If you don't know about the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA), it is high time you looked into it. Formed in 2006, it is a non-government, non-profit organization dedicated to serving the needs of those who play computer and video games. Their mission, according to their website, "...is to give game consumers a voice and to ensure that elected officials hear their concerns and appreciate the growing influence of the gamer demographic." Basically, they're a lobbying group that represents the interests of gamers, as opposed to game creators or retailers. Since 2006, the ECA has made it a point to have gamers join their ranks, and stregthen their platform. I've been a card-carrying member since VGXPO of last year, and I would encourage any gamer to consider membership.
The man responsible for the organization's creation and continued success is Hal Halpin. Hal got his start as a representative of retailers for nine years, but one day realized that there was no organization dedicated to the consumers themselves. He launched the ECA originally to combat then pending legislation which would have criminalized the sale of certain games, but it has since grown to take on a wide array of gamer-related issues. Today, the ECA network includes GamePolitics.com, GameCulture.com, and the ECA Today.
I was fortunate to get a chance to meet and talk with Hal during PAX. Here's the interview, followed by a transcript.
Sean: Hey, this is Sean with Gamervision! We’re here on the floor at Penny Arcade Expo 2008, at the Entertainment Consumer Association booth (also known as ECA) with the man himself, Hal Halpin, President of the ECA. Hal, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Hal: Not at all, thank you for having me.
S: So if you could, in your own words, describe for me the mission of the ECA.
H: Sure. The Entertainment Consumer’s Association is a non-profit membership association representing game consumers. So it’s sort of like a triple-A, but for gamers.
S: When did you decide you wanted to make the mission of the ECA your life’s work?
H: Well, for the previous nine years I represented all the game retailers in the business; Wal-Mart, Gamestop, Best Buy, all those guys. And then I realized after one of the board meetings we were having that the most important people of all, gamers, weren’t well-represented, where the industry was. And so that was really the impetus for it.
S: So that’s how you differentiate yourself from something like the ESA? Where the ESA is representing the publishers, your guys are representing the gamers.
S: How much editorial control do you or your staff have over the sites that are under the purview of the ECA like GamePolitics.com or that sort of thing.
H: None at all! The editor-in-chiefs of GamePolitics, GameCulture, ECA Today which is our nightly newsletter, are all totally and completely independent.
S: The year 2008 has been sort of a tumultuous one for gaming conventions. E3 was sort of a bust, the rap is that PAX is the new E3. What are your feelings on the state of gaming conventions as it pertains to the gamers in 2008?
H: I think it’s a good place to be for gamers. You know, there’s an awful lot of competition and there’s some shakeout in the business so it’ll be interesting to see what happens with E3 and E for All, if they recombine those shows sort of like Tokyo Game Show style, I think that would be the way to save E3. There’s also been Video Game Expo, and then Digital Life was just recently cancelled. So there’s been this shakeout, but I think in the end it’s all going to be good for gamers.
S: What do you think the best thing going on in the industry is right now?
H: You know, I’m a huge fan of there being so many different consoles and so many different platforms, so we’re getting to see a diversity of content across multiple different media. And the price points are also great, so having those different consoles and different portable systems and online games gives consumers a lot of different choices, which is always great.
S: And what do you think is, I don’t want to say the worst, but what is the one aspect of the industry that you think is in most need of a change or a revitalization?
H: Probably the one trend in the industry that concerns us the most is the directionality of the ESA. Right now, you know, they’re sort of in this new position where they’re kind of at a crossroads. The previous ten or eleven years, they were very much sort of following the MPAA route, so being very similar to the Motion Picture Association of America, and they’ve recently made some hires that give us reason for concern. You know, now ground-shaking yet, but you know that they hired some RIAA executives, and so I’d hate to see them change the course and suing consumers, for instance. It hasn’t worked for the movie industry and it definitely wouldn’t work for games.
S: And just a personal question: what do you play?
H: I’m pretty platform agnostic, actually, I’ll play just about anything. More first-person shooters than anything else, but the most recent game I’ve played was Super Smash Brothers on the Wii with my son right before I came out here. And I’m hoping to get some time to run around here! I saw Fallout 3 at E3 but I haven’t had a chance to get hands-on yet.
S: I haven’t actually had a chance to play it myself. So you said that you have a son, how many children do you have?
H: I have three. My son’s ten, two daughters ages eight and three.
S: And how do you feel about the issues of violence or adult content in gaming as it pertains to you as a parent, not necessarily the President of the ECA.
H: My wife and I pretty much follow the rating system for any media, so whether it’s television and using television guidelines, or games or movies, we follow those patterns pretty closely. And then we use discretion just like I think all parents should. It’s all about parental responsibility.
S: Two days ago you guys announced your expansion into Canada. Can you comment on that at all?
H: Sure. Yeah, that came as a result of Penny Arcade last year, where we had so many Canadian people walking up to the registration desk and asking to become members, that we just started checking into it and seeing what the responsibilities would be and what concerns there may or may not be using our tax status. And then it turned out that, you know, we had a lot of interest from Canadians, people wanted to start up chapters, and it was just something that’s a natural sort of progression.
S: Hal Halpin, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.