League For Gamers Founder Mark Kern Explains Why SOPA and PIPA Are Bad for the Videogame Industry

Wikipedia Blackout Screengrab - H 2012

Wikipedia Blackout Screengrab - H 2012

Game developer Mark Kern has launched a gaming organization to battle legislation like SOPA and PIPA.

With more than 7,000 websites partaking in blackouts or some type of action today against upcoming bills like SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act), an organization has been created for game developers not interested in the Entertainment Software Association’s pro-SOPA and pro-PIPA stance. Founded by Red 5 Studios and Mark Kern through a $50,000 pledge, it was established as a true alternative to the ESA and its subsidiary organization, the Video Game Voter’s Network. League for Gamers is meant to be a gathering place for gamers, developers and industry supporters who want to stand against legislation that's detrimental to their industry. In an exclusive interview, Kern talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the new organization and weighed in on why SOPA and PIPA are bad for gaming.

Why did you create this organization?

Mark Kern: We created LFG because I was essentially frustrated by the polarity in the ESA, their blind support of PIPA/SOPA and the fact that gaming sites and game companies I spoke to could not go black or release a statement to oppose PIPA/SOPA. While I empathize with their situation, I felt something had to be done to get the message out that gamers were infuriated with the situation. I created LFG to give them that voice and brought it up over the weekend, just as fast as we could.

What role does the ESA play in the game industry?

Kern: The ESA serves as the lobbying arm of the video game industry and holds North America's premier video game trade show, E3 Expo. The ESA also operates the Video Game Voters Network, which ostensibly represents gamers. The ESA is most famous for winning 1st Amendment classification for video games as free speech, in part due to the grass roots support of the VGVN. The problem is that the ESA's members are neutral or split on SOPA/PIPA and are ignoring the hundreds of complaints of gamers who have felt betrayed by the VGVN. To date, the VGVN has not responded to any of the hundreds of complaints on its Facebook page and e-mails.

Why do you think there's room for another organization?

Kern: Unfortunately, the ESA has caused this situation by its blind pursuit of SOPA/PIPA. There are many developers who do not agree with the ESA, and possibly millions of gamers who oppose SOPA/PIPA. Whether there is room or not, these gamers and these developers need a voice that truly reflects their interests.

What impact has the SOPA and PIPA legislation had on the game industry as different developers, publishers and websites find themselves on different sides of the fence?

Kern: It has really galvanized gamers. Gaming press and gamers have been very vocal in their efforts to oppose SOPA/PIPA, along with the rest of the Internet. I think the result is that this has really galvanized gamers, and perhaps this will lead to a more forceful presence for the Internet in politics. The "geeks" have awoken, and they will be heard.
Developers also are very concerned. I know many executives who do not agree with the way SOPA/PIPA is being drafted, but they feel they are unable to express their true opinions. There is simply too much money involved, unfortunately. So it’s really up to the gamers to make a difference, and we will garner support of developers who can speak out, and perhaps the silent help of those who cannot.

Do you understand the pro-SOPA/PIPA stance that the ESA, MPAA and others have taken?

Kern: Absolutely. I understand the need to protect intellectual property. I also have a law degree and co-founded The Journal of Science and Technology Law. But I also understand that government and corporation should not be given broad powers to censor the Internet. I spoke at length with the general counsel of the ESA, and I sympathize with his desire for more legal tools to combat piracy … but we don't agree on how this will shred the Internet or if and how this will lead to gross abuse.

What role will your organization play when it comes to this type of legislation, especially since additional bills are expected beyond PIPA's Jan. 24 hearing?

Kern: We hope to gather gamers together in an organization that promotes gaming in general and represents gamers' and developers interest in politics. We are gearing up for the long haul and will be looking for legal representation and ways to grow our membership and build awareness.

You've said that the games industry needs its version of the NRA. What are your plans for this organization?

Kern: The NRA is a great model for how a broad user base can empower a group to speak out. It isn't enough to just have members and run petitions, although that is a great start. What we need is to translate our base into political action. Gamers are going to want to know what senators and congressmen are supporters of SOPA/PIPA, and our job is to make sure they are heard at election time. To quote a great line from Anonymous, "We do not forget. Expect us."

How do you plan on gaining additional funding, something the NRA has plenty of?

Kern: We plan on having extensive membership drives this year, which will include dues. Red 5 Studios will also continue to be a big financial supporter of League For Gamers. We think the time is right for gamers to unite politically, but it will take a lot of hard work to reach even a fraction of the NRA's funding. We are prepared to do that.

What are your plans beyond these types of bills, and how will your organization help game developers and other members?

Kern: We definitely want to broaden gaming and ensure that gaming is represented fairly in the media, as one goal. Another is to provide benefits to our members, possibly by partnering with game companies, and in other ways that promote the hobby. A larger part of our effort will also go toward promoting games as a sport, or e-Sport as we call it.