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MTBS Interviews the Entertainment Software Association of Canada

"It would make a great deal of sense to incorporate 3D technologies into the video game experience" - Nicole Helsberg, Director of Public Relations for the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC).

Jointly with Ipsos Reid, ESAC did a fascinating study about the gaming habits of parents and children in the home, and some useful trends.

Not quite a conversation about stereoscopic 3D gaming, but I think Nicole’s insight will keep both your eyes open about modern trends in video game positioning.


1. I understand you have some exciting findings to share, but first I’d like to talk a bit about the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC). For those unfamiliar, can you elaborate a bit on what you do?

The Entertainment Software Association of Canada is dedicated exclusively to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies in Canada that publish and distribute computer and video games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers and the Internet. Association members include the nation’s leading interactive entertainment software publishers and distributors, which collectively accounted for more than 90 per cent of the $1.67 billion in entertainment software and hardware sales in Canada in 2007. The entertainment software industry currently accounts for over 260 firms and 10,000 direct jobs and thousands more in related fields across Canada.


2. There is ESAC and ESA (for the US market). While you are rooted from the same organization, outside of geography, are there some key differences that set you apart? Are there legal differences, for example?

The ESA is our sister association. ESAC, while an advocate of many of the same industry issues, faces different challenges in Canada. One key difference – some of our provinces have legislation that adopts ESRB ratings into law and restricts the sale of Mature and Adults Only rated games to children. (To date, in the US, only the state of New York has video game legislation.)

Our membership is also different. While we represent many of the same companies, ESAC’s membership includes companies not members of the ESA, and vice versa.


3. What needs does your organization fill that makes you so critical to the video game industry?

ESAC is the voice of the entertainment software industry. We promote the industry to all levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal. ESAC is an advocate for issues affecting our industry, including copyright reform, piracy and intellectual property enforcement, and international trade. We conduct research about and on behalf of the industry, and promote the industry to the public. We work with provincial officials and our partners in the retail sector to promote the industry’s rating system and help parents and consumers make informed choices about the games they purchase or rent for their families.


4.What is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), what do they do, and how are your organizations related?

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the ESA. ESRB independently assigns ratings, enforces advertising guidelines, and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices for the interactive entertainment software industry.


5. Once a Mature (M) or Adults Only (AO) rating is determined, how effective are efforts to get retailers to stop selling to minors? Are kids carded the same way they are for alcohol or cigarettes? Do stores prevent sales somehow?

Together, with our partners at the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) and the ESRB, we have a wonderful program called “Commitment to Parents” (CTP).

The CTP program is a voluntary initiative designed to restrict the selling or renting of games to children that are meant for older teenagers and adults. The program’s mandate is to help parents make informed choices for their families by educating consumers about the ESRB rating system and ratings enforcement.

CTP participating retailers agree not to sell Mature (M) or Adults Only (AO) rated games to under age children. They display store signs, which advise customers of their participation in the program and promote awareness and understanding of the ESRB rating system. And yes, sales associates will card someone who looks under age before they are allowed to purchase a game.


6. Let’s talk about your latest research. What was the motivation behind this study?

Each year, we survey the trends of video game play in Canada. We survey Canadians to find out the average age of a gamer, age breakdowns, what types of games are most popular, etc. Given we know that most games rated for sale by the ESRB in Canada are rated for play by children and teens, we were curious to know whether Canadians were findings ample choices for their families. Were they playing games together as a family?


7. Who put the study together and how was it carried out?

Ipsos Reid conducts the survey on our behalf. Further details can be found on their website: www.ipsos.ca


8. Can you elaborate on the demographics or criteria that determined who could participate? How many respondents per household?

I’d refer you to Ipsos Reid for specifics. We survey over 650 Canadians, from all reaches of the country.


9. Just so I don’t feel so old, what is the age of the average gamer? Has this changed a lot over the years? Why do you think that is?

In our most recent survey of Canadians, the average age of a gamer is 40.3 years.

And, yes, we’ve seen a steady rise in that average age over the years. This has occurred for many reasons, including parents who are playing more with their children, likely because, as we’ve discovered, parents are finding a greater selection of games for the entire family. Formerly young gamers are aging and having children, and including games as part of their family time.


10. What ESRB game rating is deemed family friendly? Can you name some popular PC titles that fit this category?

E (everyone) E10+ (everyone 10 and older) and T (teen) would be ratings for family games, depending of course, on the age of the children.

While I don’t want to name specific games, as everyone will have their favourites, I would like to point out that the ESRB has an excellent tool on its website to search games by platform, by rating, and by type of game. For example, when I select rating - E (everyone), platform - Windows PC, and type - any, listed are over 4500 titles.

