What EXACTLY do you want from the IGDA?

Surfacing for a bit to talk about the IGDA, in as coherent a manner as I can — mainly because I told Darius I would write this post, so now I’m stuck for it. And because I think this kind of thinking is the responsibility of IGDA members. I don’t usually like doing this — I have a laundry list of IGDA initiatives I’d rather be spending more time on — but if I can contribute to the ongoing organizational navel-gazing in a positive way, I’ll give it a try. Those of you who have no idea what the IGDA is, please drive through.

I’ve been an IGDA member since 2003. I started as a student and quite literally after four months of student membership I had a job in the industry. Do I owe it to the IGDA? Not really, I don’t think so. But it certainly helped.

Since then I’ve been involved with an assortment of IGDA initiatives. I’m a member of the writing, women-in-games, online games, education, and newly-minted quality of life special interest groups — I lurk in production, casual games, and a few others. I drafted a Code of Ethics for the organization, I volunteer for the mentorship program. I’ve written about the org’s history. When I was in Albany I assisted in small ways with the local chapter. I like to think I give way more to the organization than I take from it.

I did a lot of soul-searching recently, with one thing and another, about my membership. I know a lot of people have been doing the same. I think that I’ve finally come through it — and the political dust-ups didn’t make it easy — and this is what I’ve got. It is, as always and as it should be, a work in progress.

Why I’m an IGDA Member
There have been a lot of highly emotional declarations recently that there is no reason for a developer to join the IGDA. I’ve even seen some particularly misguided statements on the forums that membership is “detrimental” to a person’s reputation. I laughed when I read it — it exemplified for me the degree to which a small group of people can get so completely out of touch with reality — and I am genuinely sad that they continue to enable each other in ultimately self-destructive thinking.

I’m not a major person in the industry, but I’m not nobody, either. Like many IGDA members, I live in this weird space between dedicated IGDA core-ship and a broad swathe of the industry that quite literally does not know it exists. There are people I deeply respect on both sides. I have been in business meetings with multimillionaire major industry decision-makers, independent studio CEOs, and students green as spring grass. The statement that the IGDA is “detrimental” to a professional reputation is absurd both because it drastically overstates the public perception of the IGDA — which is exceptionally vague at best, even among many serious hard-core veterans of the business — and because the major “crises” perceived lately are actually tempests-in-teacups that don’t even register on the attention meters of even a great many members of the organization, to say nothing of those who aren’t really even sure what the IGDA *is*.

So it is from this in-between space that many of my sentiments come. It’s from a place of having deep affection and respect for many of the people who do a lot of hard work for the IGDA — and I’ll talk more about this in a bit — and also a reality of knowing that many of the people that I respect most in my part of the business — which is a not insignificant cross-section — have no knowledge of the org whatsoever, nor do they desire it.

At the end of the day, I stay with the organization because, as much of my energy as it takes, it gives more back to me. I do owe it for a lot of supportive treatment when I was new, and that matters to me, too, but ultimately my life is better in the IGDA than it is outside of it.

A common sentiment within the org (and a lot of you reading at this point, if you are still reading, are probably wondering what in the hell I’m even talking about) is that IGDA “central” isn’t pulling its weight. That the only “good” parts of the org are the chapters and the SIGs, which owe nothing to central. I admit that this was one of my main points of consideration in said recent soul-searching.

The problem with this statement is the assumption that the org can be separated from the chapters or the SIGs. Think about it: who would come to a meeting of the “people who want to talk about games for an hour”? Would you? Would you want to talk to the kind of people who would? The chapters _are_ the IGDA. The same goes for the SIGs. All of the good that comes out of both of them is because of the existence of the central organization creating a context for their existence. The IGDA is a centralizing idea that brings together professionals — or should — and creates a venue for the sharing of information, which there are so many commercial pressures against that I don’t know where it would happen in an organized fashion outside of it. Some of the best discussions about the business I’ve ever had have been with IGDA members, and I had them because of that connection. I’m kind of astonished that I even need to state this, but I think that the internal sentiment from the core of those concerned about the IGDA — and I’m being kind by lumping some of them in with that language — has been repeating this to themselves for so long that there is a need for restating the obvious.

