As of today, thousands of sex offenders will no longer be able to log onto online gaming platforms, thanks to a joint operation between New York State and some of the world's biggest video game companies. In a statement issued this morning, it's been revealed that the New York Attorney General's office has been working with Microsoft, Sony, Apple and other video game companies to ban registered sex offenders off of the those entities' network platforms.
New York law requires that convicted sex offenders surrender all e-mail addresses and internet screennames to the state, which then provides the information to websites. Those sites can sweep the matching usernames off their rolls, with the aim of creating a safer web environment for underage users. "Operation: Game Over" marks the first time that the law has been implemented with video games. From the press release:
As a result of Operation: Game Over, 3,580 accounts of New York state sex offenders have been purged – or their communication privileges suspended – from the gaming platforms owned by Microsoft, Apple, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Warner Bros. and Disney Interactive Media Group.
The initiative comes after recent incidents where sexual predators have used Xbox Live or similar services to form relationships and draw unsuspecting victims to places where they can be sexually assaulted. One such occurrence happened earlier this month in New York State's Monroe County.
Of course, most gaming hardware that allows for internet access includes parental controls designed to keep younger users safe. But many parents don't activate these features.
Concerns about underage sexual assaults aren't locked to any one particular state, and legislation designed to prevent such crimes exists all over the United States. So, it's entirely possible that other states that hold sex offender databases could implement measures similar to "Operation Game Over."
Kotaku has reached out to some of the companies that worked the NY Attorney General's office for comment and will update this story if we hear back from them.
Here's the official statement from the ESA with regard to "Operation: Game Over":
"Our industry welcomes appropriate efforts allowing people of all ages to play games in a safer environment. Online game play with friends is a social experience and we encourage parents to be aware of what games their children are enjoying and with whom they are interacting in the virtual space. Through the use of robust parental controls and awareness of the online world, playing games online can be a fulfilling and rich experience." – Christian Genetski, Senior Vice President and General Counsel
A representative of Microsoft offered official comment with regard to Xbox Live and "Operation: Game Over" and responded to follow-up question. The text of Microsoft's correspondence is below:
"At Microsoft, we continually evaluate ways to manage safety for our 40 million Xbox LIVE members and particularly for children on our service. Our partnership with the Office of the New York Attorney General helps further this cause. By leveraging the online identity information all registered sex offenders are required to provide, we are able to help reduce potentially harmful situations. We're supportive of Attorney General Schneiderman's efforts to make the Internet, including online gaming environments like Xbox LIVE, safer for everyone."
How long has your organization been working with the AG office on this initiative?
"We can confirm Microsoft was one of several companies in the video game industry that worked over the course of several months to partner with the New York State Office of the Attorney General as part of this action.
If you can speak to it, what did the process entail on the part of your organization?
We compared specific member details against data collected by New York State under the e-STOP law. This is data that registered sex offenders in New York are required to provide to the state. We are using very specific data to ensure the accuracy of individual bans and providing an appeal process out of an abundance of caution.