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With a little help, video games could thrive under Trump ... and why that matters

An outlook on the industry in 2020

Donald Trump photo (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images) 1920
Donald Trump
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Video games under President Barack Obama’s eight-year administration thrived, and the head of the Entertainment Software Association believes the same can be true under President Donald Trump’s, but not without a guiding hand and more than a bit of lobbying.

“Our goal is to have a very positive and aspirational dialog with the administration and that includes the president,” ESA president Michael Gallagher told Polygon. “We hope we will have the same if not better relationship (with Trump as we had with Obama) in the months ahead.”

With an administration so set on changing things in the country that it seems disinterested in what sort of chaos those changes reap, video games might not seem like a very important topic right now.

But the reality is that, while not a top national priority, the video game industry is very impactful in the U.S.

In the United States alone last year the video game industry generated $30.4 billion, according to the ESA. There are nearly 3,000 video game companies located across the country supporting 220,000 jobs. And that’s just the economic impact, but the reach of video games goes far beyond that.

“You talk to kids today and they don’t want to go to the moon or make rockets, they want to build video games,” Gallagher said. “We are the aspirational career path for the youth today.”

Video games and the technology that drives them have also become a test bed for a wide variety for important technologies that go on to be used in a variety of fields. That’s why, Gallagher said, politicians from governors to state legislators, senators and attorney generals all “embrace this industry and see it as a priority.”

Making sure that politicians understand the impact and importance of video games is a chief mandate of the ESA. Gallagher said that perhaps 60 percent of the organization’s efforts is focused on lobbying. Last year alone, the ESA spent just under $7 million on lobbying efforts.

And that number is sure to go up this year, though Gallagher said the budget hasn’t yet been set.

Those lobbying efforts don’t mean sitting down directly with the president. Gallagher said, for instance, that the ESA were very actively engaged in shaping president Obama’s views of the video game industry.

“But we didn’t sit down with him personally,” he said. “We work with the cabinet, the secretary, the White House staff and other influencers to make sure conversations about video games are fully informed.”

It’s too soon for that to happen with Trump; he hasn’t yet finished appointing his team, including the director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, a position which under Obama had what amounted to a video game czar position.

But that doesn’t prevent the ESA from having high expectations and already working on future plans.

“We hope and expect to have a positive relationship with this president and we’ll do everything to help make that happen,” Gallagher said.

While the ESA has already spoken out once against an executive order, calling for the White House to exercise caution with regard to immigration and foreign worker programs, that doesn’t seem to dampen the mood of how things might move forward.

Gallagher pointed to the Senate Republican high-tech task force and its innovation agenda, revealed just this week by Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.

That agenda, which Gallagher said he could see the Democrats embracing and the president signing off on, aligns very well with the ESA’s own agenda.

In fact, Gallagher said he was sitting in the front row when Hatch unveiled the plan.

“That type of thing is a reason for optimism,” Gallagher said. “We were quick to endorse it.”

Looking forward, Gallagher outlined four major points that he would see as a sign of a successful next four years for the video game industry.

He would want to see the world’s video game industry grow from about $100 billion today to $140 billion in four years, $40 billion of that in the U.S.

He would like to see the number of game industry jobs climb to about 320,000 in the U.S.

He would like to see virtual reality sales jump from $3 billion in 2016 to $9 billion in 2020.

And finally, he would like to see a ten percent increase in the number of households with video game consoles, pushing that up to about 75 percent.

“Our central focus, our role at the ESA is to extend the opportunities for video games and defend against those who would limit those frontiers in the industry,” Gallagher said. “And that means educating policy makers and the media.

“Video games are more and more becoming the new literacy of this generation. They look to make their expressions within games, to drive social awareness through video game architecture. That’s been happening in books, music and film, why not move in our direction?”

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding editor and executive editor of Polygon.

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