Are there problems? Sure. Endlessly. In fact, as you’ll see, I think some of the problems are sweeping and structural. But the org still does an awful lot just by existing. More than enough for $48/year. That’s only slightly more than two months of WoW.

So here’s what I want to know: what, exactly, do we, as members, want out of the IGDA?

Be Fucking Specific
One of the things that’s bugged me about the discussions about the need for radical change or improvement in the IGDA has been their lack of specificity. Maybe it’s a game design trepidation. But when I hear such broad-sweeping statements as “there’s no reason to join the IGDA” or “the IGDA should do more about quality of life” or “the IGDA doesn’t do anything for members” I have a little design nightmare. This is a publisher saying “I think we need dinosaurs in the game, dinosaurs are popular right now”. This is a player saying “you need to nerf Paladins”. Pain only ensues.

So, if you’re an IGDA member, and you’ve read this far, and you actually want things to get better, I’m imploring you: please be fucking specific.

These are my specific thoughts. I am probably not right. But I kick them out there for your consumption.

Public Relations
So the IGDA needs a PR director. This person is probably a volunteer. It may come from the management team, but — and I say this with the caveat that I don’t have deep insight into their workload and function — my exposure to the management company so far has not left me impressed. Witness our web issues. But anyway.

The PR director needs to do a few things:
– Grow a forum moderation team.
– Grow a structure for the selection, promotion, and management of the moderation team.
– Connect with members through vectors like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
– Channel reports upward to the board on member opinion, collected individually and via regular poll.

I realize that the existing ED is making a concerted effort at doing these things, but I think he has bigger fish to fry — this is a lot of work, and it’s important work, but it doesn’t require an ED. And, unlike the ED position, I suspect that this person should actually come from within the IGDA, because a good part of the difficulty of this job will be establishing trust with members. Someone from the inside should already sufficiently have it.

Also make no mistake — PR is not about ‘perception’, or at least it isn’t about perception
only. It’s about communication. Call this person a communications officer if you want — but someone, preferably someone who understands how to use web 2.0 communication technology — needs to step into this role and start fighting fires directly instead of just issuing press releases.

We Need Fewer Members
This is a difficult one to frame, but here goes: I think the IGDA needs to have fewer members.

The evidence for this is abundant: the percentage of members who actually vote, the percentage of members who are actually game developers. This project has a fundamental and common but deep problem: it doesn’t know who its audience is. We need voting members and non-voting members. The situation where we have an appointed board because we can’t get quorum is absolutely egregious. The “campaigning” for board membership is largely a joke because of the perception of this watery voting process.

I also put forth for you the following:
– I cannot just up and join the IEEE, the Author’s Guild, SFWA, or any of dozens of other professional organizations, as a professional (voting!) member. Check it out:

Membership in IEEE is open to individuals who by education or experience give evidence of competence in an IEEE designated field of interest.

Evidence! Imagine that! It’s not just an honor system clicking of a radio box and bingo, I’m a member.

I put forth this consideration because the functionality of IGDA central — which is elected by the membership! — is so stilted and laden with bureaucracy. This comes from size.

Do we benefit from size? Sure. More money equals more fun, right? Or maybe it equals over ten thousand people who don’t know much about what they’ve actually joined, or why.

In the last election, the IGDA had approximately 14,000 members. 2,432 voted. This is ridiculous! And indicative, I think, not of some vague concept of “member apathy”, but because the org itself as a voting body does not actually know what it is.

Interestingly, this approximate group of 2,400 people parallels a much more reasonable 40% of the developer-qualifying careers — meaning artists, programmers, producers, designers — expressed through the current member demographics. Is that who’s actually voting? Probably not. But it does mean that the 2400 number is not far off from what we should actually reasonably expect from the organization. We just need to make sure we’re getting the right votes.

If the IGDA’s mission is “To advance the careers and enhance the lives of game developers by connecting members with their peers, promoting professional development, and advocating on issues that affect the developer community.”, why are we not verifying that the voting members of the organization are actually developers?

