E3 2011: Where’s the Supreme Court verdict?

Last November, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in a case that could have a massive effect on how the video game industry operates. But nearly seven months later, we’re still waiting for a ruling. Scotus

The Court once again did not issue a ruling on Brown v. EMA Monday morning, which mildly surprised some industry observers who had expected it to come down as the industry starts its annual trade show. The next opportunity for a ruling in the case will come Thursday, as E3 kicks off its last day.

The case – Brown v EMA – revolved around a 2005 California law that made it illegal for retailers to sell violent video games to anyone under 18. Then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had argued that violent games are on the same level as sexual materials, of which the government can restrict sales. In addition to regulating the sale and rental of these games, the California law (which was adopted in 2005, but never took effect) would have imposed a strict labeling requirement on games.

If the Court rules for the video game industry, it would be a notable step towards quieting the long-simmering debate about violent games. If the Court rules for California, retailers in that state will have to enact stricter protocols to ensure minors do not buy the games, just as stores do with cigarettes and alcohol.

More worrisome is the possibility that other states will enact similar, but not exact copies of the law, meaning the definition of a “violent game” differs from state to state, which could force publishers to make different versions of games for different states, increasing development costs.

The fact that the court hasn’t issued a ruling on the case so far is somewhat baffling to Court observers. Tom Goldstein of Goldstein, Howe and Russell suggests “There could be a dispute among the Justices voting to invalidate the statute, over whether the ground is the First Amendment or vagueness.”

So, while Microsoft and Sony breath a sigh of relief that their E3 press conferences won’t be overshadowed by the decision today, the industry now looks to Thursday, hoping that it can end E3 on a high note.

In any event, the Court will announce its decision by the end of the month.

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