Q&A: Doug Lowenstein, going the distance

The news of Lowenstein's imminent departure from the ESA hit the industry like a hammer today. Here, the outgoing president talks about the future ahead for himself, as well as the organization he founded a little more than a decade ago.

Doug Lowenstein

For the past 12 years, it was impossible to navigate the game industry's inner machinery--whether that was the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the DICE Summit, or the extended stomping ground of Capitol Hill--without somewhere along the line running into Doug Lowenstein. As the game industry's most obvious spokesperson, his words and actions became a war cry for the industry to rally around--or the center bull's-eye for industry critics to take aim at.

He had both detractors and fans, probably more than his fair share. And in a tip of the hat to the depth and many-layered quality of the complex game industry, many who enjoyed the final product Lowenstein spent years defending and defining--the gamers themselves--may not have even known he existed.

But exist he did, and never more vividly that in his sermons from the mount, or rather, his opening comments to the world's media that religiously kicked off each E3 (2006, 2005, 2004).

He may not have been loved by all, but he was listened to. If nothing else, Doug Lowenstein could draw a crowd, and the results of his ongoing efforts to represent the industry brought a certain cache and clout to it that was, before his tenure, nonexistent.

Among the press, within the beltway, and with local, state, and international governments in almost every corner of the globe, Lowenstein spent time, cash, and shoe leather promoting and defending the game industry.

Today, Lowenstein confirmed he would leave his post as president of the Entertainment Software Association sometime in early 2007. GameSpot spoke with him shortly after the announcement was made.

GameSpot: Does this signal tough times ahead for the ESA?

Doug Lowenstein: I don't think ESA is in any difficulty. I don't think ESA is troubled. I don't think ESA has anything but an extremely bright future ahead of it. And I believe that, into the core of my being. I'm not sure I could have left if I didn't believe that, because the last thing I would want to do is walk away from something I created and leave it in some kind of shape that doesn't allow it to prosper and thrive.

GS: Do you remain an active president for the next two months?

DL: I'm active and busy; going to meetings and working with the staff on plans, working on budgets, and so forth.

GS: Come March 2007, do you sever all ties to the ESA?

DL: Once I formally start a new job, I will not be working for ESA and will not have a formal relationship with them. That said, if my successor wants my input...for as long as anybody wants to ask me my opinion or to tap into whatever institutional or historical knowledge I have, I'm more than happy to share that with anybody who wants to talk about it.

GS: Speaking of a successor, what kind of person do you think is required to fill the role of ESA president?

DL: I think that's up to the board to decide, but broadly speaking, I think this is an incredibly exciting, dynamic, evolving, and a cutting-edge industry, and I think that it's important to have somebody who embodies all of those characteristics.

In a lot of ways, if I had left five years ago, it would have been very different. But I think ESA's position in the Washington market, our credibility, and our effectiveness have really put us in a place where this is a very, very plum opportunity.

It's an exciting industry. It's got exciting issues. It's got great companies, a great history, and a great staff. I think that it's set up for someone to look at it and say "this is an extraordinary opportunity." They're going to have no shortage of candidates for this job.

GS: Twelve years ago the IDSA was formed in response to growing political pressure on the industry. Today, the industry still remains the object of the same political pressure. Why is progress so darn difficult in terms of taking some of that pressure off?

DL: Well, I don't agree. I mean, that implies that in 12 years we're running in place, and I don't think that's true.

GS: I don't mean to imply that. I think you can carry the question. Even assume that's implied.

DL: Here's the deal. I think that there are plenty of industries that have ongoing public policy issues that endure over time. If you live in the world and if you've been on the Hill--I don't say this in a condescending way at all, please don't mistake it--but I remember there were issues I worked on, on the Hill, for the five years I was there, that I worked on every year. That may be because bills didn't get passed and people were just persistent about them or that there was continued attention on an industry.

