Red 5, the PC game developer behind the upcoming free-to-play shooter/MMO mashup FireFall, has dropped out of E3 2012 in protest of SOPA.
CEO Mark Kern, also a Boston University Law School graduate, is redirecting the company’s E3 funds to launch The League For Gamers, an advocacy group representing end users, gamers and First Amendment advocates. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), a trade body for the games industry, owns the E3 show and supports SOPA.
Kern gave an extensive interview to Ars Technica in which he explained that the ESA has taken only the side of large publishers on the SOPA issue, leaving out developers, indies, and users.
The CEO, in speaking to other developers, gets the feel that studios think that their hands are tied. They feel powerless against “the money … behind this legislation,” and as such Red 5 is the first to take serious action. Other large game companies including Nintendo of America, Microsoft, EA and Epic Games have individually stated opposition to SOPA but none have withdrawn from the ESA or E3 over the legislation.
For Red 5, the withdrawal was a huge commitment as the company bases its marketing on trade shows instead of web advertising. The game was the darling of PAX 2010, and the absence from E3 will significantly impact the game’s publicity if it launches in 2012. “Literally within hours” of signing the E3 contract, Kern said, he backed out and doesn’t expect a refund. On the other hand, the studio expects eSports – and specifically streaming sites like Justin.tv – to be the game’s promotional backbone post-launch. SOPA presents an existential threat to that strategy, as a copyright claim from any holder could shut down the entire site, not just an offending channel. This differs from DMCA, the copyright legislation on the books since 2000, since that law only requires that offending content be taken down.
All it takes, says Kern, is for one company to say “That’s not fair use” and away goes an entire streaming site regardless of what other developers have sanctioned.
Moreover, if streaming sites were shut down, that impacts a greater financial ecosystem. Game casters would also be “shut down financially.” While SOPA has already withdrawn DNS blocking, Kern pointed out that other mechanisms still in the bill are equally effective, including search engine blacklisting, advertising blacklisting, and forced stopped payments from processors ranging from Visa and MasterCard to PayPal.
Kern slammed the ESA – where his former colleague at Blizzard is now the general counsel – for believing that SOPA won’t be abused. The ESA believes, he says, that its members can be “good caretakers for First Amendment rights.” He added that ESA members themselves are split on the legislation, and therefore ESA’s support only represents the large publishers. The organization has thrown out its hard-earned favor from indie developers and individual voters, whose support was galvanized for the 2011 Supreme Court ruling that games are protected speech.
Kern is continuing his advocacy among developers and teased that we may soon see something from “at least one other company.”
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