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Dennis McCauley
Joined: 2006-09-30

[URL=http://thegamedame.com/?p=146#more-146]The Game Dame[/URL]

Gamers represent nearly fifty percent of the US population and spend $10 billion annually on gaming, yet they’re constantly misunderstood or even overlooked by politicians and the mainstream press. Formed in 2006, the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) is a 501(c)(4) non-profit membership-based advocacy organization for consumers of interactive entertainment. The ECA is here to give gaming consumers a voice and to keep us in-the-know about our rights, the anti-games legislation and other concerns.

In order to learn a little more about the history of the ECA and the organization’s future plans, I interviewed Hal Halpin, President of the ECA.

TGD: I read that the ECA was born following an IEMA board of directors meeting. What exactly happened at that meeting?
Hal: We spent the better part of that meeting talking about consumer-centric issues, which gave way to the realization 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 was being neglected, consumers. We formerly 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 was overwhelming. It was clear that the time was now.

TGD: Why should gamers join the ECA?
Hal: By joining the ECA, you can make your voice heard while taking advantage of exclusive ECA membership benefits. If you want to help take on the major issues confronting gaming consumers today - anti-gaming legislation, consumer rights, and the like - lending your support to the ECA can make a real difference.

But 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.

Supporting ECA means not only doing the right thing for gamers everywhere, it lets you save money on gaming purchases while joining a network of passionate interactive entertainment fans.

TGD: Tell me more about the benefits available to ECA members.
Hal: We’re dedicated to providing a wealth of services to our members that truly span the gamut. Web-based modules will aid us in offering: Education (access to financial aid, tuition assistance, scholarships and game-related degree information), Career Center (with job boards, internship opportunities, and resume writing help) and Community (which provides forums, newsletters, polls, and other social networking opportunities). In addition, members receive discounts on game rentals and purchases, access to trade shows and live events. We’re currently working on our next round of benefits which will be much more robust. We can’t discuss them in detail yet, but I can hint at one of the bigger ones that I’m really, personally, very excited about: we’re talking with a portal provider that may be able to give ECA members exclusive access to several different types of insurance. We’re also talking to a leading bank about the possibility of providing our members with an affinity credit card.

It’s truly an all-encompassing organization that’s here to serve them. And frankly, we’re making the value proposition so compelling that it’s difficult to say “no.”

TGD: News stations only run a tiny ticker about the success of the Wii - a console that seems to be revolutionizing the way gamers play - but they’ll spend 20 minutes every hour talking about Britney Spears’ shaved head. I don’t get it. There’s a console in one of every two homes. Why is the media so afraid to report on an industry that’s such a huge part of our society?
Hal: I’m afraid that my personal opinion is going to take over here: sensationalism sells. The mass media and in particular the news media generally is in a fight for the attention of viewers no different than any other medium. News programming has evolved to meet the lowest common denominator as a result. They’ll concentrate on the stories that help them sell ads, and that rarely includes highlighting the upsides of gaming.

A few years ago I did a segment on Dateline NBC in which I represented game retailers and they did their normal spiel. I found myself wondering why they didn’t follow-up that story each year the way they did with most other investigative stories, and came to the conclusion that the retailers had really gotten their act together - as proven by the FTC studies - and there was no longer a sensationalistic angle.

A better question to ask these days is: why have no mass media outlets done stories on game culture, when it has such a profound impact on the American society? Part of the problem, as the IGDA is keenly aware, is that we don’t have movie or rock stars to idolize. The system is built to make the platform and the publisher the star, not the artist.

TGD: What does the ECA hope to accomplish by the end of 2007?
Hal: My personal hopes are to build membership, get the word out about the association and what we’re capable of, and firm up the infrastructure of the org operationally. In the formative years of any new non-profit, those are really the paramount challenges, and we’re no different.

TGD: How many members does the ECA have today?
Hal: I believe we’re around 500 or so, with just about three months worth of advertising under our belt. I’d expect that number to start quickly ramping up over the next few months as the ad campaigns get into full swing and partnerships get our message out. We’ve ramped up to about 10 million ad impressions monthly presently… but advertising is repetition…

TGD: How did you first get involved in the gaming industry?
Hal: I worked for a small chain of video game specialty stores back before the GameStops of the world were around. I then worked for a regional games distributor, which taught me a lot about the business side of gaming. And I leveraged that experience to start a trade magazine, which most in the business remember as GameWeek - essentially like Variety or the Hollywood Reporter, but for games. That begat the IEMA, which gave way to the ECA. (laughs) I wish I could have summarized it that easily before! You’d be surprised how hard it is to explain what I do to non-gamers at cocktail parties and fundraisers!

TGD: What was the first video game that had you hooked?
Hal: At 37, I’m old school. I was a 2600 kid. Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pong… really! I also spent my summers working for a family friend who owned an arcade and carousel on Martha’s Vineyard called the Flying Horses. In exchange for loading the rings into the arm so that riders could try to get the brass ring and win a free ride, we’d get free tokens to play the arcade games. Between the home console during the school year and the free arcade access all summer, I was on an almost pre-determined path.

TGD: What games are you hooked on right now?
Hal: I’ve been playing Mario Kart 64 that we downloaded for the Wii on the virtual console. I also spent some time on Sonic and the Secret Rings for Wii and Sonic for PS3. I checked out the new C&C 3 (for PC), and it looks really addictive… I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to commit.

TGD: What titles are you looking forward to the most for 2007?
Hal: I haven’t gotten a 360 yet, but if it’s gonna happen, it’ll be for Halo 3. The problem for me is that I get totally addicted. My wife lost me for a week when Halo 2 came out!

TGD: Any closing remarks/words of wisdom?
Hal: I’d encourage your readers to check out our website and see what the ECA is all about. For some it’s the advocacy that we do that’s compelling, and for others it’s the membership benefits, discounts and community that make them want to be a part of something. The ECA can and will be a force for change, and getting involved in helping to build an organization that can affect change, in an area in which you’re passionate, is a rare thing.


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