Look at the pharmaceutical industry. There are issues, for example, around prescription drug pricing that have been around for at least a decade. And it doesn't mean that you're not making headway, necessarily. It just means that there's a lot of interest and focus. I think you can go through the issues, environmental issues and fuel economy standards...I'm sure you can remember people debating fuel economy standards going back a decade.

That's the nature of public policy. So for us the issue revolves around concerns about content. And really, truthfully, if you look at it, the film industry deals with these issues and have been dealing with [them] for 35 years. Now it ebbs and flows. And sometimes the film industry seems to not be the center of attention and then other times there's sort of a flurry of activity around [it]. They're dealing with a lot of issues right now: about smoking, not about violence. But if you look around at the state level and the issues that are affecting the film industry, you'll see that [the industry is] spending a huge amount of time dealing with public-policy concerns about the depiction of smoking in film.

That's just the nature of the beast. It's the nature of the public-policy environment. It's a continual educational process and you hope that every year you've converted and educated a few more people, raised awareness and understanding, and are a little bit better off than you might have been a year before.

I think we can certainly look back at what we've done over 12 years and look at where we started and look at where we are now and say with absolute certainty that the appreciation and awareness of the industry are far, far beyond what they were 12 years ago--or even four or five years ago.

GS: What do you see as the biggest challenge for tomorrow's ESA?

DL: I think they're the same challenges that we face today, and they're the same challenges that caused our board to look at, and over the last few months, reaffirm the direction that we are going in as an industry. Fundamentally, the challenges for the industry are to continue to build the accessibility and the acceptability of video games in the world. And those two words, I think, capture everything.

GS: Can you elaborate? Accessibility. What's that all about?

DL: It's about not restricting access to games based on content. It's about opening markets and reducing piracy. It's about all the things that create inability for people that--and I'm not talking about the technology access, I'm not talking about sort of some arcane Internet backbone server kind of thing.

Acceptability is about continuing to raise awareness among people who are decision makers that this is a fundamental and basic part of the entertainment culture, and create this sort of sense that I talked about a little bit at E3 last year, or earlier this year, when I talked about how there are many industries for which you can have arguments and concerns in a public policy context about some aspect of the industry. But you want to reach the point where people look at the industry in a holistic way and they say, "Yeah, well we're concerned about this," or "Gee, we're concerned about some of the content of these games." But this is a really important and vibrant industry, and we need to look at it in this sort of larger sense and recognize we can be concerned about it without condemning the industry and at the same time recognizing the enormous contributions it makes in a lot of other ways.

That's all you can hope for, particularly if you're in the content business, because you're always going to be doing something that somebody's going to find controversial or objectionable. It's impossible not to do that. So in some ways, if all you do is make product that everybody finds rather acceptable, you're probably not pushing the envelope creatively.

GS: How were you able to put up with the vitriol of those who attacked, and still attack, the ESA?

DL: Well, you don't take stuff personally. If you engage in the sort of ad hominem personal attacks not only, I think, do you degrade yourself but you really make it much more difficult for your voice to be heard. [What] you end up doing is making the story or making the issue who's calling you or who's calling somebody what. The media loves that, but I don't think it helps anybody understand anything more about video games for me to attack a critic.

I've tried very hard, hopefully mostly successfully, but I'm sure I've slipped up from time to time, but I've tried very hard to always sort of look and say, "What animates people's concerns?" And I think, in most cases...their concerns are evolved from some genuine concerns. Most people's motives are honorable, and I try to approach it that way. Whether I disagree with that, whether I disagree with how they express themselves, I always try to recognize that, particularly as it relates to the concerns about violence in games, that, of course, people can be concerned about that.

I think it's one reason we've been successful--[because] we're not dismissive. We don't make believe that everybody should embrace every game as good for everyone. And I think you just have to go forward and look at what you do and try to do it honorably and try to do it openly and try to do it fairly and try to do it respectfully.

