Team Kaizen Games Goes to Washington

April 13, 2012 -

Recently a contingent of highly motivated constituents went to Washington D.C., led by the Entertainment Consumer Association’s Hal Halpin and Jenn Mercurio, to talk to lawmakers about policies that affect consumers such as PIPA, SOPA, ACTA, and more. Josh Hughes, Lead Game Designer at Kaizen Games, was one of those people, and below he shares his experiences. This article originally appeared on the Kaizen Games Blog and is reprinted below with their kind permission.

Hey KAIZEN Fans! As always, Josh Hughes (Lead Game Designer) here. The past few weeks have been pretty crazy for us, between getting significant work done on Shattered Soul’s tech demo (which we hope to show your all before June), working with the kids in LittleBigPlanet Club (who will be publicly debuting their levels Saturday, April 21st at the 2012 STEM Expo here in Great Falls) and the Unity powered remake of Burst! we’ve definitely been running at 150% speed!

One really cool way we added to our craziness is by teaming up with the Entertainment Consumers Association (www.theeca.com) aka the ECA. Basically, the ECA is a lot like AAA or AARP for gamers and their focus is on providing benefits and education/empowerment to game consumers. Most gamers who know about the ECA know them as the people who led the charge throughout the tail end of 2011 and beginning of 2012 against the SOPA and PIPA bills (for those of you who don’t know, SOPA and PIPA were bills meant to stop online piracy but were so vaguely written that they risked actually harming consumers more than pirates). We made friends with ECA President Hal Halpin last year and kept in touch.

Earlier this year, Jenn Mercurio of the ECA contacted me on FaceBook with a question: she was wondering if Trevor and I would be willing to fly out to Washington DC to help the ECA speak with law makers on how policy affects games. They felt they already had bases covered to speak on how policy affects game consumers, so they wanted people like Trev and I to come along and speak how game creators and IP rights holders are affected by policies such as SOPA and PIPA as well.

So, in late March, we joined Hal and Jenn in DC along with game entrepreneurs/bloggers Zachary Knight (www.ezknight.net) and James Portnow (www.rainmaker-games.com) in Washington DC. With help from Steve and Kim from the law firm DutkoGrayling (who helped plan the day), we set out to meet with several members of both the House and Senate. In most cases, we actually met with high ranking aides to the Congressmen/Congresswomen but one notable exception was Representative Jared Polis of Colorado, a self proclaimed gamer and SOPA opponent who met with us personally. DutkoGrayling and the ECA also made it a point to make sure that Zachary, James, Trev and I all met with at least one Senator or Representative from our districts, in our case Senator Jon Tester of Montana (which was our first meeting of the day). We were split into two groups, each group consisting of one member from DutkoGrayling, one ECA representative and a few game entrepreneurs. Between our groups, we met with the aides of 12 different members of Congress. These Congressmen/Congresswomen ran the gamut from Republican to Democrat as well as viewpoints both pro and against major issues like SOPA. In addition to meeting directly with Representative Polis, the teams split up meetings with the offices of Representative Zoe Lofgren (California), Senator Patty Murray (Washington), Representative Steve Cohen (Tennessee), Senator John Kerry (Maryland), Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon), Senator Jon Tester (Montana), Representative Lamar Smith (Texas), Senator Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), Representative Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Senator Maria Cantwell (Washington) and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington).

We discussed issues both along the lines of SOPA/PIPA as well as other issues such as net neutrality and bandwidth/usage caps. While most we met with basically agreed with our views (SOPA/PIPA were wrong, net neutrality should be supported and bandwidth/usage caps can negatively impact small businesses disproportionally to larger companies in the game industry), there were some who disagreed. The amazing thing is, despite the ultra-partisan nature of our country right now, these disagreements were completely void of name calling or screaming. Everything was handled like an adult debate and sharing/considering of views, and it was refreshing to see! Even when discussing the views of other groups in the industry (such as the ESA, the group who runs the E3 Expo and supported SOPA until right before it was taken off the Congressional table) the air was very much one of saying that we respect them and that we think they are good people just trying to solve a real problem through a wrong means. There was no demonizing and the resulting dialogue was engaging and, in one specific case, helped a pro-SOPA aide see the bill in a different light. I got the distinct impression that, because of the way the dialogue went, this staffer was actually changing and evolving her view on SOPA because of the input provided by both the consumer side and entrepreneur side. This was driven further by the fact that, despite her pro-SOPA stance, she was asking active questions and engaging us as entrepreneurs asking us why we felt SOPA would do more to harm our fans than it could ever do to secure our intellectual properties.

Gamers, like the public at large, are prone to near-dangerous levels of apathy when it comes to Washington DC. Many feel that, for one reason or another, the system is so corrupt that there is no room for hope. I’m not going to stand here and argue our system is absolutely perfect, but the voices raised by the ECA and others during the SOPA fight prove that we all can have an impact. Our trip to Washington DC drove this home even more for me, when working through the appropriate channels we have the opportunity to be heard and get our message to the national level. We’re happy to work with the ECA on spreading the message like this and hope to do so again, but we’re also hoping to inspire others with our experiences here to show that we all do have a voice! We all have the ability to effect positive change and growth on a bigger scale, and when we band together to enrich the conversation (as opposed to digging a line in the sand and screaming at those on the other side) we can grow as a culture-both on the gamer level and country level.

It’s with this in mind that we are also teaming up with the ECA to start an Indie Game Developer Chapter! The Indie Chapter is currently in its’ infancy, but our goals are clear:

A) Shed light on Indie Game Developers.

B) Help spread the word on how policy affects both developers and consumers of Indie Games.

C) Support Indie Game Developers with input both on how to develop Indie Games as well as pitches/business plans.

D) Connect with High School and College students interested in game design to spread the passion of game entrepreneurship.

E) Support initiatives to get game design and game entrepreneurship in the classroom.

If you are interested in more information on the Indie Chapter, there is a forum live on the ECA’s forum site at www.ecaforums.com or you can email me at zookey@teamkaizengames.com! Our goal isn’t just to highlight existing indie studios, but to also demystify game entrepreneurship so people looking to make it in the industry can better understand the steps to take!

Thanks everyone! We have more to show in the next few months so stay tuned!

Josh

[Full Disclosure: GamePolitics is an ECA publication.]

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