Video game maker drops gun makers, not their guns

Tue May 7, 2013 3:24pm EDT
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By Malathi Nayak

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In the midst of the bitter national debate on gun violence, gun manufacturers and videogame makers are delicately navigating one of the more peculiar relationships in American business.

Violent "first-person shooter" games such as "Call of Duty" are the bread and butter of leading video game publishers, and authenticity all but requires that they feature brand-name weapons.

Electronic Arts licensed weapons from companies like McMillan Group International as part of a marketing collaboration for "Medal of Honor: Warfighter." Activision Blizzard gives "special thanks" to Colt, Barrett and Remington in the credits for its "Call of Duty" titles.

Rifles by Bushmaster, which made the gun used in the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting last December, have appeared in the hugely popular "Call of Duty."

Yet, in the wake of the Newtown shooting, the biggest advocate for gun ownership, the National Rifle Association, took aim at videogames to explain gun violence. One week after 20 schoolchildren and six adults were killed in the shooting, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre called the videogame industry "a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people."

Now at least one game maker, the second largest by revenue in the United States, is publicly distancing itself from the gun industry, even as it finds ways to keep the branded guns in the games. Electronic Arts says it is severing its licensing ties to gun manufacturers - and simultaneously asserting that it has the right, and the intention, to continue to feature branded guns without a license.

For the gunmakers, having their products in games is "free marketing, just like having Coca-Cola" in a movie, said Roxanne Christ, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP in Los Angeles, who works with video game companies on licensing, but has not personally done a gun deal.

Yet it is also a virtual double-edged sword. "It gives publicity to the particular brand of gun being used in the video game," said Brad J. Bushman, a professor at Ohio State University who has studied video game violence. "On the other hand, it's linking that gun with violent and aggressive behavior."   Continued...

Copies of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 video game published by Activision Blizzard, owned by Vivendi, are displayed in a shop in Rome, October 16, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile