Politics and Law

Representative Steve RussellFor a number of years, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn had published an annual Waste Book, highlighting what he considered wasteful spending by the federal government. In almost every edition of that report, Senator Coburn highlighted at least one government agency or government program that was spending money on something video game related. Whether the money was spent on game related research or on funding game development, he would comment on how he felt it was not something on which the government should be spending money. Last year, Senator Coburn retired from the US Senate. With that, he published his last Waste Book report.

Taking up the mantle of highlighting wasteful federal spending, Freshman US Representative Steve Russell of Oklahoma has published his first Waste Watch report. While not nearly as extensive as Coburn’s reports had been, he does point at one spending program that relates to games.

Russell points to a National Science Foundation program that has spent nearly $700,000 on helping people make better machinima.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) spent nearly $700,000 researching ways to help amateur moviemakers produce “cinematic movies created by manipulating avatars in 3D computer game worlds.”

The researchers believe this form of amateur filmmaking, which they call “machinima,” has a high threshold of entry due to the technical skills required. The goal of their project was to find ways to reduce this threshold by designing digital media production software to help improve video game movies by “suggesting, autonomously creating, and critiquing” film content.

In the report, Russell states that this spending is not needed as the machinima community has done quite well using current tools and methods.

Software of this type may very well have a future. However, the world of online gamers, YouTube shows, and digital art is notoriously free-wheeling. Innovations in this area will come through the organic, ingenious efforts of millions of independent artists, gamers, and programmers—not a $700,000 grant administered by a federal agency. The findings of this study are not likely to contribute to the development of software that will gain popularity among this vibrant, proudly independent online community. Moreover, at a time of restricted budgets, projects of this kind are not a priority.

In an aside to this section, Russell highlights the popular machinima video series Red vs Blue as an example of the machinima community at work without government funding. Another example not listed here would include Valve’s own Source Filmmaker which the company has spent significant time and money developing and and has gained increasing popularity with the online gaming community.

It is not clear how often Rep. Russell will publish this report, but we can likely expect an annual report from him. It will be interesting to see what video game related areas of federal spending he will highlight in the future.

Source – Congressman Russell Announces Waste Watch

Originally published at Game Politics

City of Tulsa OklahomaIt is no secret that theft is a big problem in any part of the world. It is something that we as humans have been battling for our entire existence. The city of Tulsa Oklahoma recognizes how hard this battle is and is looking to give law enforcement more tools to work with in their fight against theft.

City officials are working to curb the fencing of stolen items by expanding regulations on pawn shops to include secondhand stores.

Tulsa Police Department officials told city councilors Thursday that secondhand stores are a loophole for thieves who have learned not to sell items to pawn shops because of a legal requirement to track the items being bought and sold.

The way they see it, thieves have realized that off loading stolen goods at pawnshops is not a very smart thing to do as pawnshops are legally required to report any and all transactions, which include the name, address and other personally identifying information of the seller as well as descriptions of the pawned goods, to the police. To bypass this, thieves have turned to alternative sources selling off stolen goods.

So the Tulsa City Council is looking to expand pawnshop laws to cover almost all other secondhand stores.

Secondhand shops identified by Tulsa police include video gaming stores, computer and electronics stores, tool stores, sports stores and music stores.

Councilors agreed to start work on a draft for an ordinance that would address the loophole.

Such laws are not uncommon around the US. I worked at an EB Games in Arizona in 2003 and we had to report and hold all video game consoles that were sold to us. Most people were pretty content with such requirements.

Where these laws seem to lose all effectiveness is when the transactions completely bypass a third party and are done face to face. The Tulsa Police recognizes this weakness in some respect.

A proposed ordinance to regulate garage sales is being worked on, and Seibert said flea-market sales are a separate problem.

“That’s its own monster,” she said. “We’re probably going to need something different for that.”

There are still other means that are a lot more popular and far easier to use than flea markets and secondhand stores. I am talking about online websites such as Craigslist and ebay. A savvy thief would likely use those due to their relative anonymity. There is no indication that this proposed ordinance would have any impact on such direct person to person sales utilizing the internet.

Originally Published on Game Politics

Oklahoma Senator Tom CoburnOriginally published on Game Politics.

Every year, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma publishes a list of government programs which he feels wastes tax payer money and government resources called the Wastebook. While he tops the list of wasted tax payer money with a jab at Congress itself, it is when you get into the rest of the document that you find some rather interesting spending programs. In his opening statement to the report, Coburn writes:

Confronted with self-imposed budget cuts necessary to trim years of trillion dollar shortfalls, Washington protested that it could not live within its means. It attempted to take hostage the symbols of America to exact ransom from taxpayers. Public tours of the White House were canceled and Medicare payments for seniors’ health care were cut.

While the President and his cabinet issued dire warnings about the cataclysmic impacts of sequestration, taxpayers were not alerted to all the waste being spared from the budget axe.

Many of these are your typical government waste, such as bridges to nowhere, duplicated programs and agencies, or unused buildings which cost money to maintain. Yet, he highlights many other programs that many taxpayers may not be aware of even in a general sense. Some of these include funding for video games. Continue Reading

Oklahoma Senator Tom CoburnEarlier this year, Senator Coburn signed on as a cosponsor to legislation that would require the National Academy of Sciences to perform studies into the connection between violent games and violent actions. In response to this bill and our concerns over its implementation and potential ramifications on our industry, we sent a letter to Senator Coburn.

