January 4, 2021
Globe and Mail
By Jason MacIsaac

Q & A: Danielle LaBossiere, head of esa canada

  Her bio makes her sound like somebody who would lobby against video and computer games, but she's here on their behalf.

Danielle LaBossiere has worked for political parties and MPs, and in fact was once a special assistant to former Ontario Premier Mike Harris. Now, she is the new executive director of the Canadian chapter of the Entertainment Software Association, the video and computer game industry's special interest group.

With the business of games growing rapidly in Canada, more attention is being focused on piracy, game content, and other issues. That's why Canada's entertainment software industry wanted someone like Ms. LaBossiere who fluently speaks the language of industry and politics, and is able to use those skills on its behalf.

@Play talked to Ms. LaBossiere about her new appointment, and the role of the ESA in Canada.

Q: How long has the ESA operated in Canada?

A: ESA Canada is a fairly new association. We've existed in the U.S. for about 10 years, and it existed informally in Canada. It was previously known as the Canadian Interactive Digital Software Association.

In the past month or so, they've decided to formalize the Association and hire an executive director. [It's] a recognition of the fact that the gaming industry is really becoming mainstream, big business in Canada.

Q: How many Canadian members do you have?

A: I believe it's about eight at the moment. I represent game manufacturers including people like Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, as well as distributors like Hip Interactive and Video 1. Since we're new, we're working on a membership drive to get more people involved in the Association.

Q: Who can join?

A: At this point it's companies who are entertainment software manufacturers and distributors. As I say, we're fairly new, but I know there has been a lot of interest expressed from other companies that are associated with the industry, so that's something we'll be talking about. We're trying to establish links with the IGDA [International Game Developers Association] for example.

Q: Why do you think they chose to appoint you?

A: I think the industry is really maturing in Canada. It's at a point where we're starting to bypass the movie industry, so it's an exciting watershed time for the industry. And there are a lot of issues that are unique to Canada in terms of the regulatory and political environment here. I think that's why they brought me on.

My background is primarily in politics and corporate communications. I understand the political process and the different market sensibilities, because I'm Canadian.

Q: Now that you're here, where are you going to focus your efforts?

A: We're obviously interested in lobbying different levels of government on issues that are a concern to the industry, like ratings and regulations of the industry. Anti-piracy efforts, copyright legislation, things like that. So that's going to be a big part of what I do.

The other side is [focused on] public relations. Educating consumers about the industry. I think a lot of people still have this perception that the industry is catering to 10-year-old boys that play video games in their parents' basement. As you well know, that's absolutely not the case. The average age of people who play games is 29. It's a very broad market. We want people to understand that when we make games that are rated Mature, they're intended for adult consumers. Just like the movie industry or the music industry, it's an entertainment product for a whole wide variety of people.

Q: What do you personally want to accomplish while you're at ESA Canada?

A: I touched on this � I want people to have an understanding of the industry, and see that is an amazing opportunity. [Not] just for people in the industry, but for consumers. People can be the main character in a story, and really immerse themselves in the fantasy. That's a neat thing to do, and I really want people to understand that's what the industry is all about.

I also want to encourage the government and the public in general to have a better understanding of intellectual property issues and piracy. Stealing intellectual property is serious, and it costs the industry millions of dollars. It's going to [have an] impact on the consumer at the end of the day. If piracy continues to be rampant and grows, what incentive is there for people to develop new games? That's really a deterrent to developing new games and new technologies, and we really want to draw attention to that and make sure people understand the seriousness of piracy. Both on-line piracy, and pirated games being sold in retail stores in Canada. Mod chips, and all the things that go along with that.

We believe that the government needs to take some action on this issue. They are signatories of the WIPO Treaty [World Intellectual Property Organization] from 1987 that promises they would take some action on this issue [note: Canada signed the WIPO treaty, by hasn't ratified it]. We feel very strongly that the government needs to make some legislation on this issue. It costs the industry millions of dollars every year, and that translates to lost tax revenue for the government.

Q: What about issues specific to Canada?

