Executives from major game companies expressed concern with the Supreme Court's recent decision to revisit a California video game law that would restrict the sale of mature-themed games to minors, in a new report on CNBC.com
Game execs are worried that the law could strain relationships with major retailers like Walmart, which could stop carrying mature titles if M-rated games are deemed suitable only for legal adults. Execs also have other reasons to be on guard.
"...We could end up with state level bureaucracies that define what’s marketable in 50 different jurisdictions across the U.S.," said Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello. "I can imagine [the government] trying to tell Steven Spielberg 'We need 50 different cuts of your movie for each state.' It will screw us up in a real way."
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state senator Leland Yee (D, San Francisco) wrote the law, with Schwarzenegger signing the bill into law in 2005. In 2007 after resistance from the game industry, the California Ninth Circuit Court found the law unconstitutional, ruling that video games are a form of free speech, just like books, movies and other media.
This year, the Supreme Court said it would now review the law
, which would require government-mandated labeling guidelines and fines against retailers that violated the measure. The Entertainment Software Association trade body promptly said it would once again fight the measure.
Top execs from Disney Interactive studios and Take-Two also said the industry should worry about possible restrictions to sales. Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton noted that similar laws have been struck down a dozen times before. "I think the Supreme Court is looking at it to potentially see if there’s something to it or to put an end to it once and for all," he said.
The video game industry is self-regulated, with the Entertainment Software Rating Board issuing ratings ranging from "E for Everyone" to "Adults Only" (18 and over). Some of the most popular games are M-rated (mature, 17 and over), including Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
, the most commercially successful game of 2009, and Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto
series, also a commercial benchmark.
Laws similar to the California measure argue that violent video games have a negative influence on children, and that young people should be protected from certain titles. But the court has found no conclusive evidence that violent video games cause violent behavior in youths.