And you go to bed at night and you say, you know, what's this all about? And in this particular area it's about freedom of expression. I can sleep at night knowing that I've been a small part of championing that right and that privilege. And you know, that makes it easier.

GS: You know, there's so much sizzle surrounding the challenges you've faced as ESA president, it strikes me as a curious direction to go, finance.

DL: I don't want to get in to too much detail about where I'm going or what I'm doing yet.

GS: OK, how about this: You're going into finance, are you going to miss the sizzle of entertainment?

DL: Look, I'm sure I'm going to miss a lot about ESA and the industry...you know, I don't want to get too sappy, [but] the people I've met and the members of the board that I work with, other members of ESA, the staff here, other just great people that I've gotten to know who have been so supportive and helpful. Yes, I'm going to miss the people and I'm going to miss the personalities and I'm going to miss the energy and excitement that's central to the industry.

I think where I'm going, the challenges are going to be enormous. The work is going to be exciting and energizing, and you know in the end, the sizzle is in the issues and the nature of the work. I think it's a mistake to think that somehow if you work for the entertainment industry it's a more exciting job than working for other industries. To me, the excitement flows from the nature of the issues you work with, the nature of the challenge that you have. That's what gets me motivated and juiced up about coming into work. Am I stretching? Am I intellectually stimulated? Am I around smart, passionate, opinionated people? You know, do you have a chance to engage in lively debates and strategic dialogue about issues that matter. That's where the sizzle is for me.

GS: Was it easy to leave the ESA?

DL: Of course it wasn't easy. I said I was honored and privileged to be given a chance to start this organization--and there were a lot of people who were very much a part of that. So it's a little bit awkward to take too much credit for that because there was a lot of work done by a lot of other people before I arrived on the scene. Success has a lot of fathers and that certainly is the case, and deservingly so, for ESA.

But there's still a personal sense of pride and investment in the organization and the people here. And you know, I've got 12 years of my life wrapped up in the issues and the industry. So to leave that behind is not easy. And it was not a decision that I made lightly.

In the end, I felt very comfortable with this decision. This is one of those things that you look at and say, "If not now, when?" Because you don't get opportunities like this again. And I just thought this was one that I just needed to grab and see if I could be part of creating something again. I mean, to do that twice in a lifetime, you know, given the kind of life I've led and the world I work in. [I'm] someone who never thought--as I was in my younger newspaper days and other days--that I was going to be somebody involved in starting a business once, let alone having a chance to do it twice, building and creating something. That's a great opportunity.

GS: You're getting sappy, Doug.

DL: Oh, well, clean it up! Un-sap it!

GS: I will.

DL: I've enjoyed a lot of this, almost all of it, [but] life presents new opportunities and new challenges and it's...it's kind of carpe diem.

GS: Good luck, Doug.

DL: Thank you very much, and we'll talk soon.

Written By

Discussion

80 comments
Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

Given the allowed attitude of Sony. The sucking up to Microsoft and letting the stupid direction PC gaming has taken in the last 5 years, ESA should be ashamed of themselves.

diminiansk8er
diminiansk8er

Good Luck? This dude is already richer than about 98% of posters! The only luck I think he needs is to not loose him money.

Jah_Glow
Jah_Glow

I wish him the best of luck, and I hope there is someone who can fill his shoes in the ESA. I mean, we need someone who's not uber-sensitive in his place, someone who can take hits from the critics *coughJackThompsoncough* and not dish out childish insults or anything.

sizzlemebacon2
sizzlemebacon2

corruptionofmin said "He's Jewish" Your point is? He seems like a really cool person and it's a shame that he's leaving the ESA, Good luck, Doug.

darth-revan
darth-revan

gotta wonder if this guys just running from the ESA because he fears jack tompsons' crusade. i dont mean the man himself more, the man himself is as much of a threat as a cute kitten without nails, but more and more things now are fighting against games. has he lost faith in what hewas fighting for? probably not, but still makes one think why leave now? Anyway Good Luck to him as the industry owes a lot to him whether he leaves or stays.

