Letter: Sen. Cramer continues to work to protect North Dakota’s economy
Jakob Olson thanks Sen. Cramer for advocating on behalf of the videogame industry.
In this harsh economic climate, we’re fortunate to have Republican Kevin Cramer — a former North Dakota economic development director — representing us in the United States Senate.
Sure, our state is known for its booming agriculture and energy industries, but in times like this, our lawmakers understand every sector that makes our economy tick — not just the back-of-the-postcard ones — and do everything they can to protect, preserve, and strengthen them. That’s why Cramer is so concerned with the anti-competitive behavior he’s currently seeing in the video game industry, which is costing North Dakota thousands of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in economic activity annually.
You’re forgiven if you don’t know anything about video games and are scratching your head as to why they are significant to North Dakota’s economic health. Most North Dakotans over the age of 50 haven’t played one since Pac-Man and don’t realize the impact this industry has on our citizenry and economy. That said, it’s not a stretch to say that this state is slowly but surely becoming the video game capitol of the United States.
There are multiple video game companies in North Dakota and more than $20 million in video game industry-supported economic output in this state. Much of it is coming thanks to "eSports," the sport of competitive gaming, which this state is taking very seriously. Over a dozen of our high schools have instituted competitive game programs so they can participate in the industry. At the same time, the University of North Dakota has even gone so far as to become one of the first schools to begin offering a bachelor's degree in eSports.
But while North Dakota is doing everything it can to ensure it leads the nation in computer science education and video game promotion and production, Cramer has found that some unscrupulous corporate interests have other plans. Desperate for more profits and industry control, they are seeking to leverage their monopoly power to undercut the steady gains we are making in this sector and eliminate our competition from the marketplace.
In particular, Cramer is concerned about the actions of tech giant Sony, and in a letter to the company, he made his trepidations known, stating, “I am concerned Sony’s dominance of that market, and its efforts to perpetuate its current position imperils an important economic development opportunity for North Dakota."
Cramer is right. Sony’s PlayStation currently has over 70% of the industry’s market share, and it doesn’t seem to have gotten its dominant position from being better than its competitors. Instead, it appears to have leveraged its financial and political connections to squeeze the marketplace in ways that have harmed industry growth in North Dakota.
The company appears to use its influence to encourage the government to act against its competitors. For example, the Biden administration is currently listening to Sony by blocking competitor Microsoft’s acquisition of game developer Activision Blizzard even though a slew of other countries has already approved the deal. This challenge is preventing Sony from having to compete honestly with innovators in North Dakota for the American people’s business.
As Cramer noted in his letter, Sony has also come under fire for exclusionary practices, such as paying game publishers not to distribute their games to other companies — meaning that if the American people want to play those games, they will have no choice but to patronize Sony and Sony alone. This represents clear legal, antitrust, and trade violation questions affecting economic and job growth in our state.
While North Dakota is projected to increase its technology jobs by 14% over the next 10 years, that won’t happen be able to do so if companies like Sony continue waging war on the free marketplace. That’s what makes Cramer’s activism on this issue — which has included doing everything he can to receive unredacted copies of documents proving Sony’s potential anti-competitive behavior and exploring corrective actions — so important.
The video game industry, which employs more than 400,000 people in America, pays average salaries of over $120,000 — over twice as much as the average income in the United States. North Dakota can’t afford to lose these jobs. Kudos to our former economic development director for recognizing this point and making protecting them one of his top legislative priorities. Thanks to his leadership, it won’t be Game Over for this little-known, but critical and growing, economic industry in our state.
Jakob Olson is a North Dakota-based political activist and partner in Stand Firm Productions, a media company dedicated to the teachings of Jesus.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.