I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Hal Halpin, President of the Entertainment Consumers Association. I believe what Mr. Halpin does is extremely important to gamers all around the world. Hopefully you will find the interview interesting and informative. A huge thank you to Mr. Halpin for taking the time out to answer my questions.
GN: First off, what were your motivating factors that got you to start the ECA?
HH: I always felt that the industry was extraordinarily well represented, with the International Game Developers Association (IGDA, developers), Entertainment Software Association (ESA, publishers) and Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA, retailers). But the most important group, consumers, had no representation.
Formerly, we ran the retail trade association and I knew that our team could effectively apply a lot of the lessons learned and experience gained over our nine years and organically grow a membership organization. So we set out to partner with every game-centric company out there in order to get our message out. And the response from the trade and gamers alike has been overwhelming. It was clear that the time was now.
GN: Can you give our readers a basic outline of what the ECA does?
HH: The ECA gives gaming consumers a voice and ensures that politicians hear their concerns and appreciate our demographic power. We fight on behalf of gamers at the State and Federal level, along with a group of partners, to make sure that we continue to overturn anti-games and anti-gamer laws that seek to limit our rights. The ECA also provides a host of additional community, services and affinity benefits to its members.
GN: How can the consumer benefit the most from the ECA?
HH: ECA membership goes beyond our advocacy efforts. The ECA is dedicated to providing a wealth of community and affinity benefits to our members. With membership, you can connect with like-minded gaming fans; explore career and educational opportunities in gaming, and more. ECA membership can also provide discounts on magazines and subscriptions and save you money on purchases at affiliated retailers.
The ECA offers a comprehensive package of services and benefits to its members. From employment resources in the game industry, gaming and political news and forums via our partnership with GamePolitics.com, an online gaming directory, the ECA calendar of events and access to the gaming research and polls. We’re building a hub to connect the gaming community together.
We also started a student discount program which gives full or part-time students with a valid dot edu (.edu) email account 25-percent off the annual membership fee. This means students can now join the ECA for $14.99 annually. Additionally, we’re rolling out web-based modules, several of which should be very compelling for students: the Education module will pull together information from all of the colleges and universities around the country that have degree or coursework related to the gaming industry. We’ll also have scholarship information accessible as well as a Career module, in which you’ll be able to view job boards, get resume writing help, read articles on gaming careers and apply through the board for positions.
GN: What are your main goals with the ECA?
HH: Education, education and education. We’re in the formative years of a new non-profit organization that represents consumers who have previously gone without representation. We need to educate consumers about our existence, the benefits of joining, the rights that we fight for and the rights that are threatened. A surprising number of gamers just aren’t aware of how dire the situation is, and it’s time to do something about it.
GN: What sorts of methods are utilized to let your voice be heard?
HH: We’re building a back-end to our website which will have many of the key services we intend to deliver and add a lot of functionality to the member experience. It’s a flexible modular system, and one of those modules will enable members to become as involved as they like – including working with our government relations staff, potentially joining local chapters as they become established, or even testifying when appropriate. From an association level, we’ll be working with coalition partners to continue fighting against anti-games and anti-gamer initiatives at the State and Federal levels.
GN: Who are some of your more prominent members?
HH: We actually have a small internal marketing program that highlights our more visible members called the “I’m a Member” campaign. It’s designed to show off our more prominent folks, both to help inspire potential members and to show the media and politicians the many and varied types of people who believe in gamers’ rights.
GN: What are some of your biggest achievements so far?
HH: Just establishing the org and getting such great feedback and support from all sides! It was a bit overwhelming actually, as I was expecting more initial skepticism than we received. It ended up being a really embracing reception and continues to impress and thrill me.
GN: What battles are you currently locked into?
HH: It’s not so much us, alone, as it is working with coalition partners on a variety of threats. On the anti-games legislation there are a host of potential bills that we’re monitoring which you can watch the progress of at http://www.theeca.com/video_game_regulations.htm. We also have a legislation tracker up on GamePolitics.com which shows folks the actual progress of potential laws as they work their way through the system which you can see at http://www.gamepolitics.com/legislation.htm.
GN: What are your thoughts on Jack Thompson?
HH: With the resignation of Doug Lowenstein, the former president of the publisher’s trade association, I may be close to the top of his hit list. Jack is definitely not a fan, let’s put it that way. My thoughts on Jack are that he is an extraordinarily effective communicator and advocate. He’s able to pull together groups of otherwise disparate people and channel their support for his side of the argument. To-date, we, as a people, haven’t given him near enough credit, nor concerned ourselves with uniting against him and other anti-games groups. The time has come to do just that, and we need member support in order to be effective in combating them.
GN: What can the consumer do to help fight for this cause in their home town?
HH: First, we need gamers to join the association. The larger our numbers the more weight we carry collectively and that translates into respect from politicians, the media… anyone. Next, as the association grows, our goal is to build regional chapters where members can get together for a variety of reasons and purposes, one of which may be to view volunteerism opportunities. A membership association is truly only what the members invest into it.
GN: How integral has GamePolitics.com been in spreading the word on the ECA?
HH: Oh, very. I was a huge personal fan of the site and of Dennis, the editor. Our goals aligned perfectly and we saw it as a great synergistic match. GamePolitics is unique in that it acts as a feeder for endemic and non-endemic media outlets and isn’t competitive with them, which was key. We’ve partnered with essentially all of the major enthusiast media in the business to help get the word out about the ECA and why it’s important for gamers to join, and so far we’ve heard nothing but regular praise from them about GamePolitics. Also the audience is central to our core. GP readers are very engaged, bright and articulate folks who we really need to be actively involved in the association.
GN: What are your plans for the future, both personal and for the ECA overall?
HH: As a membership organization, the sky’s the limit. If you look at the impact that other similar associations have had on society, such as AAA or AARP, you can begin to imagine just how impactful the ECA could truly become. I don’t dare to dream too large, but just for the foreseeable future there are a lot of things that we can do the larger the ECA becomes
GN: What’s the one key point you would like to get across about gamers?
HH: There’s a misunderstanding about who plays games, and it’s something we intend to rectify quickly: gamers as a group are educated, vocal, passionate, mature and, by the way, they also vote. Those descriptions need to be reinforced and drummed home until understood. Politicians over a certain age simply didn’t grow up with games as a part of their broader entertainment diet.
They saw them as toys, rather than as a legitimate form of media. And as a result, they assume that all gamers are children and that all games should be child appropriate. The reality is that the average gamer is roughly 30 years old and enjoys playing games in much the same way they listen to music or watch movies – it’s just media to them, and as such they want to enjoy different types and styles. Now that gamers have representation, and we’re out there beating the drums, we intend to dispel that false image and shed some much-needed light on the truth.