October 7, 2005

California, There They Go...

Leland Yee introduced AB 1179 back in February of this year. It was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger today.

Unfortunately, this bill will have several unintended effects for the video game industry.

1) It requires that all games "imported into or distributed in California" to bear a 2"-square black and white "18" on the front if the game meets some vague set of criteria. The criteria is so vague that any jury in California would find almost any game meets this bar, as the state of the player's mind comes into effect when handling the judging.

Unintended side effect: Pretty much any game outside of "Reader Rabbit" needs to be stickered. For example, I love multihopping on turtle shells in "Super Mario Brothers." If I'm doing it to prove my skill, the game is okay. If I'm doing it to mess with the turtle inside the shell, the game needs to be stickered, as per 1746(2)(E).

Unintended side effect: Only retail is affected, so electronic distribution systems like Steam are immune from the effects of this bill, thereby driving adoption of alternate delivery systems in California. Good for us...

Unintended side effect: The ESRB rating system has been given a large "No Confidence" vote by one of the largest states in the Union. Never mind the fact that the games are already labeled for the appropriate age groups, and the new sticker will most likely be placed on top of the ESRB rating...

Unintended side effect: You won't be able to see the front cover of GameBoy Advance or GameBoy DS games.

2) Only owners and store employees with management duties are liable for fines. Sales clerks are immune.

Unintended side effect: If I'm pissed at my manager, I can sell all the stickered games I want to kids and my manager and owner will get the $1,000 fines.

Unintended side effect: This bill encourages everyone to be promoted to a manager so that they'll have a stake in whether or not the stickered titles get sold.

3) You just added a massive weight to the shoulders of several industry giants in your jurisdiction. You think they're going to want to reward that behavior by sticking around? Especially the ones that have locations in other states?

Unintended side effect: Unemployement rate among game developers is going to rise.

4) The state doesn't rate the games. The rating of each game is left to "community standards," which as we all know, range from overly permissive to overly restrictive. A game that needs to be stickered in one town would not need to be stickered in another town.

Unintended side effect: Even if a company does do due diligence and decides that it doesn't need to sticker the game, one community out in Podunk County could decide to proscecute sales of the product anyway. End result: I'm expecting even "Reader Rabbit" to get stickered on the way to California.

In short, Schwarzenegger did the wrong thing. Bad Governator...bad, bad.

Update 10-08-2005, 12:30am: Corrected typo, added one item that was left from the list, two additional side effects.

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