Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
09 July 2007
Enough blame to go around
In a conference call to investors today Strauss Zelnick, Take Two Interactive's chairman, said (my emphasis):
"We don't see ourselves in the AO business," Zelnick explained. "But if we find ourselves in the AO business, it would be because we have a title that we consider art and entertainment, that we consider is appropriately rated at AO, that we'd like to bring to market, and that I and Ben [Feder, CEO] are prepared to stand behind.

"In that instance, one has to ask oneself what's the purpose of a rating if it in fact means that a title cannot be released? But I don't think that that issue falls at the door of retailers. Retailers are acting responsibly, frankly, and I think a retailer has a right to say, 'This is what I'm prepared to put on my shelves.' It's not correct to be critical of the retailers at all.

"Because this is a voluntary ratings system in the US, we have to be critical of ourselves if we've allowed a system to develop that prevents us from bringing a title to market that we want to bring to market. That's something that we have to address."
Let me disagree completely.

The system that is broken here is the consolidated videogame retailer market. I know we're all tired of movie-to-game comparisons, but I think the one I have in mind is fitting. Bear with me. There will be nudity, if that matters to you.

It is my belief that smaller video rental shops can survive by offering the one thing that Blockbuster (et al) will not: dirty movies. The independent video stores in our old city all had naughty sections in the back -- tastefully separated from the mainstream movies by curtains. According to a grad school friend who used to work in one, they made a killing off of the dirty movies. (Aside: He was even encouraged to watch a variety of them so he could advise customers.)

Then all of those shops seemed to disappear and only Blockbuster remained. If you like getting your movies from behind the curtain and Blockbuster is your only option, then consolidation has limited your options. (Perhaps cheap broadband access and a river of porn on the internets killed the smaller video shops, but I have to think that Blockbuster did the most damage.)

The connection to games should be obvious. I look around and I see that in my current city the small independent game shops are gone. Instead I can now drive to a half-dozen GameStops in under 15 minutes, all with nearly identical stock. If you don't want to buy your games there you can go to Wal-mart, Target, Best Buy, or Circuit City. That's about the end of it. Or you can shop online.

Look, I understand that Sony and Nintendo refusing to license AO games in the U.S. is also a problem, but even if they weren't there, the big retailers who control most of the market would still balk at stocking an AO-rated Manhunt 2. I'd even guess that some of Sony and Nintendo's reluctance is based on the positions of the retailers. After all, lots of crazy stuff gets licensed and released in Japan and sometimes Europe.

As Josh has said recently, the ESRB should focus on informing consumers about what's in the game. The user-generated content issue notwithstanding, I think they're doing that. What happens after they assign a rating isn't really their problem.

The real problem is that Rockstar and Take Two are trying to squeeze a filthy, violent camel through the eye of a conservative corporate needle. The conservatism comes not from the ESRB but from the console manufacturers (who can be swayed, I believe) and the retailers. So yes, let's blame the retailers.

Can they be swayed too? Perhaps, but I'd rather we have a case like Manhunt 2 where Sony relents and permits a download of the game to PlayStation 3 owners and it sells like gangbusters. If the retailers smell enough profit, I'm sure they'll come around.

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--Matt Matthews at 22:54
Comment [ 1 ]

Comments on this post:

Ah, fairly astute. But let's remember that we could probably have predicted that this would happen with the ESRB. The X rating became a death sentence for movies in the 80s, and it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the same thing would happen with games.

By Blogger JohnH, at 10 July, 2007 00:10  

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