Why 2011 was a 'Historic' Year for Video GamesS

Some of us think that 2011 was a good year for video games because Arkham City, Skyrim and the new Zelda weren't half-bad.

Michael Gallagher has other reasons to think 2011 was neat. He is the head of the Entertainment Software Association, the game-publisher-funded group in Washington that puts on E3 every year, lobbies the government for better treatment of games, and tangled with the state of California in the Supreme Court over whether video games should be treated with as much First Amendment protection as pornography. (California lost.)

What follows is his take on the year, a year he seems very proud of. It was, he writes, a "historic" 12 months.

ESA's 2011 Year in Review

Dear Friends,

The word "historic" is overused, but as we look back on 2011, it is a perfect fit for our industry's year. The U.S. Supreme Court's vigorous affirmation of our First Amendment rights, a new array of artistically astonishing games, and educators' increasing recognition of the role games play in teaching and learning made 2011 a remarkable year and set the stage for a great 2012.

I want to thank all of you for supporting our industry as we faced a momentous challenge to the constitutional rights of our industry's artists and creators before the U.S. Supreme Court. Your support helped amplify our voice, and ensured the Court heard our collective concerns about the consequences of the Schwarzenegger-Yee law at the center of the case. The Court's landmark declaration that video games enjoy the same Constitutional protections as books, movies and fine arts was exactly what we hoped to hear. The importance of this decision, both for our industry and for all who cherish free speech, cannot be overstated.

While the legal news played out in Washington, the rest of the world continued to be amazed by the increasing sophistication of the games our industry produces. As Seth Schiesel wrote in The New York Times earlier this month:

"Game makers are producing more high-quality entertainment for a broader variety of players than they ever have in the past. No other form of fun melds advanced digital technology, personal engagement and mass-market cultural relevance as felicitously as video games. That is why video games are the ascendant form of popular entertainment."

Entertainment will always be the heart of our industry, but I would also note the growing awareness that exists about the positive impact games have on improving other top priorities for the American people, including our economy, our education and healthcare systems, the workplace and the arts. Consider just a few examples from this year:

  • Art: Video games gained new appreciation as works of art, as their stunning graphics and captivating soundtracks attracted the art community's attention. The Smithsonian Institution announced that it will unveil a new exhibit dedicated to showcasing the incredible artistry within games at its American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. ESA is proud to sponsor the exhibit, titled "The Art of Video Games," which opens March 16, 2012.
  • The Economy: As many of you know, video game companies continue to post strong sales, with sales of game content, hardware and accessories generating $25.1 billion in revenue in 2010. Gamers' increasing interest in mobile, social and online play is a key component of this success, and we recognize The NPD Group's decision to begin reporting digital game sales on a monthly basis and the firm's new partnership with EEDAR that will help it do so. Their decision recognizes the significance of digital games to our business, and will provide a more complete picture of industry sales.
    Why 2011 was a 'Historic' Year for Video GamesSFoldit
  • Healthcare: Using an online game called Foldit, designed by Professor Zoran Popovic at the University of Washington, online gamers deciphered the protein that helps the HIV gene multiply. The protein stumped scientists for more than a decade, but the gamers unlocked it in just 10 days. While this is certainly a major breakthrough in the ongoing battle against AIDS, it also shows the unique power of our medium to solve incredibly difficult and complex problems.
  • Education: In September, the White House launched Digital Promise, a public-private partnership aimed at incorporating technological tools, including games, into American classrooms. The program will support research and development efforts to identify effective teaching technologies, develop new approaches for rapid evaluation of new products and explore ways to expand the market for learning software.

I am proud to report that, in partnership with this initiative, ESA is once again sponsoring the National STEM Video Game Challenge in collaboration with The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, E-Line Media, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting/PBS KIDS' Ready to Learn initiative. The competition challenges students and developers to create original games that stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning.

Of course, these are just a few examples of the reach and promise of games, and we see new and inspiring instances every day. We will continue sharing these stories with you through our monthly newsletter and on our website while also exploring opportunities to provide further support and encouragement for this movement.

In 2011, our industry continued to grow, to innovate and to be a source of entertainment, inspiration and learning. We also reaffirmed our rightful legal place alongside the other art forms that entertain and enlighten our society. These developments made for an historic year.

I thank you again for your interest in and support of our industry, and wish you and your families a joyous and healthy holiday season.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Gallagher
President and CEO
Entertainment Software Association

(Top photo: Scene outside the ESA's big show of the year, E3 2011. Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images)