Community, Industry

The IGDA Is Not For Me And (Probably) You

The IGDA is having a rough time at the moment. The statements regarding 60+ hour work weeks by Mike Capps of Epic, the recent revelations regarding Tim Langdell and his aggressive (and often dubious) use and enforcement of his EDGE Trade Mark and the responses on this from Tom Buscaglia have done nothing to make the IGDA shine.

But these issues (and I’m sure others) are not the reason for this post, instead I wanted to talk about why, even if these issues were not sticking in the headlines, I don’t think the IGDA is an organisation that can support me and stand up for my rights, and the rights of my colleagues across the globe.

An International Organisation

Having an umbrella organisation, covering the needs of developers across the world sounds great. We are still a relatively small industry and you would think small enough that one group could speak for us all. But the games industry is a global industry, not a national one. The needs and requirements of a game developer in the US are vastly different from the needs of one in the EU. Lobbying for change, whether that be at government or company level, is hard enough when you are in one country, with one set of regulations and one set of work ethics. But to expect one organisation to cover all bases, for all developers is expecting too much and it is bound to start catering for one group over another. Even within the EU there are vast differences between what is legally allowed, what is expected and even developers work ethics and personal requirements can change from country to country or even state to state.

How many members of the IGDA Board do not live and work in the US? While it is possible for developers outside of the US to stand in elections and get voted in, how practical would that be? How often are meetings conducted outside of the States and with such vast time differences even remote conferencing can be difficult?

While it shows good judgement on the part of the IGDA that it has legal representation/advice in the form of ‘The Game Attorney’ Tom Buscaglia, the law from one country to another can be vastly different, or even worse subtle in the extreme. Tom can help the IGDA, but only in the US, and this is shown in some of the documents coming out of the Quality of Life SIG group.

TIGA (The Independent Game Developers Association) is a UK organisation that was formed to fight for the Games Industry in the UK, and is even making tentative steps into the EU. Even though it is an organisation whose main aim is to lobby the government, they are still fighting for change at different levels. It has a hard enough job doing this within one country, let alone within the EU. Expand this to include the US or Asia and the difficultly level doesn’t just start to increase, it becomes a brick wall.

Change always happens slowly, and it always starts with small steps. National industries need their own organisations, with their own members working for change in their area. There is obviously nothing stopping these organisations working together for the greater good of the global industry, in fact I would hope this would be the case. But smaller organisations, working on smaller scale change for their members is the only way to eventually get the wide spread changes that people seem to want.

Directors, Owners and Other Important People

The games industry is one headed up by CEO’s, company directors and financial movers. When awards are given, when technology is showcased or when magazine interviews take place, it’s nearly always the company owners, VP’s or directors that are on the front line. There is obviously nothing wrong with this and it is the way many industries are run as these are the stars, the well known people who the public are already familiar with. But look at the make-up of the IGDA board and you will see that these people are also responsible for their own companies or their own specific areas. And the IGDA think tanks and round-tables that are also headed up by people carrying out these duties on a day to day basis.

Whether we like it or not, companies are there to make money. The people leading these companies, on the whole, want to make a profit and they want the company to keep making a profit. And so do we, because a company in profit is a company which can continue to employ developers and continue developing games. Sometimes (and not always but sometimes) the needs of the rank and file conflict with the needs of the company. For an organisation that stands up for the industry’s wellbeing (and you would assume this means the people on the shop floor) it needs to be driven, and led, by people who do the work, or who’s only driving goal is the welfare of these developers. Being led by those who also heap-up the companies we work for, or having think tanks and discussions led by those who’s goals may be different to the people it represents will only lead to conflict. This is the reason why 60 hour work weeks are seriously being discussed rather than being instantly shot down by everyone present.

Taking an organisation I used to be a member of, the NUT (National Union of Teachers in the UK), as an example. It would be beyond comprehension for this Union (yes, I used the word Union…) to be headed by a group of Head Teachers or Government officials. It simply would not be able to function in a way that would benefit its members, and neither can the IGDA. This is the way an industry ‘rank and file’ organisation should be structured. Lead by those people working on the shop floor, those people that have relevant and recent experience of what it is like working in the games industry and being an actual games developer. Granted the NUT is probably a step to far for most, and I may even agree, but it puts a point across in a very obvious and clear manner.

To Wide a Scope

Future developers are probably still at college. Some of them may still be in school or about to graduate from University. Some of them will be on Games’ Degrees, traditional degrees or something totally outside the scope of what we see as a ‘requirement’. Either way, the people who will be coming into our industry over the next few years should be supported and we should ensure that whatever path they take they will have the skills, or access to the right information, to allow them to find and get through the industries door.

