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 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.
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.