Thursday, May 11, 2006
LOS ANGELES, May 10 Every parent with a child who plays video games should know Doug Lowenstein, the same way that everyone here at E3 -- the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual Lollapalooza for gamers -- should know him. He's the architect of this weeklong convention, the Jack Valenti for the PlayStation-Xbox-Nintendo set, the public face of the fastest-growing entertainment industry in the world. The guy. The video game guy.
Except not too many folks, even gamers, know who he is.
"He's a behind-the-scenes kind of player," says Ted Price, head of Insomniac Games, home of the best-selling "Ratchet and Clank" series.
When Lowenstein walked into the Los Angeles Convention Center Wednesday morning, pumped to give his annual version of the State of the Union address to a packed hall, he didn't turn any heads.
But Lowenstein wasn't the least concerned.
"It's not my persona to get in the limelight," says Lowenstein, 55, a Washington insider for more than 30 years. "I don't want to be seen as, 'Here's the guy who defends hideous violent games. Here's his story.' "
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Everybody watches movies, everybody listens to music, but not everyone plays video games -- at least not yet. Lowenstein oversees a 30-year-old industry (worth nearly $30 billion worldwide) that's at a crossroads, at once mainstream and misunderstood.
One week he's defending the industry from a bipartisan group of high-profile pols on Capitol Hill who decry violent games. The next he's speaking with industry bigwigs at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose about advancing content beyond sports franchises, shoot-'em-ups and medieval wonderlands. One month he's issuing a press release challenging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's proposed legislation to curb the sale and rental of "violent and sexually explicit" games to minors. The next he's co-hosting a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Friends of Hillary Clinton in Washington.
Jack Valenti, former head of the Motion Picture Association of America and someone Lowenstein calls a mentor, says: "He's got a really tough job to do. But Doug listens, and listens very well. Too many people in Washington think they're the repository of all wisdom. Not Doug."
In 1994, Lowenstein founded the Entertainment Software Association. Aside from representing the likes of Electronic Arts, Take Two Interactive and Activision -- companies that publish more than 90 percent of games in the United States -- the ESA fights piracy, lobbies Congress for intellectual property laws and works with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which was created by the ESA in 1994 to provide ratings for games (participation is voluntary for game publishers, most of whom use the ratings). More than anything else, the ESA fights for the rights of game developers to make the games they want to make and to help raise the visibility of the industry as an entertainment medium on a par with movies, music and television.
Last year, U.S. sales of games, hardware and accessories reached a record $10.5 billion, according to NPD Group, a research firm. The release of the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii later this year, in addition to new accessories for the Xbox 360, guarantees another solid year. Price Waterhouse Coopers, a consulting firm, predicts the game industry will surpass the music industry in global revenue by 2008 -- $55 billion to $33 billion.