But this doesn’t mean they should be members of a Game Developers Association.

An association working for a group of people needs to be focused on those people. Work or special interest groups can look out for, lobby and support areas outside of its immediate scope, but as soon as you have paid or associated members you become responsible for their development and required to work for them and anyone else who has paid their dues (whether that is paid membership or any other type of membership requirement).

One thing the IGDA is good at is releasing its findings to the wider public. This is great, because it gives those people who are not members the opportunity to see how the organisation is working, what its goals are and how well it is doing meeting them. There is nothing stopping these findings being available in a more national organisation, available to students, people looking to get into the industry and anyone else who is interested. In fact doing this can help your cause as people who would otherwise not know that work was being done in certain areas can become involved in their own way.

But first and foremost, the main focus of a Game Developers Association should be those people working on and developing on the shop floor.

Local Chapters

Local Chapters are one of the saving graces of the IGDA and the IGDA brand. Having groups named after the IGDA across the globe, ideally encompassing nearly every development house out there is a great idea, allowing them to work together, access shared resources and drive the industry forward in their local area. It’s also a great way to get people involved as you have Chapter Forums (though my local forum seems remarkably quiet) and excellent chapters like London or Boston can really make a name for themselves. But the question remains – does the IGDA name lend enough credence to a chapter that not being associated with the IGDA would make the chapter either irrelevant or short-lived?

The Boston Chapter proves this isn’t the case, being a group already in existence before it became associated with the IGDA. The Midlands Chapter could quite easily be called the West Midlands Game Developer Association and with the same push people would still attend. The only issue I would see with this is sponsorship of events, as it may be easier to gain sponsorship to run or start a Chapter if it’s based on others already in existence.

But if there was a national association, working together with other organisations, and the chapters were based under that, you would be in the same situation of having named chapters working at a more local level. You could even say that if there was a more national, more local and more focused group of developers, more people would be willing to get involved, attend these events and make a difference.

Final Thoughts?

The IGDA is not a bad organisation. There are some questionable messages (both directly and indirectly) coming from the group and sometimes directly from the board, but on the whole the IGDA is full of hard working, honest people who really do want to work for the betterment of the games industry. Unfortunately, I think the time has come to accept that a global group, primarily based in one country, is not an organisation that can work for everyone. America, Europe and the massive industries in Asia simply cannot be grouped under one banner and one common goal.

But the ideas of the IGDA can be taken forward by more local, more focused groups, and by allowing these groups to work for the betterment of their local industry, and to work together for the good of the industry as a whole, we can have a group that works for people on the shop floor without causing the conflict and issues that a group like the IGDA is bound to encounter.

The points raised here are what I see, as a developer working in the UK, as the main reasons why the IGDA is not for me. Depending on your location, your current situation and previous experience, you may have different opinions, both for or against the IGDA. But we can only move forward if people are willing to discuss the issues we have, as an industry both nationally and globally, without the need to ‘close ranks’ and focus on one particular area or one particular issue. Hopefully this post can go someway to being involved in that.

Title image by Jsd_Quas0

7 thoughts on “The IGDA Is Not For Me And (Probably) You”

  1. Hi Darius, thanks for the comments.

    All I hope for is an honest, and more importantly, open debate about the issue. We should all be looking to move the industry forward in whatever way is best for everyone involved, and I hope this goes some way to helping in that goal.

  2. Hi Lee — I agree with Darius in appreciating this post and your thoughts. I’m going to cross-post a reply to it on my post and yours, so if you wind up receiving notification for this twice, that’s why…

    I do think that the IGDA has issues with the “I” in the name, and this is a discussion that comes up frequently in the org. The difficulty is in retaining openness while understanding that with the organic growth of professional organizations (usually by referral), one geographic region in which the org began is likely to dominate in terms of numbers and therefore votes and action. But I think that that “retaining openness” principle is crucial, especially when it comes to things like work-life balance, in that it allows the findings of one region to impact another. For example, IGDA Japan has made significant inroads in breaking down the formerly extremely repressive anti-labor environment in Japan, and it’s hard to say that they would have been able to do the job that they did without the support of the IGDA.

    This said, because of the gravitational pull of the larger part of the organization in the US, I can certainly see developers from outside the US finding it a greater use of their energy and resources to cultivate local organizations. I think that the IGDA can provide support for this as well, but your points regarding the unique development and legal environments in the EU are very good ones, and I think the IGDA serves there largely in the absence of other organizations, pre-TIGA, etc. In short, I do completely understand your decision and both hope and think that the IGDA would support your independent goals as best as it could, via the sharing of information, etc, under its objective of furthering the well-being of game developers everywhere.

