States do a delicate dance with gamers
They lure the industry with incentives, while cracking down on adult content.
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The industry’s growth rate has slowed somewhat with the rest of the economy. But sales continue to grow. Last holiday season was the biggest in video-game history. Sales hit $5 billion in December, nearly equalling what the industry earned in all of 1997, according to the retail research firm NPD.Skip to next paragraph
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“Entertainment is usually recession-proof,” says Morgan Webb, cohost of X-Play, a TV show that covers video games on the G4 cable channel. During the Great Depression, people flocked to the movies. During this recession, it seems people are flocking to their Nintendo Wiis.
Beyond sheer economics, Ms. Webb says that video games are getting noticed because of a generational shift in politics.
“There’s a gradual transition happening, where younger politicians are starting to come up through the ranks and gain power,” she says. These newly elected officials grew up with game controllers in their hands, and therefore are less likely to steer toward histrionics when debating the subject.
But the courtship between politicians and video-game companies has its limits. For example, Texas withholds financial incentives for games that are rated “Mature” or “Adults Only.” It does not hold back incentives for the production of R-rated movies or mature TV shows. The author of the incentives measure, State Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D) of Austin, did not return requests for comment.
Mr. McCauley of GamePolitics attributes the uneven distribution of restrictions to unfamiliarity with video games and fear that older voters will flip out if tax dollars funded the next offensive title. “Games are relatively new compared to cinema,” he says. “For some politicians, games are new and youth-culture oriented. The bottom line is, they don’t get [games]. They’re more familiar with the movie industry and more inclined to look favorably on it as a result.”
Of course, some game companies seem to go looking for trouble. The political uproar over the Grand Theft Auto series may serve to fuel sales of the mature-rated games. Earlier this month, its designer, Rockstar Games, leaked clips of the latest expansion, The Lost and Damned, which contained gang violence and male nudity.
But such adult games are a small percentage of the titles released each year. As long as it stays that way, McCauley says, states will continue wooing game companies.
“States are really hurting right now,” he says. “They’re looking for new sources of revenue. I think we’re only going to see more of this in the future.”