For years there has been a weird relationship between gun makers and the creators of computer games.
Strapped with imagination problems, it seems that the game makers have been using mages of real guns in their games as a sort of in-game advertising.
However, as the gun industry takes a hit after its products ended up in the hands of school kids in various mass shootings over the pond, the game makers are starting to wake up to the relationship being a PR nightmare.
Electronic Arts licensed the images of 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 the Call of Duty franchise.
Rifles by Bushmaster, which was the brand used in the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting last December, have also appeared in the hugely popular Call of Duty, according to Reuters.
As the world tried to look for who to blame for the shootings, the National Rifle Association, of all groups, tried to blame the games industry. 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”.
While most of the sane world would say that was an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black, it seems that EA is taking such comments seriously.
This week EA said that it is severing its licensing ties to gun manufacturers. At the same time it is saying that it has the right to continue to feature branded guns without a licence.
For those who have never played these sorts of games, the marketing of the guns is fairly full on. Some, like the Colt M1911 pistol in Call of Duty, are turned sideways to face the screen during reloading so you can see the brand name.
EA felt that this gave the games “enhanced authenticity”. But the games industry was worried that the gun makers would sue them. After all, they were associating their product with violence, something that gun makers always try to avoid. In the end, licensing was seen as a good way to avoid such legal hiccups. It seems that money did not change hands between the gun makers and the games outfits.
Last year, games fans started to object to EA putting links to weapons companies like the McMillan Group and gun magazine maker Magpul, where gamers could check out real versions of weapons featured in the game, on its Medal of Honor: Warfighter website.
As a result EA pulled the links and dropped the marketing tie-up.
EA’s move does come with some risks. Aircraft maker Bell Helicopter is cross that it used its helicopters in the game Battlefield was beyond fair use and amounted to a trademark infringement. EA is hoping to win that case and put this licensing problem to bed for good.
What is strange about the situation is that gamers should notice no difference to the status quo. The only difference will be that the game makers will not be in a cosy relationship with the gun makers. Products will still be advertised and kids will still be able to spot the difference between a Colt and a Glock before they can identify the capital of South Africa.