What constitutes a “developer” is, perhaps, a more challenging question, but at least we’d be getting to it. But — and I say this as a former student member o the IGDA, remember — I think students should not be voting members. Academics should not be voting members. In order to be a voting member of the IGDA, I think you should be an active game developer — which means having worked on an actual real live video game sometime in the last 5 years.

And I tell you what — if we actually made this change, I don’t think those 9,000 or so other people would actually go away. And I don’t think they would be harmed from the removal of their voting privileges. They’d be served by a voting body that actually understood the industry they were interested in studying or developing connections with — and we’d all have a much easier time getting things done.

I realize this statement is going to be controversial, and I can think of a number of reasons not to do it. But I’ll let you all fill those in. I want to put the point out for discussion, and ask the question of how the IGDA can expect to sufficiently fulfill its mission when the possibility currently exists for a mob of non-developers to mass-join the organization and throw a board vote (and in this case, this number is as low as 800 people). Or join and not vote at all, throwing a quorum.

Death and Politics
Following on this, I hate politics. Yes, they’re a necessary evil, yes, I know they annoy a lot of people. The problem is we’re too damn big as an organization to not be political. But because we’re engineers and product-oriented people (for the most part), it’s really annoying to think that our elected representatives are spending upwards of 30% of their time either running for their positions or otherwise manipulating member perception. We’d rather they actually be doing things. No real world government yet has managed to solve this problem, so maybe we can’t either, but it’s something to state it. I realize that this isn’t a specific suggestion, but it’s something I toss out as support for the above, and an explanation for much of the current member malaise.

Why Don’t We Have Will Wright?
This is one of the most problematic questions for me: how can the org provide value to the truly exemplary among us?

Will Wright is not on the member list. Neither is Sid Meier. Are they members? I don’t actually know. But I don’t think so. We certainly never hear from them.

These guys are my game design heroes, and as a professional, it puts a little question mark in my mind that the IGDA does not seem to present great relevance to them. Do I have an answer for how it should? Not an immediate one. But as a member it is a concern that I have, and I think that a guiding design principle for the organization would be to consider how it could court the best among us, and what it can provide for the highest echelon of ‘professional’. If we could figure that out, a lot of other pegs would fall into place.

How much mindshare?
So this is where I own up to my own realities, which I think it’s also important for members to do. On a good day the IGDA is getting 5% of my net attention. Sad but true. I work a demanding full-time design job, I consult for another on the side, I work on my own projects, I spend time with my family — not necessarily in that order. But the IGDA is way behind in that list of priorities, and it always will be.

But there are people in the organization who give one hell of a lot more. Several of them are on the board.

It’s entertaining that people wanted to stomp on the face of Mike Capps. It’s entertaining that they want to throw out Tim Langdell. Are these bad ideas? Maybe, maybe not. I didn’t vote for Tim or Mike, nor would I have, ironically for exactly the reasons they’ve gotten themselves into hot water in the last eight months or so. But this is theater, folks. There is still so much for the IGDA to actually _do_. There are structural issues to address, budgetary issues to address, core vision issues to address — even simple things like the documents the organization should have had when it started, to say nothing of over a decade later. I could show you my initiative list — and the fact that this political crap pulls so much attention from it seriously irks me.

But there is an opportunity right now to redefine the IGDA and channel the energy that has surged into it following the transition to the new executive director (and hello, Joshua, if you’re reading this — I’ve been extremely remiss in contacting you and will remedy soon, but in the meantime I don’t blame you if you think this organization is completely crazy).

And there are good things happening. Darius’s blog is doing great work at surfacing many of the internal workings of the org and the board in a way that we all need. The IGDA staff blog has more details on the actual operations and forward movement of the new management team. Glycon be
praised, I understand that we actually finally almost have a new website. The recent specific objectives of defining parameters for special meetings of the membership will not only work to address current immediate concerns but create a foundation for lasting future policy within the organization. All of this is very, very good. And the good work of the SIGs and chapters continues.

I would like very much if the membership — and the roving band of free-user non-members — could remain focused on the real. And the specific.

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