    Some points where I do disagree have to do with the origin of perspectives within the IGDA, which I hear quite often repeated, and which are part of the difficult job we have to do in quality of life advocacy:

    <>

    The current board is composed of:
    – Tobi Saulnier: CEO 1st Playable
    – Brenda Brathwaite: Academic & independent game designer
    – Coray Seifert: Producer
    – Gordon Bellamy: Media consultant
    – Tom Buscaglia: independent lawyer
    – Mark Deloura: author & engineering consultant
    – Tim Langdell: academic*
    – Jamil Moledina: does something for EA, I’m not sure entirely what — formerly ED of GDC
    – Tim Train: studio GM, BigHuge
    – Jen MacLean — chair emeritus: CEO, 38 Studios (until very recently, VP bizdev @ 38)

    The asterisk on Tim is because I could count him as an independent developer and CEO, but as has been pointed out recently, he really hasn’t been either since the early 90s or so, and his primary role in the industry as I’ve seen it for the last few years has been as an academic.

    So from the entire board, academics are equally represented with CEOs. You could count Coray and Tim in their producer role as “management”, and I’ve observed that in the EU there is a special animosity toward management and equation with them as corporate, which we don’t see as much in the US. But while I agree with you that the board is not a fair representation of “actual” game developers, I think that it skews instead unfairly in the direction of support rather than core industry — media consultants, etc, ie what the heck does that even mean. 😉 But the perception that the board is dominated by CEOs is simply factually incorrect.

    <>

    I see this argument a lot when it comes to labor issues in the industry, but the unfortunate truth, at least in the US, is that most game developers themselves will argue in favor of 60hr weeks as being reasonable, not just managers. And in fact these managers and CEOs that are so frequently demonized not only work way more than the average worker bee, they are, with the exception of guys like Mike Capps (and he IS an exception), as frustrated with the work hour issues as developers are. The work hour problem is a complicated one that arises out of market competition and the nature of third party game development (e.g. third party publishing model), but the common assumption that it’s money-hungry CEOs keeping down the work force I can tell you for sure just is not in touch with reality in the US. In my advocacy work on quality of life, everyone wants a solution, but a majority percentage of developers think that crunch and overtime are unavoidable realities rather than solvable problems. It is this perception that we need to change, and it’s a more complicated problem than the comparatively simple need to overthrow CEOs and executives. Or maybe an overthrow would be a potential solution, but it would be more a matter of development studios overthrowing the entire game publishing model, which so far, while attempts have been made, has not been a successful enterprise.

    My main problem with the generalization both about the composition of the IGDA board and the driving forces in the game industry is that it does not lead us to actionable solutions. It is not specific enough. I would be in support of tighter overtime regulation and enforcement in the US, but I don’t think that it’s a politically viable thought in the composition of our current industry — not because of CEOs, who are by far the minority, but because of line developers. For me the things that lead fastest and most surely to healthier work hours are:

    – education on process efficiency and the unsustainable inefficiency of prolonged overtime;
    – improved contracts between third party developers and publishers to empower the developer;
    – quantifiable production processes that illustrate to clients the consequences of overtime.

    I can tell you, for instance, that if industry workers could actually manage to unionize, it would be doing a favor for independent studio executives like Tim and Tobi — and I have heard this explicitly expressed, though quietly, by CEOs of independent studios. They actually would WANT a union, because it would give them bargaining power when the publisher demands overtime or additions to a product in excess of contracted features. Right now, the way it works is, a contract means squat when the publisher says “you will deliver the following additional features in this milestone or we will withhold payment”.

    So the assumption that this is top-down executive pressure from people like those on the IGDA board is misdirected anger that makes our real QOL advocacy work more difficult. Reduction of hours is complicated for a number of reasons, a whole set of them technical in origin, so for me one of the most important goals is to keep the development community on track to productive solutions and working WITH beleaguered studio management to accomplish goals that we all agree on and desire.

  3. Whoops — my brackets were eaten by your blog as attempts at HTML, I think. Here’s what should be in them:

    1st quote:

    “The games industry is one headed up by CEO’s, company directors and financial movers. When awards are given, when technology is showcased or when magazine interviews take place, it’s nearly always the company owners, VP’s or directors that are on the front line. There is obviously nothing wrong with this and it is the way many industries are run as these are the stars, the well known people who the public are already familiar with. But look at the make-up of the IGDA board and you will see that these people are also responsible for their own companies or their own specific areas. And the IGDA think tanks and round-tables that are also headed up by people carrying out these duties on a day to day basis.”