WoZe
WoZe

Hmmm.. I know all about Thompson and his crazy ways. Don't know why i've never heard of this man though. FIGHT THE POWER!

Rangent
Rangent

I'm sensing more Bible games, and less GTAs... :(

WiFi-Kid
WiFi-Kid

:D :D ! Congrats D ! :D :D

blancobo
blancobo

Bad News. Hopefully some one will be able to fill in his shoes. The gaming industry is an evergrowing monster that can/will inlfuence the way people think, act and socialize. It is the revolution that started almost 30 yrs ago. Cheers for the good times and God Speed for the future!

sabru8
sabru8

He will be missed. Peace out man.

Coby7
Coby7

DL to head the newly formed Private Equity Council. (See page C4 in today's Wall Street Journal.) Congrats Big D!

DevilMayCry09
DevilMayCry09

We all wish you very good luck, and thank you for everything

byronman91
byronman91

He fought a good fight, sad to see him leave but I wish him the best.

LaLeishtek
LaLeishtek

A true gentlemen; eloquent yet fiery in his beliefs. He was the GQ of the V.G. industry. I wish him well.

mythrol
mythrol

You're my boy, Doug!

thepyrethatburn
thepyrethatburn

I think his last move with E3 was a bad one (given that E3 has been ESA's primary source for funding) but noone ever does as big a job as he has done for the past twelve years and not made a bad call or two at some point. Overall, as people have said, he did a good job and his successor will have some big shoes to fill.

23d4gfh7
23d4gfh7

For those who don't know what ESA is; It's like the UN of gaming companies. Basically loads of companies are in it such as Capcom , Nintendo , Microsoft ,SCE Atari and a hell of alot more. They make decisions together to counteract piracy, violence and incharge of the ERSB (deciding how old you have to be to buy the games) . They also run E3, so you have to be a member to show your stuff in E3. This dude basically ran it and kept everything in order, people will be sad he is leaving because he handled and enormous amount of pressure and made alot of good decisions, aswell as being an amazing speaker and representative of the gaming world. People think he will be hard to replace.

Lyten
Lyten

It feels like a sad times for video game industry, and it greatly displeases me to know the forefather of ESA is going to leave. Doug being one of the key players defending us in capital hill, and help shape the game industry. I do wish Doug "Good Luck" and hope this does not bring a shock wave of the end in our beloved industry.

Os1r1s
Os1r1s

i didnt read, but does this mean E3 is changing again

volumesoxxs
volumesoxxs

wait, then whos gonna take his place?

Kensai_Akira
Kensai_Akira

All the best then, albeit i dont know who you are.

john1912
john1912

Ok I only read part of the interview but I must say Im rather blown away that I dont know who Doug is, or ESA for that matter...Ive been playing video games since the original Atari was out. I gather ESA is not a developer or at least is a larger subsidiary, kinda of like Take 2 who owns rockstar which you never really hear of?

Kiyoshu
Kiyoshu

So who will take the big man's place?

Gamers_Road
Gamers_Road

Lotta hate i see. Maybe my post sounded more insulting then it was. Still, I know game development and Thomson, but MOST gamers do not care about the interworkings of the video game industry. If u think im wrong then go to a gamestop or any other game store and ask those same questions to the other customers, come back with the results, cause i can bet that few will have any clue whos who, or what they do. I just found this article a bit isolated for "the last word" section considering we're in the holiday buying season and 2 out of the 3 system makers just launched their next gen systems within the last month. There are much better topics then this for writing an article this long at this time.

