John Watts has promised he will “keep banging the drum” after his appointment as the new president of the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia.
He picked up the mantle from Michael Ephraim, head of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI), who stepped down because of time constraints after serving a two-year term as inaugural president.
“I had served as vice-president and was nominated [for the presidency] when Michael stepped aside,” Watts said. “I felt it was an ideal opportunity for me to put my hand up and take it on.”
Watts’ is the local managing director of global games developer, Activision. When he started a decade ago he only had a secretary for company but he now leads a team of 25 staff.
Prior to that he worked as a sales director of video distribution for 20th Century Fox and as general manager of CEL Home Video.
The IEAA has quickly become a major consideration for Watts since his appointment in December.
“It’s becoming something I look at daily,” he said. “We have been involved in the free trade agreement discussions with the US, continue to look at Internet accessibility and the sharing of files, whether that be music or games, and piracy is always an issue for this association.
“ISPs generate substantial revenues [from file sharing activity] but have a very hands-off approach, claiming there’s nothing they can do about it.”
With no direct powers to change the dynamics of the Australian software market, the IEAA must concentrate on lobbying government.
“We are trying to present a case to the Government that it is not doing anything to embrace the efforts of those people involved in tackling piracy,” Watts said. “It has offered a fairly soft approach and isn’t convincing anybody.
“The IEAA made good representations last year and will look to continue that, especially with this being an election year.”
The association took a road show to Canberra last year to demonstrate games and talked to ministers about its members’ products.
“It’s an education phase we’re going through at the moment,” Watts said. “There has been a lack of conviction from Government in tackling counterfeiting. A review of the law has increased penalties but we don’t consider it was sufficient to deter anybody from piracy.”
The IEAA has expressed its opinion on the workings of the Australian broadband market because of the advantages greater take up would provide to games developers and the console giants – Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.
Other activities have included promoting the interests of the local games developer community, in conjunction with the Games Development Association, and co-funding a report into counterfeiting. This was conducted by the Allen Group and showed Australia had one of the worst software piracy rates in the developed world.
Watts said the IEAA would also pressure the Government to introduce an R classification for games to match that available in movie ratings.
“Content is now significantly broader then it was years ago and there’s a lot of assumed violence,” he said. “Manhunt is a great example, it was banned in New Zealand but only received an MA15+ rating in Australia.”
Watts monitored the head-to-head Christmas battle between Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox with great interest.
“Each cleverly quoted statistics that favoured the sales they had for a particular time,” he said. “PS2 is still dominant but, in saying that, the [Xbox] Beast was marketed very well and chipped away at that lead.”
Watts said the incorporation of DVD-playing capability had made PS2 and Xbox cheap alternatives to a home entertainment centre.
Despite suggesting the uptake of online gaming had been stellar, he said the local broadband market had a lot of room for improvement.
“A lot of software has been developed allowing people to play online around the world but broadband take-up [in Australia] is still relatively low and the cost comparatively expensive when you look at other areas of the region and the world,” Watts said.
“Accessibility is also an issue. It’s frustrating that we have technology that can’t be accessed by the general punter.”
Watts could stand for re-election at the end of his two-year term but for now would concentrate on matters at hand.
“We will continue to identify areas that we as an association are impacted by,” he said. “It’s about reaching the right people and beating our drum harder.”
The IEAA is currently looking to employ a consultancy to conduct a detailed study into broadband, online gaming and Internet access.