GamesBeat

SOPA controversy creates rival to game industry group ESA; LFG aims to be “the NRA for gamers”

Frustrated by the Entertainment Software Association‘s (ESA) support of the proposed anti-piracy SOPA and PIPA legislation, Red 5 Studios CEO Mark Kern has founded the League For Gamers (LFG), which intends to advocate for developers’ and gamers’ rights and give them a voice in Washington.

The group’s first action is a petition to ESA to drop their support of the Stop Online Privacy Act bill and the Protect IP Act, “which would trample on the free speech of videogames and innovation in the game industry.” LFG also calls for a media boycott of the ESA-organized E3 tradeshow.

LFG President and Red 5 Studios CEO Mark Kern is a former World of Warcraft team lead and a graduate of Boston University School of Law. Speaking to VentureBeat, Mark Kern criticized the ESA as “too focused on the large publisher, box retail product motif – part of their support for PIPA and SOPA stems from this. When are we going to learn from what happened to the music industry, and find new ways and new business models that offer consumers better alternatives to piracy? Rather than preserve a dying model in the face of digital distribution, free-to-play and cloud-based gaming, we should embrace the change and shift our focus to these new models.”

Kern had a call with the ESA General Counsel where they agreed that tools are needed to combat piracy. But in Kern’s opinion “the ESA is blind to any potential for abuse and feels they and the courts will be fair arbiters of this extensive power. Anyone who has witnessed the recent DNS takedowns, and spurious DCMA actions last year, can see this is a ridiculous statement for blind and naive faith. I also pointed out that many developers oppose SOPA and PIPA, and [big companies] have all quietly dropped SOPA support… so who the heck is the ESA representing at this point?”

When asked whether a second industry association besides ESA wouldn’t split and weaken the industry’s voice, Kern responded “The truth is that the ESA fractured the support base. They did so by going forward with $190,000 worth of PIPA and SOPA support without consulting their members, and by ignoring the fact that their membership was split on the issue. Even worse than that, they turned their backs on gamers, who supported them through their subsidiary organization, the VGVN (Video Game Voters Network). You can see hundreds of angry complaints on their Facebook page and in the press on their quite hypocritical and dual-faced stance. The ESA needed the VGVN to help fight and win First Amendment rights to free speech for videogames. Now they are conveniently ignoring the same gamers who helped them.”

LFG was funded with a $50,000 pledge by Mark Kern and is currently filing for non-profit status. The next step is opening up a paid membership program with benefits that, according to Kern, “will foster gaming, in addition to representing gamers in Washington. We aim to be the NRA for gamers.”

SOPA gives both the U.S. government and copyright holders the authority to seek court orders against foreign-operated websites associated with infringing, pirating or counterfeiting intellectual property. If it becomes law, it could drastically change the way the Internet operates. For example, if a website is accused of containing copyright-infringing content (like a song, picture, video clip etc.), the site could be blocked by ISPs, de-indexed from search engines and even prevented from doing business online with services like PayPal. The LFG views it as “overbearing legislation which would not only fail to protect IP rights for developers, but would also have a chilling effect on free speech, live streaming, e-Sports, gaming innovation and user created content”.

Red 5 Studios will join the likes of Wikipedia and shut down its web site on January 18th as a sign of protest “against misguided and overbearing legislative initiatives such as SOPA, (Stop Online Privacy Act), and PIPA, (Protect IP Act), in order to perpetuate and continue industry growth.” The test servers for the company’s upcoming free-to-play MMO Firefall will also be closed for the day.

We’ve sent a message to the ESA for a response.


Mobile developer or publisher? VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Fill out our 5-minute survey, and we'll share the data with you.