Hinduce
Hinduce

Gamers_Road, you must be 1. very young or 2. don't give a crap about anything else but yourself or what happens to only you (like most people have said already). That guy they are talking about Doug, led a good fight so you can play the games you play today. Some people don't like him for his views and thats ok but he paved they way. And you, DON'T speak for every gamer so don't comment for every gamer. You are very ungrateful and anyone that agree's with that guy is in the same boat. Do you know who Jack Thomson is? If you don't and you like to play games like GTA you need to start reading and knowing what is going on. This Guy Doug keeps air heads like Jack at bay. So respect your elders!

sleepy1978
sleepy1978

"Gamers_Road 1. I've never heard of this guy 2. I doubt most gamers have 3. Why should anyone care This is a long article for something that is of no interest to video game players" Ignorance is bliss!!

Remy_Labue
Remy_Labue

Gamers_Road:: 1. I've never heard of this guy 2. I doubt most gamers have 3. Why should anyone care This is a long article for something that is of no interest to video game players. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- There are alot of people in the industry that gamers do not hear about, ever. The programmers, the developers, the sound engineers, the graphical artists, etc, but without them, we would never have the great games we have today. If you call yourself a gamer, then you should care. If Miyamoto or Kojima quit the business, you'd care right? Well, if Doug never existed, then there wouldn't BE a business for you to care about. Politicians would have smothered the gaming industry in it's sleep with a pillow and that would be that. Gaming as a whole would be a blackmarket practice with people smuggling hardware and games into the country from Japan in their carry-ons. Imagine a world without games, a world without Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo, etc. Imagine you couldn't go home and play Gears of War because it was never made. If all of this was taken away from you, then you'd care. So, if you don't care about the industry, stay off the comment boards, stop coming to this site, and stop using that call-sign. A huge pet-peeve of mine is people who call themselves gamers just because they play alot of games, even thought they don't know anything about the industry. Most hardcore gamers know about the goings-on within the industry as well. So if you want to call yourself a gamer, then do some research, and care about the industry. Doug will be missed...

mwa
mwa

doug lowenstein fought tooth and nail to defend the gaming industry from misinformed and politically "opportunistic" legislation...we'll be lucky if his replacement has half the dedication he had

maxxorz
maxxorz

Gamers_Road: clearly you must be younger than the ESA so you're probably like 11 years old. grow the hell up. if it weren't for Doug, THE VIDEOGAME INDUSTRY WOULDN'T BE AROUND TODAY.

Gamers_Road
Gamers_Road

1. I've never heard of this guy 2. I doubt most gamers have 3. Why should anyone care This is a long article for something that is of no interest to video game players.

rainmanstile
rainmanstile

if i read that right this guy pretty much gave us video games the way we want them instead of the way that demon senator wants them. when he leaves who stops the horde of demon senators from ruining gaming in america for all time by trying to put limits on what we can and cannot make and play?

bossjimbob
bossjimbob

Quote: Redsyrup "Thank you Doug for defending the industry when we really really needed it. You made a difference." Indeed.

xatman911
xatman911

Hopefully we get a new even better Doug to replace.

Redsyrup
Redsyrup

Thank you Doug for defending the industry when we really really needed it. You made a difference.

tonkin
tonkin

NIGHT TRAP!!! greatest game of all time, but let's let forget about TOMCAT ALLEY and DRAGON's LAIR. what ever happened to games where you only had to puch a button every five minutes. sure miss those: http://youtube.com/watch?v=x7Cig0--opg

TPSISO9000
TPSISO9000

If you've followed the industry at all, you know this guy is significantly responsible for Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto, and every other adult game that you play. When Lieberman and co. put Night Trap and MK in front of Congress, we almost saw the end of mature software before it even started. This guy, his organization, and the 12 years of dedication he's put into it, has given us all the opportunity to enjoy not just mature rated games, but quality games in general. The ESA has put a serious face on entertainment, not just keeping the government out of it, but helping to build a serious reputation for an industry previously seen as the kiddie side-kick of movies and music. You may or may not like the monster developers like EA and the mega-blockbuster treatment and pricing of games, but without the ESA, there would be no major investments into our industry and you'd probably be picking between Bubsy 8 and Bonk 12 for your action fix.