    2nd quote:

    “Whether we like it or not, companies are there to make money. The people leading these companies, on the whole, want to make a profit and they want the company to keep making a profit…. For an organisation that stands up for the industry’s wellbeing (and you would assume this means the people on the shop floor) it needs to be driven, and led, by people who do the work, or who’s only driving goal is the welfare of these developers. Being led by those who also heap-up the companies we work for, or having think tanks and discussions led by those who’s goals may be different to the people it represents will only lead to conflict. This is the reason why 60 hour work weeks are seriously being discussed rather than being instantly shot down by everyone present.”

  4. Yeah this blog isn’t exactly HTML friendly – I’ve had nightmares with that in the past.

    But thanks for the detailed reply, I’m going to try and respond to most of the points.

    I won’t discuss the IGDA Japan issues as this isn’t something I know enough about to comment on, but the workings of Japan are vastly different from here in the UK and while the support might be the same, the way in which changes can be brought about are different (and I would def. say easier here in the EU than in Asia).

    I have to say that I don’t believe your points about the board address any of the issues I raised. Having a balance between academia and CEO’s (and other similar people) is good, but I don’t think it addresses the need for rank and files to be on a board being able to make important and (possible) industry effecting decisions. Ok, so it isn’t ‘dominated’ by CEOs, but it isn’t representative of the industry at all and I think this is a serious problem.

    I absolutely agree that to make the industry better we should be working with studio managers but does that mean that an organization has to be lead by them to do so? Of course not – and I think it would be more productive and better for both sides if the front line developers were properly represented by those similar to them.

    Some company owners are great, are aware of the issues of to much over-time, workload and other pressures on their developers, but some are not. Sometimes these people are able to speak out more loudly and forcefully that others, and unfortunately an organization designed to ‘represent’ developers shouldn’t be a conduit for them. I do think that some of the bad press recently has been taken out of context or blown out of proportion (but then some of it hasn’t) but I seriously don’t think this should be another part of that story.

    I strongly believe unionisation is the right way to go for our industry, but I don’t see this as something that will happen anytime soon (and I certainly don’t see the IGDA in that role). It’s fantastic to hear that some CEO’s out there actively think this would be a good thing and that will only help the whole process. But surely they can only see that a unionisation would be a national process.

    Briefly regarding the local chapters. I think the reason they stay as IGDA chapters is because they have been for so long. The chapters (or at least the chapters I have experience of) don’t gain anything from being IGDA chapters but they wouldn’t gain anything from going independent either. If there was a viable organization that benefited them, then I do believe they would change their association.

    I’m very glad that these issues can and are being discussed. The industry is changing, as it always will, and to stay with the status quo simply ‘because’ will help no-one. I’m excited to see where this is going, because I strongly believe that what ever comes out of the other side will be better than what went in.

  5. Also cross-posting here. 🙂 HTML-free this time!

    Much of the difficulty that I have with these conversations again comes down to lack of specificity. I see all too often that the greater problems of the org are articulated as abstracts (“the board has too many CEOs”, “the IGDA should represent developers better”) rather than specific action items that have specific answers that the org can undertake. There are so many passionate and smart people in the organization working on initiatives every day that I ultimately do not see even the board itself stopping them from taking specific action if it could be determined what that action should be. To me the discussions that have come up recently are painful distractions because they still don’t answer the fundamental questions.

    But, that being said, the reason why I think it’s important to take apart these abstract assumptions (“the board is dominated by CEOs”) is for the purpose of getting to the heart of the problem being expressed.

    Some of our discussion does still have a cultural gap. The “devs not CEOs” line I suspect is a kind of shorthand for a much larger and more complex discussion in European terms. When addressed in a practical sense from a US standpoint it seems to not make much sense — because, for one thing, election to the board is democratic, and by the numbers there are simply thousands more “regular” developers in the organization than there are business leaders, and these regular members are electing their board. To me, what this expresses is that those CEOs who ARE being elected are highly regarded by the “regular” developers as being ethical, strong, organized people we would like as our leaders, who we want to work behind. To me there is also a fundamental contradiction, again from an American standpoint, of saying that we want a “regular” developer but we also assume we want someone who is a strong leader and well-organized — yet we want them to not have actualized those skills within themselves to start their own company. This to me seems an arbitrary distinction that weeds out a number of effective individuals. Again, I deeply understand where the sentiment originates, but it simply doesn’t play out in the elections and I think there are reasons why.