I’d suggest going to the internet for reviews of games. gamingwithchildren.com is one good resource for reviews of family friendly games. Also, I’d suggest talking to the retailer. A sales associate will have a pretty good idea of what’s fun and appropriate for the family.


11. Video games get a lot of criticism for being violent and not appropriate for family viewing - you’ve heard it all, I’m sure! Are these statements true for the majority of games? How big is the family viewing market in video games?

Big sales titles like Halo and Grand Theft Auto get a lot of buzz in the press. But, truthfully, M rated games make up a fraction of games rated for sale in North America.

The ESRB says that 59% of games rated for sale in 2007 were rated E for everyone, and another 15% were rated E10+. Mature games were a scant 6% - this, out of over 1500 games the ESRB reviewed last year.


12. MTBS is very much PC gaming focused because only modern PC’s are able to take advantage of stereoscopic 3D technologies like 3D monitors, HDTVs, etc. - at least for now. Were your findings strictly for consoles because they are living room technologies, or is this applicable for the PC market too?

Our survey asks respondents to discuss video and computer game play.


13. Growing up, I remember video games as being alien to parents, and reserved for the enjoyment of teenagers and solitaries. How knowledgeable are parents about video games now?

Certainly, Canadian parents demonstrate a great deal of responsibility regarding the selection of their child’s game(s). Our research over the years has consistently demonstrated this. Nevermind that many parents play the game prior to making a purchasing decision. And according to our most recent research, 57% of parents play video games with their children. It’s just another way that parents are spending time with their children. With increased family offerings from publishers, parents are finding an ample selection of games that they can play with their children, and enjoy an activity that is fun for all ages.


14. This family angle, was it encouraged by the game developers, or did it occur naturally?

I can’t say for sure, though, it would make financial sense, I imagine, to broaden the appeal of video and computer games to what may have been considered non-traditional gamers.

I recently attended the E3 Media and Business Summit in Los Angeles. And after attending many press conferences and briefings there, I’ve noted that many publishers were keen on showcasing family friendly games as part of their offerings for 2008 and 2009.


15. If parents had a choice of having their kids watch television or play video games, which would they pick? Why do you think that is?

According to our research, 41% of parents would prefer their children to play video games over watching television.

Video games require skill, thought, communication, strategy...these are all good things when perhaps compared to a more passive activity, like watching TV.

And adults, even seniors are getting in the game, so to speak! Game developers are making games that are not only easy to play for all ages, but are targeted to groups of people that most would not think of as traditional ‘gamers.’


16. Between parents and kids, I’m sure you will agree that it’s often hard to agree on what program to watch. Do you have any findings about parents playing video games with their kids? How many do it? Why do you think that is?

Our research shows that 57% of parents play video games with their children. Parents and children are finding exciting game content that appeals to multiple generations. And the majority of games are family friendly, especially in terms of ratings. Can that be said about most television shows today?


17. Do you think parents are playing the games because they enjoy them, or is it more a concern about monitoring what their kids are playing and who they are chatting with online?

I think it’s both. Games are available for the whole family to enjoy together. But maybe what got parents interested was the fact that this was a significant pastime for their children, and being conscientious, they wanted to be involved. Perhaps they got ’hooked’ as well!

Certainly, in past research, we’ve determined that parents are very aware of what their kids play. According to our 2007 data, 79% of parents monitor closely or very closely the video games their child plays.


18. Do you have any data on who decides on which games to buy? The kids, the parents, or both?

I don’t have specific data on that.


19. Your findings are Canadian. Do you think your results would be similar in the US or overseas? Why or why not?

You’d probably have to ask my friends at the ESA (US), ELSPA (UK) and ISFE (Europe).

In general, though, many trends in the US are trends in Canada as well. For example, the average age of a gamer is on the rise in the US as well as in Canada. Each year, women comprise a greater number of gamers.


20. Can you take a guess on what triggered parents to suddenly take an active interest in their kids video games? Were the parents game players all along and just grew up, or has something happened that made games more appealing?

I think parents have always been interested in what their child plays, and our research has always supported this.

But a, parents are perceiving a greater number of games available for family play - 69%, according to our recent study. And b, publishers are reaching out to all ages and developing content for non-traditional gamers as well as gamers. And finally, c, the Atari generation has grown up. Those who grew up playing video games are embracing video game play with their children.


21. I understand there will be some follow-up data to this study. What do we have to look forward to?

In September, we will be publishing our annual Essential Facts about the Canadian computer and video game industry. This guide outlines further research from Ipsos Reid on game player data, including who plays video games, on what hardware, online game play, and ratings awareness. Essential Facts also includes data from NPD Canada on overall hardware and software sales, as well as top game sales by genre.


Special thanks to Nicole Helsberg of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. We are looking forward to her follow-up research and findings! Post your thoughts on this interview HERE.