "It is fundamentally unfair that developers are being robbed of profits for work that they've done." says the writer, Nick Michetti. I see his point but I can't work up much sympathy for it. Especially when I just lost my job and made $US185 on Half.com selling old video games, money that's going to put food on my table.

He goes on: "Publishers and developers should be entitled to at least half of the price from the sale of every used game. However, we need for there to be caps on used game prices and a Blue Book system for video games to prevent price gouging."

Can this possibly be serious? The creation of a Kelly blue book for video games? Does the used comics market -- which sometimes sells items at four-figure prices -- require or rely on transparent, government regulated appraisal? Does Marvel get half every time Amazing Fantasy #15 changes hands? Used cars get regulated by a blue book because, I'm assuming, vehicle licensing and sales are the provenance of state departments of motor vehicles, which gives them the infrastructure to regulate such things. It's also in the public interest not to get hosed on lemons, which is how regulations get passed. Not the case with video games.

To be fair, he goes on to say that developers should observe a mandate that DRM can't be used to inhibit game sales. But that's a regulation with such a pointilistic purpose it beggars the imagination that the federal government would impose it. Secondly, DRM is meant to prevent copying and distribution, and if it represses sales, it's usually because enough would-be customers have an ideological opposition to it. Maybe he means DLC, but then again, Harmonix, and many others, could easily argue that value-added DLC has grown sales for their titles. What constitutes a complete game anyway, just the retail title? Everything available for it online? Some of it?

• Government help to fund research and development for "affordable discs that all home console platforms should be forced to support in order to aid smaller or more multiplatform-focused developers." In a word, no. Stem-cell research is going to get government help first. I'm not sure owning a patent on video game media is something the government's going to plow a lot of money into right now.

• A package of tax cuts for middleware developers and smaller studios, to help them build technology that powers AAA titles, and cope with developing on expensive formats. I'm not opposed to these per se, but even if President-elect Obama plunked $US40,000 down to buy ads in video games, it doesn't mean he's going to put his political capital in a sinking economy on the line for this special interest.

Besides, we all know Obama's top R&D priority. Getting Sega to make a new console.

How Barack Obama Can Bring the Change the Video Game Industry Needs [Kombo via GamePolitics]


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