Interview: Mommy's Best Games' Nathan Fouts on SOPA

Lawmakers in Washington are about to continue their debate of the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261) in the coming days. A vote on the bill is expected to come soon after and that has many free-speech advocates concerned.

SOPA has been panned by internet freedom advocates from various social and economic classes. Facebook, Twitter, Google and other members of the tech sector are among the most prominent SOPA opponents. The bill has also raised free-speech concerns from average consumers in the gaming circle. The Entertainment Consumers Association, the non-profit membership organization that represents consumers of interactive entertainment in the U.S. and Canada, recently published a statement on Techdirt slamming the bill and noting its troubling issues with censorship and due process.

Despite these concerns from a majority of its consumer base, the Entertainment Software Association, the video game trade association that lobbies on behalf of the video game industry, has lent its full support to SOPA. They have made their position clear as recently as this week, issuing a statement to Joystiq. The ESA represents nearly every major video game company, with the exception of Activision.

The ESA’s continuing support for SOPA is starting to draw the attention of game developers, particular from Mommy’s Best Games president Nathan Fouts. Mommy’s Best Games is an independent game developer known for such titles as Serious Sam Double D, Weapon of Choice, and Game Type. Fouts published an extensive post on his developer blog detailing some of his deepest concerns about the bill. It has also doubled as a rallying cry for fellow game developers and game consumers to contact the individual ESA members in regards to their unwavering support for SOPA.

Shacknews has reached out to Nathan Fouts to ask for some more details on his current position. Here, Fouts explains how SOPA stands to affect everyone (developer and consumer alike), how his relationship with SOPA-supporting ESA members has been affected, and what people can do to express their opposition to this bill.

Shacknews: You drew some attention when you reached out to your fellow game developers to contact the ESA, in regards to their support of the Stop Online Piracy Act. What made you decide to reach out in the manner that you did?

Nathan Fouts: I had obviously read about the proposed SOPA and Protect IP bills and how bad they would be for the internet. Then the holidays happened and I wanted to think warm-happy thoughts instead, and unconsciously ignored all the doom-saying. Finally when the “Nintendo and Sony dropping SOPA support” story came around, I started reading a little more. When I found out that the ESA actually supported the bill, I was motivated to reach out.

Shacknews: There are a large number of people that are unfamiliar with the language of the SOPA bill. How does SOPA stand to directly affect game developers such as yourself?

Fouts: I think the manners in which it can directly affect normal internet users (which we all are) are more powerful and disruptive than any game-developer specific issues. The combined Protect IP and SOPA bills will allow the government to take down sites without any due process, and the method SOPA proposes to block sites will likely cause self-censorship, and degrade security of the internet’s DNS system overall.

As a game developer, if stopping some people from pirating my games requires the government step in and break the internet, then let’s keep things the way they are and each individual company will figure out its own way to handle piracy.

Shacknews: Why do you feel that the ESA and its members have decided to support SOPA? Is it purely a financial decision on their part or is there more to it than that?

Fouts: I’ve read the ESA’s SOPA-support statement as issued on Joystiq. Obviously their heart is in the right place and I do not think they’re evil or hate the internet. They want to stop online piracy and protect intellectual property. But with a bill this powerful, which would effectively let the government force search engines to restrict access to sites simply because another group kindly asked them to do so, I think they’re letting a few bad apples spoil the whole bushel.

Besides, the ESA already has an Anti-Piracy program and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (HR 2281), which it seems pretty happy about.

Shacknews: Arguments have been made time and time again that piracy is a real problem that needs to be addressed. Some game publishers have attempted to address this concern by instituting anti-piracy measures, such as DRM. In your experience, have these types of anti-piracy measures been effective?

Fouts: DRM has certainly been effective to varying degrees, but then they’ve also really soured a lot of consumers against the companies using them. What is good though is the market responding there with fewer sales or what have you, and that given publisher deciding to try a new tact. It’s not a written law, regulated by the government, how to handle the issue. Companies get to try things out and consumers respond.

Shacknews: If SOPA goes too far in trying to stop piracy, what would you consider to be a viable alternative? How do you think game publishers and developers should go about reducing piracy?

Fouts: I think the marketplace is a better way to find answers than through government regulation. A service like Steam maintains an account for you, but also functions as a community and a store. I’m not saying Steam is the only good digital game store — I enjoy others such as GamersGate, Good Old Games, and Get Games — but the general notion of digital stores providing a more positive experience than a pirating a game is a good direction. And the beauty of the marketplace addressing this is we are less likely to end up with woeful self-censorship and First Amendment violations.

Shacknews: If the various ESA members were to continue supporting SOPA, how would this affect your working relationship with them in the future? Likewise, how do you think other developers would approach ESA members that refuse to pull support for SOPA?

Fouts: Again, I think I’m naïvely confident the ESA and its members don’t realize how destructive this bill can be and instead are simply focusing on the possibility of reducing online piracy. My working relationship with other developers supporting SOPA wouldn’t change. I’d simply want to talk through why they support it, and try to convince them to withdraw their support.

Shacknews: It's easy to follow the news on SOPA and become cynical, particularly given how much financial backing the bill has received. How can the average consumer go about learning more about SOPA and, ultimately, how can they help in trying to stop this bill from passing?

Fouts: Sending a few quick emails would help get your voice heard in Congress. All you have to do is email your two Senators and your Representative of the House. But the even more effective way is to spend just a few minutes calling your representatives. And if you don’t want to talk to someone in person you can leave a message after hours. You can also contact the ESA (http://www.theesa.com/contact/index.asp) and the game publishers that support the group, and ask them to please withdraw their support for SOPA.

Shacknews: Nathan Fouts, thank you for talking to us about this important issue.

As of this writing, the ESA continues to give their full support to SOPA. Shacknews has reached out to the companies listed as members of the ESA in order to clarify their position on the bill.