Interview / Hal Halpin, president of the ECA

The number of people standing up for the gamer in today’s world often seems pretty minimal. However, for the past two years the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) has been trying to do just that by not only bringing gaming consumers news and discounts but also allowing gamers everywhere to have a place to speak out about what they believe in. The ECA also publishes GamePolitics, GameJobs and GameCulture, all three of which are centered around bringing the impact of gaming to the attention of the world and motivating gamers to get involved in the industry and the world surrounding it. Basically, if you’re a gamer on any level, the ECA is working for you and if you haven’t looked into them you really should.

TVGB got a chance to talk with the ECA’s president, Hal Halpin, at this year’s E3, and apart from finding out how his parents could name him Hal Halpin (we forgot to ask) he answered all our questions with great depth and insight. Especially interesting are the three main political concerns gamers should know about and just how long it took him to beat his kids at Mario Kart Wii.

Matthew Razak (TVGB): The ECA is pretty young. Tell me about what got it started and if there have been many growing pains?

Hal Halpin (HH): It feels like there’s growing pains everyday really. They’re all good pains to have though. One of the main differences between the ECA and the organization I used to work with, the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, is that dealing with really large retail organizations we had really sort of narrow goals … really specific, but really big stuff. Whereas with the ECA the parameters with the what consumers needs are are so much broader … so it’s one of those challenges everyday; the more members you have, the more needs there are. Staffing challenges, keeping your arms around all those different opportunities.

TVGB: Going along with it being a young company, did you expect it to take off so quickly? Almost everyone knows who the ECA is or reads GamePolitics.

HH: Thanks. I think a lot of that goes to both our marketing department and One PR because they both work on exactly that: partnerships and getting the word out and letting consumers know what the value is. It’s kind of hard to get your head around it initially. As a gamer you go out and you rent games and you purchase a product at the store and you subscribe to a magazine and you don’t realize that there is the opportunity where there is basically a AAA for gaming. You pay an annual dues fee and you could be spending a lot less money because of all the discounts. And then the other challenge is making sure gamers are aware of their rights and that they are regularly being infringed upon by legislatures. Those are really big challenges and opportunities. GamePolitics as been a great draw, especially in terms of consumers who are really passionate already about gaming. So that was a great acquisition and I was a huge fan it to begin with. So it’s been a really symbiotic relationship.

TVGB: There’s a general stereotype of gamers not being involved in things. Have you found that to be true or do gamers jump in readily?

HH: I think that before the ECA came along there wasn’t an opportunity for them to show that. So there was a mislabeling process and it was easy to say that about gamers because they didn’t have an outlet. So once the ECA came along and gave them the opportunity and said, “Hey, here’s how you can get involved,” it created a place for gamer’s to act and now we have all sorts of tools that pop up. Facebook pages that are designed specifically for getting involved with gaming issues for example. We’re up to over 40 chapters around the country now, so people can join and get involved in a lot of different ways. I think we’re disproving that stereotype by having these different tools and ways to get involved.

TVGB: In your own words, what is the point of the ECA and what are your goals moving forward?

HH: Hmmm, very broad question. The Entertainment Consumers Association is a 501c4 non-profit, so we’re a membership organization which is different from a c3 or a c6 so our mission is then very different as a result … a c4 is very specifically tailored to individual members and consumers. In terms of goals we’re trying to get the word out to the 35 million gamers out there and we have to get a few million of those guys to be aware of us and hopefully join the association as well because the larger it becomes, the more we can impact things on a national scale.

TVGB: Do you have any specific projects that you’re looking ahead to?

HH: Yea, one of the more ambitious ones that we’ve jumped into is the Gamers for Universal Broadband and Gamers for Net Neutrality. Those two issues are way larger than even our industry; it goes into the truly national sort of cultural issues and they’re big for us to take on, especially being new and especially with and audience that is just realizing that they have these empowerment tools. But at the same time these younger generations are coming up and wanting to get involved so we really want to educate them about this.

TVGB: You guys have started covering more than just game politics but gaming as a culture. Why is that important to you?

HH: Aaron Ruby started that and we launched GameCulture primarily because it’s sort of the inverse of GamePolitics demographically. Where people who are gamers – sort of at the middle and top of the pyramid – there are tons of websites out there that are really good for them. So we were finding that at the very base of the pyramid – people who would never consider themselves as gamers but occasionally play a game – we want to make sure that they’re included and we’re getting the word out. Not just to them but to the media and government about the ways in which gaming has impacted society and we see that all the time with music and movies. When these examples come up the national media will highlight the grunge rock movement or a film trend, but when it comes to gamers and gaming we’re short shifted all the time. This is an opportunity to really expand that base and get some knowledge out there about all the positive contributions we’ve had.