    I also want to know who, specifically, should be on the board, and how they should get there if not through the org’s democratic process. To pull that apart strikes me as dangerous, but even assuming we could, who exactly should be on that board and what should we be asking of them? To me it’s worthy of note that one of the people who has been most vocal and, as far as I can tell, supported by the casual membership for board election — Darius Kazemi — as a “for change” candidate — is himself a CEO and entrepreneur in the business, and so according to your argument here he would not be sufficient and should not be elected. I have a hard time with that.

    So this is the problem with theoretical arguments and problem statements about the issues in the organization. They do not present solutions, unless I’m missing something from your statements (and please forgive me if I am) that we can fairly and quickly apply. I do think that condensing the voting membership down to proven evidence-based current game developers would be a major first step toward solving a lot of problems — but even that undertaking is problematic under the democratic system.

  6. I can very happily give you specifics though I fully expect that this would require more work and discussion, but it’s a start and I wanted to get my thoughts down quickly. I haven’t covered local chapters (or similar) as I’m talking about the main organisational structure.

    I want a board that is not made up of people who employ the people they represent. Ideally I would like to see an organisation run by people who used to be in game development and have moved onto running the organisation full time. People with great leadership skills do not automatically found companies and can actualize their abilities in many different ways. This would be run more like a professional organisation rather than the on-the-side role that is there at the moment (on-the-side doesn’t indicate they don’t do their job, but a person can only have one ‘full time’ position in their life by definition).

    Below these I would like to see associated board members (personally I think board is the wrong word as it conjures up business and board room dealings imo, but I’m struggling to think of something better that would make their position clear) who work full time in the games industry as developers – and by developers I mean programmers, artists, designers and QA. Musicians that work specifically for a game developer would also be welcome, but if they sub-contract, they have their own associations. The important thing here is that if it is an ‘international’ organisation then this board and associated board should be made up of developers from around the world, not just people in the organisations ‘host’ country. Personally I think that is very difficult to do and is why I think national organisations that work together is the better approach.

    As for democratic voting to the board, then I would like to see the associated board members voted on every couple of years, with them being responsible for managing and assigning the organisation runners. The reason for this is that the associated board members have more relevant experience and will have more current links to the industry. By giving them the responsibility to appoint the board and being held accountable to them would be a fine approach to me.

    Membership would be made up of people actively working in the games industry, working on a title or company either contracted or salaried. The important distinction here is that game development must be their primary source of income. By stating that it does mean that you can include those indie developers who take their work seriously enough to make a living out of it. As someone stated on the IGDA forums “this isn’t a hobbyist organization or an “interest group” itself — it’s a professional organization”. It would be the responsibility of the person applying to prove their part in the industry (and for active developers that would be amazingly easy) and with a full time group of people working for the board it would be someone’s responsibility to verify this (again easy for 99% of the cases). But again this would be easier on a national level.

    Students shouldn’t be involved in this organisation. They might one day be part of the games industry (in which they can then join) or they might not. Interestingly I was a member of the NUT (National Union of Teachers) when I was a student teacher, but the difference here is that teacher training (at least in the UK) is vocational training and not academic. There is a strong distinction there. Students on game development, computer science or art courses are not part of the games industry.

    Academia can (and should) be involved through associated programs. Obviously we want to keep the links strong between the industry and academia, but that doesn’t mean they need to be fully-fledged members. Work-groups and SIGS can easily create and manage these associated projects to keep things strong. Again this is where an international group is difficult because academic needs and requirements are different per country. In the UK we have SkillSet doing an excellent job, so a UK organisation could work with SkillSet, rather than as associated group, to cover this ground.

    Of course this is my opinion and reading the ‘IGDA Issue: Voting Rights’ tells me that everyone has their own ideas. But I didn’t want you to think I was just spouting hyperbole, I do have ideas of how a professional game developers association should be structured and the IGDA is not, and probably will not, ever match this.

    This might not be perfect, but neither is what we have. But it’s another opinion in a range of opinions being expressed in many forums across the internet. Some of these suggestions may be impracticable (especially on an international level) but I think it would create a more open and more free-flowing organisation.

    If the IGDA was doing work that benefited me directly (or effected my industry nationally) in a good way then I would look past this. But it’s not. What I want to stress with that point is that while I have a strong idea of what I think we need, I’m not going to ignore what we have (or what we get) if it’s a positive force for the industry, even if it doesn’t match exactly what I want.

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