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The US video game industry’s largest trade and lobbying group, the Entertainment Software Association, sees the new Trump administration as a bit of a mixed bag as far as government policy is concerned. That’s the takeaway from ESA President and CEO Mike Gallagher’s chat with a small group of reporters just before last week’s E3 trade show.
“We have a new administration in Washington that’s brought some challenges,” Gallagher said. “Gamers are feeling both ways. Remember, when you have almost everyone in this country as a gamer, and 80 percent of gamers voted in the last election, that means there are plenty of gamers that are highly disappointed or really excited about the outcome of the election. We sit in the middle of that conversation.”
When it comes to the ESA’s job of “extending and protecting the frontiers of this industry,” Gallagher said he sees some positives to the Trump administration’s policy positions. Republican plans for tax cuts and repatriation, for instance, “can be fantastic for bringing capital in, more investment in the industry, more dynamic creativity, and more jobs right here at home,” he said.
Gallagher also lent his support to the Trump plan to change the H1B guest worker visa program with reforms that he said would target those who “abuse” the system. “That [abuse] doesn’t happen in our industry,” he said. “We’re attracting the very highest performing, the very brightest, the very smartest, and at the higher end of the compensation curve for H1Bs.”
And when it comes to international trade agreements, Gallagher said he was heartened by what he sees as “big steps forward” by the Trump administration in “holding other countries accountable for the investments made here… There is no intellectual property chapter in NAFTA. The headliner, number one thing from the administration that it wants to put in NAFTA is digital trade. What’s leading digital trade? Ask Apple or Google where their revenue is coming from.”
“Exclusionary” policies hurt the industry
The problems the ESA sees coming from the Trump administration, Gallagher said, are “either tonal or cause people to feel a lack of trust or a lack support from the administration. Those things are problematic for our industry, too. We hear from our members, we hear from their employees. The policies that appear to be exclusionary or discriminatory… we’re a worldwide industry.”
Gallagher related an anecdote he recently heard from an unnamed “industry leader” that highlights the impact those exclusionary policies are having on the American game industry. “Our business thrives when we move leaders in our business all around our offices around the world, so they learn how each part of the world channels its creative energy and can speak to and manage and lead that,” the executive told Gallagher. “Anything we do as a country to diminish that or make it appear that the US is not welcoming or not a good or safe place to be is hurting the business.”
his sweeping immigration order targeting majority-Muslim countries back in January, the ESA was a bit circumspect in its criticism compared to some other industry groups. “While recognizing that enhancing national security and protecting our country’s citizens are critical goals, our companies rely on the skilled talent of US citizens, foreign nationals, and immigrants alike,” the group said in a statement at the time. “Our nation’s actions and words should support their participation in the American economy.”
According to Gallagher, the ESA considers being “clear with the administration when they’re on the wrong track,” part of its job. “So we’ve found those opportunities to offer improvement for the administration, and we’ve pointed those out and we’ll continue to do that.”
Looking past Trump a bit, Gallagher stressed that the ESA’s government relations role extends well past the current chief executive. “If you look back over our history, the biggest challenges we’ve had have come from the state level. At one point in time, we had [California Governor] Arnold Schwarzenegger and [New York Governor Eliot] Spitzer representing bi-partisan, bi-coastal antagonists of this industry.”
a landmark Supreme Court ruling extending First Amendment rights to video games. Gallagher points out the ESA is still working to protect the industry through the courts, most recently in a case surrounding a Chicago law attempting to tax online games.
Even at the federal level, Gallagher reminds gamers that there’s more to the government than Trump. “Remember, we have the US Constitution,” he said. “This isn’t a dictatorship. Congress has a lot to say about the direction the country takes, and we’re continuing to work with them every day to make sure that the right outcome at the end of this is favorable for the industry.”
Listing image by ESA