The Future of the IGDA

By now, most of you have read about the serious flare-up ignited by Mike Capps at the IGDA Leadership Forum. (For those that haven’t — Mike is CEO of Epic and formerly a board member of the IGDA, and he made some comments which sounded like he was endorsing crunch time and, some would argue, putting down people who reject crunch time.) This has already been covered extensively by the press and debated by prominent IGDA members, so I’m not going to discuss it in depth. I’ll simply say that it’s fair to accuse Mike of being careless with his words, especially given his position in the industry and in the IGDA, but it’s also probably not fair to brand Mike a “management dickhead” or to equate Epic with EA during the “EA Spouse controversy” days. Epic is not EA, and Mike is not someone who views employees as expendable resources. (Epic’s employees don’t seem to feel horribly unappreciated, either; according to Mike, Epic’s voluntary turnover rate averaged around 1.1% from 2006 to 2008. For reference, average tech industry turnover rates, pre-recession, were approximately 20%. Anything below 5% was considered shockingly good for a company with more than 50 employees.)

So anyway, I’m going to sidestep the question of whether or not the IGDA should be taking a hard stand on quality of life issues (which, to be clear, are a big deal to me — I’ve never appreciated our industry’s dismissive attitude towards work-life balance.) That is, frankly, a much less important question than this: what exactly is the IGDA supposed to stand for, and who does it represent?

All for one, or one for all?

Greg Costikyan, one of the smarter and more outspoken figures in our industry, has clearly expressed his opinion: the IGDA exists to serve individual developers — aka individual employees and independents — not managers or corporations as a whole. But it’s currently unclear whether that is actually true. The very phrase “game developers” is ambiguous (does it refer to people or entities dedicated to game development, or both?) More importantly, a significant percentage of IGDA memberships and revenue come from “studio affiliates” — companies that pay a fee to support the IGDA and, in doing so, acquire automatic membership for all their employees in the process. Take a look at the affiliate list and try to guess how the IGDA rolls might shrink if most affiliates decided that the IGDA existed only to support individuals, not entities. For that matter, ask yourself how you, as IGDA executive director or as board member, might react to any given controversy knowing that the IGDA currently depends on affiliates for a significant percentage of its funding and, perhaps to some limited extent, for legitimacy.

How do other professional associations operate?

As far as I can tell (having admittedly just performed a quick search of their websites), neither the American Medical Association nor the American Bar Association encourage membership via for-profit affiliates. The ABA affiliate list contains not a list of dues-paying law firms, but a list of organizations such as the “ABA Museum of Law” and “American Bar Foundation”. These associations, which I’m sure have endured worse controversies than the one currently afflicting the IGDA, seem likely to be less conflicted as a result. Of course, it’s totally unfair to compare the IGDA to the AMA or ABA; the latter have existed for ages, are much larger, and represent powerful and pervasive professions that exert tremendous influence on society.

Where does the IGDA go from here?

If one takes for granted that the IGDA should derive its funding and authority from individual professionals as opposed to entities (not a given, but certainly the direction in which I personally lean), then the obvious and most important question becomes: how can the IGDA attract enough individual members and funding to legitimately pursue its agenda in the eyes of our industry and the world at large? I suspect that the answer primarily involves two things: 1) more attractive member benefits, and 2) more proactive engagement with the public, the press, and government bodies.

Today, someone might be forgiven for thinking she has little reason to join the IGDA. Our industry’s most prestigious publications and conferences are operated by other organizations. Government lobbying is coordinated primarily by the ESA. And the IGDA’s membership benefits (such as discounts on notable products and services) are relatively limited in scope. These are the things that typically define most professional organizations. These are the issues that the IGDA really needs to address in the near future if it hopes to grow, in size and importance, independent of studio affiliates.

Of course, all this is much easier said than done, and I believe that the IGDA Board of Directors has already been thinking about these issues for a long time. I also think that criticism of the Board has been unreasonably harsh (but rather than defend the Board, I’ll refer you to posts by Bob Bates and Tom Buscaglia, two guys for whom I have tremendous respect. Bob, in particular, is one of the nicest persons I have ever met — the kind of guy who will patiently sit down and chat helpfully with anyone… even young, opinionated, wanna-be-game-devs like I once used to be. *grin*) Long story short, I don’t pretend that I have all the answers, and I certainly wouldn’t accuse the IGDA of failing to recognize the obvious. I just thought it would be useful to point out that this whole quality of life debate is merely a symptom of a much larger and more significant issue.

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