A: I think [our] governments have expressed more of an interest than other countries in terms of getting involved on the ratings side of things. That's something the industry is quite passionate about, because we've been regulating ourselves for 10 years. Voluntarily. Having standards, ratings, and providing that information on packaging so that parents and consumers can be aware of the audience for which this game is actually intended.

In terms of advertising standards, people that are members of our Association also subscribe to voluntary standards. Promising for example, that they're not going to advertise Mature rated games to children. So they're not placing ads in publications that are directed at children, and they're not showing explicit violence or sexual content in their ads. That's something that in Canada has received more attention from the government.

Q: Speaking of which, new proposed rating systems and legislation are getting a lot of attention, like Bill 70 here in Ontario. What's ESA Canada's position on them?

A: We've been working with [provincial governments] to put together legislation. We absolutely agree that they're on the right track in adopting the ESRB's [Entertainment Software Ratings Board] rating system, which has been in place for 10 years. And about 83 per cent of parents agree with the ratings that the ESRB assigns. So, we definitely have the support of parents, they agree with the ratings that the ESRB on games.

[The ESRB consists of] independent people, no affiliation to the gaming industry. They try to get a real cross section of demographics and life experiences, and they rate the games very objectively. That fact, that parents agree with them, makes a lot of sense. It's parents themselves, people that are interested in games, that rate them

Q: There has been talk of provinces coming up with their own ratings system. Is the ESA opposed to that?

A: Yes. We believe that the ESRB ratings are absolutely fair and objective. And as I've said, 83 per cent of parents that we've surveyed agree with the assessment. And we've done a lot of independent research, and we're going to do more independent research in Canada as well. But we feel that they're objective, solid ratings, and we believe that if the government is interested in formalizing ratings, they should adopt the ESRB ratings.

We've got to a lot of lengths to make sure that consumers and parents are educated. In Canada - and this is different than in the U.S. � we have what's called "The Commitment to Parents Initiative" with the Retail Council of Canada. About 90 per cent of the videogames in Canada that are sold are from retailers that have signed on to the Commitment to Parents Initiative." And basically what they say is they're going to display signage in their stores that explains the rating systems, and it also says that that if you look under 17, they're going to ask for ID if you're going to purchase an M-rated [Mature] or AO-rated [Adults Only] game. We launched that in October with the support of ministers in Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. We had events in each of the three provinces and we had government representation at each. The ministers attended.

As an organization, we don't think legislation is necessary on the government's part.

That said, if the government is going to legislate, we want to make sure they're adopting ESRB's rating system. It's been in place for a number of years, parents are familiar with it, and it works. We provide the information to parents, but ultimately, it comes down to what parents think is appropriate for their kids. And parents need to be able to make that decision. Regardless of whatever government safeguards are in place, parents really have to be the ones that are monitoring what they're kids are doing.

Q: How is the government responding to ESA Canada?

A: I'm meeting with a ministerial policy advisor tomorrow. They've been very responsive, and very much willing to listen to what we have to say. I'm very encouraged by that, and I'm hoping we'll get the same response when we approach Ottawa. It hasn't happened yet, as I say we're still very new.

Q: How autonomous is ESA Canada? Do you have to report back to the U.S. organization, or do you run your own shop?

A: They very much want us to run our own Association here in Canada, and run with the idea. It's a different country, and it's a different set of standards from the public's and the government's perspective. I work very closely with the U.S.; the have a lot of history and a lot of background. And a lot of resources they can provide to us. But they absolutely recognize that there are distinct issues in Canada, and that's why they decided to start a new association here.

Q: What drew you personally to this role?

A: I am very intrigued personally by the industry. I think it's really exciting and really neat � the kinds of innovative games that are coming out, and the technology.

You think about the traditional entertainment experience that people have � movies or music � and they're passive. With videogames, they're so immersive. You get to be the star of the show. There's a lot of growth and potential with what we can do. That's really exciting to me. Plus the opportunity to grow a new organization, and the opportunity to help people understand what it's really all about.