In that letter, we expressed concern over the bill’s primary sponsor Senator Rockefeller and over Senator Coburn’s involvement when he has clearly been against studies of similar nature in the past.

After nearly 3 months, we have finally received a response from Senator Coburn. (posted below) It certainly isn’t the response we may have wanted, but it isn’t an unexpected response. Few politicians will back out of their support for legislation once they become a full cosponsor of it. Continue Reading

Casino RPG Trailer Removed Due To ToS ViolationGold Fire Studios recently learned that its latest gameplay trailer for Casino RPG has been hit with a terms of service violation and has been removed from their channel. This was the trailer produced for the recent public beta launch of the game.

In the email received by Goldfire CEO James Simpson, YouTube claims a generic “copyright violation.” Continue Reading

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has made an interesting request for Google and its service YouTube. Pruitt, concerned over the presence of illegal content in videos posted to YouTube, has requested that Google provide a number of videos the service removed over the last few years due to violations of YouTube’s terms of service as well as an accounting of how much money YouTube has made due to those videos.

In their letter, the attorneys general expressed particular concerns about Google’s practice of advertising with videos produced by “foreign pharmacies that promote the sale of prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and others without a prescription.”

Videos promoting the sale of counterfeit goods and those that provide step-by-step instructions for making fake ID cards and passports are also of concern to Pruitt and Bruning, according to the letter.

Additionally, Pruitt would like to see more work done to remove the monetization of such videos. However, even by Pruitt’s own admission, this would be difficult.

“We understand that YouTube is an open platform and that not all content can or should be policed,” Pruitt and Bruning wrote in the letter. “Nevertheless, the fact that Google actively seeks to profit from the posting of these types of videos on YouTube — a website known to be particularly popular among children and teens — is very troubling.” Continue Reading

Oklahoma Senator Tom CoburnToday, Oklahoma game developers sent its letter to Senator Coburn regarding his co-sponsorship of S. 134 Violent Content Research Act of 2013. This bill if passed would require the National Academy of Sciences to perform studies into the connection between violent games and violent actions. The primary issue with this legislation is that the bill’s sponsor has shown a heavy bias against the games industry which leads us to believe that any studies resulting from this bill could be tainted by his bias.

Senator Coburn has many times come out against the funding for such studies and it is unclear why he would support a bill that could potentially waste tax payer money as well as dilute the valuable research that can be done outside the influence of bias.

The below letter was sent to Senator Coburn as well as members of the media based in Oklahoma and throughout the US.   Continue Reading

The following letter is the letter we will be sending to Senator Coburn regarding the recent proposal to study the effect of violent video games on children. If you would like to sign on to this letter, please prove me with your name and your business. Please email me at zachary (at) okgamedev (dot) com if you would like to sign on.

The text of the letter is below along with the names of those who have signed on. I will be making some final edits and sending it out around noon on Monday August 12, 2013.  Continue Reading

Oklahoma Senator Tom CoburnYesterday, we alerted everyone to the ECA’s effort to defeat a bill that would approve funding for research into the effect of violent games on those playing them. The ECA cited numerous studies already performed that debunk that theory and exposed a strong potential bias in the bill’s author Senator Rockefeller.

However, new information has popped up that adds a strong incentive for game developers in Oklahoma to fight this bill. It has come to our attention that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has signed on as a cosponsor of the bill, S. 134 Violent Content Research Act of 2013.

Why is this important? For one, Senator Coburn is one of Oklahoma’s two US senators. However, there is a more important point that many may have missed. Senator Coburn has for many years railed against wasteful government spending. Since 2010, Senator Coburn has released what he calls his annual “Wastebook” in which he highlights 100 specific areas of Federal Government Spending that could be cut and how much money could be saved. (see Wastebook 2010, Wastebook 2011, Wastebook 2012) Continue Reading

Entertainment Consumers AssociationThe Entertainment Consumers Association has issued an action alert for its members asking them to contact Congress in order to oppose a recent bill that would authorize the National Academy of Sciences  to study whether “exposure to violent video games and video programming” has a harmful effect on “children.” This bill is in response to a White house proposal in the wake of the Sandy hook school shooting last year and is part of a larger agenda by the White House.

The ECa takes issue with the proposal on a number of fronts. The first being the bill’s primary backer Senator Rockefeller.

The ECA has numerous concerns about this and feels that this is a distraction to finding the real cause of these events. Senator Rockefeller himself, who has championed this legislation, has, on the record, stated that he disagrees with the Supreme Court’s decision that video games are protected free speech. In his remarks on the floor of the US Senate, he said:

“Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it. They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons.”

With all due respect Senator, the highest court of the land has reviewed the scientific research and concluded that video games do not cause violence. The non-scientific personal opinion of the Senator should not get to overturn the Supreme Court ruling.

Other concerns being that the proposal ignores existing research on the positive influence of video games and that this study may induce further power grabs by federal agencies. You can read the full statement at the action page.

As game developers, we have a strong interest in the movements of elected officials when it comes to gaming. Studies such as those proposed above can have a direct effect on our business, especially if they result in efforts to regulate the games industry and the games it produces. While the ECA is primarily a consumer organization, its many interests effect game developers both individually as gamers but also collectively.

So please act now to express your opposition to this legislation and consider joining the ECA and support its efforts to protect gamers and their interests.

Disclosure: I am a member of the ECA and a contributor to ECA publication Game Politics.