What is the ESA Hiding?

A trade association is supposed to advocate for its industry. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) is doing only a part of its job by tirelessly cheering for—and rebutting criticism of—video games. The ESA is failing in another important part of its job, that of being a credible, authoritative source of data about the video game industry for all the world to cite. In fact, the ESA has never done this part of its job well.

Consider one of the most basic statistics that anyone might want to know about the US video game industry: “How many Americans play games?” On the ESA web site, there is a section called “Facts and Research/Game Player Data,” where the ESA poses the question verbatim and offers this answer: “Sixty-nine percent of American heads of households play computer and video games.”

Excuse me? Isn’t that the answer to a completely different question? It may seem at first odd that the ESA would sound like a political candidate dodging a question on their own web site, but on close inspection it becomes clear that the “research data” on the site has been cherry-picked for positive results.

There are lots of “facts” cited on the ESA site, but even putting them all together, they don’t tell you how many people play games and how much they play. The ESA talks a lot about “game players,” but does not even define the term.

Compare this to the excellent research reports offered by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). In their published reports, the MPAA explains that 58 percent of the entire US population aged 12 and over attend movies in theaters at least once every six months. The term, “movie goers” is clearly defined and segmented by age and frequency of movie attendance.

If you look at the two sets of reports side by side, the difference is quite striking. Sure, the MPAA tries to put a positive spin on their data. For example, they valiantly claim that theater attendance is “holding steady,” when the graph clearly shows a downward slope. However, the reader is able to get a clear picture, because all the MPAA terms are straightforwardly defined, and the data are therefore useful.

ESA, the video game industry is doing well, and there is no need to obfuscate. Please give us some meaningful stats.

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