United they’ll stand

Vidgame, rental orgs merge to build clout

WASHINGTON — The leading trade orgs for vidgame retailers and video rental stores are joining forces as both groups face growing pressure from state and federal lawmakers looking to crack down on violent and sexually explicit videogames.

In an announcement expected today, the Video Software Dealers Assn. and the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Assn. will merge to form a group christened the Entertainment Merchants Assn.

The combination brings together IEMA’s roster of mega-retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Circuit City, Toys R Us and CompUSA, with the vidtailer group’s bevy of indies.

In addition to greater resources, the new group should have heightened clout in state houses and on Capitol Hill as they battle legislation aimed at restricted sales and rentals of violent vidgames to minors.

“We’ve been fighting a lot of the same fights, so it made sense to fight them together,” said EMA veep of legislative affairs Sean Bersell.

Before the merger, the orgs had jointly hired lobbyist Stuart Spencer in Washington, D.C., to help on federal issues.

According to Bersell, 22 states, plus the District of Columbia and New York City, have seen antigame bills introduced in 2006, and a total of 82 are pending nationwide for the 2005-06 legislative session.

Most are variations on a few themes, including restricting the sale or rental of certain kinds of games to minors or requiring various types of in-store signage.

Some bills seek to define “violent” games, while others try to peg the restrictions to the voluntary vidgame rating system overseen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

Bills aimed at retailers have also been introduced at the federal level by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jim Matheson (R-Utah).

New group will be headquartered at VSDA’s offices in Encino.

VSDA prexy Bo Andersen retains his title in the combined organization. Former IEMA head Hal Halpin will remain as a consultant through the transition.

The two boards of directors will be combined into one but will occasionally meet separately to address specific issues, Bersell said.

Although the name change is official Tuesday, VSDA’s annual trade show in July will still take place under the old banner for this year.