Leaving the IGDA(2) – What Happened?

(if you’re not sure what the IGDA and TCE are, read the Background post first)

This post lays out the IGDA event where (IMHO!) the IGDA’s own Board undermined the IGDA’s most famous public initiative, and what the Board said about the matter when challenged over it.

2008 IGDA Leadership Forum

At a public IGDA event a few months ago, the “2008 IGDA Leadership Forum”, there was a session where two of the 12 IGDA board members (plus one about-to-be-board-member) spoke on the topic of working practices within the industry. The event was specifically about “Studio Heads” – i.e. people who run studios, and their particular insights into running the businesses (the board members in this case were also studio heads).

One of the speakers/board members, Mike Capps, the CEO of one of the most famous game developers (Epic), made some very clear comments about his own thoughts on QoL. You can see the video here (Mike’s comments are at about 21:00).

The video for this event went up a few weeks ago, and a TCE forum member posted a link for comment.

I suggest you watch the video, otherwise you’ll be in no position to make up your own mind and appreciate the issues at play here.

Grossly over-simplifying (read on, there’s a proper summary linked below), Mike’s comments sparked outrage and fury among the professional developers (remember: there are (practically) no fanbois on this forum; you have to be a professional game developer to get in; the vast majority of people there are extremely well informed about the issues within the industry, because they’re actually inside it)

Fixing the IGDA

Discussion on TCE raged on and on about this. The core issues at stake were not new – dismay at studios justifying treating their employees like crap, hope at various ways we can change this/it’s not so bad as it was, the role of the IGDA and other orgs in pushing for change, etc.

But this time was slightly different. Because:

  1. The comments were aired at an official IGDA event
  2. The IGDA event was the first conference that is wholly owned by IGDA (instead of being attached to a commercial partner’s larger conference, e.g. GDC)
  3. Half of the speakers on the panel were IGDA Board Members
  4. The IGDA made no attempt to refute/rebut/distance itself from the comments
  5. Simultaneously with this forum debate, the IGDA Board Elections were underway, and votes were being taken for the next 4 Board Members to take up 3 year terms starting this year

A lot of (fair, if sometimes extreme) condemnation was levelled at IGDA, both over this series of events, and it’s symptomatic relevance to the bigger, wider problems of the IGDA. These events did a pretty good job of exposing one of the biggest rifts within the IGDA:

What is the IGDA for, really? And does it succeed at that, or fail?

One of TCE’s members felt that there were a lot of good points, and a lot of great examples of just how offensive developers found the IGDA’s actions here. So, he went and asked for permission from each of the members to include their comments in a letter to the IGDA Board; you can see the results here:

http://www.igda.org/Forums/showthread.php?threadid=34741

IGDA Board response

“So long as Epic is honest with their employees about their expectations, I don’t think it’s the role of me, the IGDA, or any other organization to tell an individual what kind of workplace they should choose.” – Chair of the IGDA Board

One of the TCE members, who was not an IGDA member (allegedly because of his lack of faith in the organization), was moved to register on the IGDA site merely to respond, publically:

“IT IS NOT OK, EVER, TO EXPECT PEOPLE TO WORK MORE THAN 40 HOURS A WEEK.

If IGDA is so utterly incapable of seeing this while twittering on about its QoL efforts, it’s a totally lost cause and should disband, or own up to its utter impotence as a vehicle for real improvement of working conditions in an industry that needs that change desperately.” – Brian Beuken

(TCE members generally cheered Brian on, although maybe with slightly differences in the details)

What response did that (and other similar comments) get from the IGDA board?

“We support the initiative of the IGDA, which is to make the industry a better place for game developers, and we all do it in our own way.

Mike does it by compensating his employees richly. I do it by teaching and preaching a 40-hour work week. That said, I will defend Mike and the others on this board unfailingly because the bottom line is that they are good people who are trying to do good things for the industry.” – Another IGDA Board Member

…and there’s a bunch of other commentary from key people in the IGDA or in TCE. Go ahead, read the IGDA forums thread (http://www.igda.org/Forums/showthread.php?threadid=34741). Notable contributions include:

  1. The Chair of the IGDA Board
  2. Several other Board members
  3. The President of the IGDA
  4. The Chair of one of the IGDA SIG’s
  5. The Chapter Co-ordinator of one of the larger IGDA Chapters

My involvement

The IGDA has three branches: the general (15,000+) members, the Special Interest Groups (Online, Casual, Writers, Accessibility, etc), and the Chapters (city-specific social/meeting groups). Having run one of the SIGs since 2005, I’m now quitting the IGDA over this issue.

I stood for election to the Board this month, and those 15,000 members didn’t vote me in. This means two things.

Firstly, I don’t have the opportunity I’d hoped for to change things for the better as a Board member. I stood for election specifically to make the org more pro-active in not just talking about the things it stands for, but actually making them happen.

Secondly, the membership at large have proven – diplomatically – that they don’t agree. There’s no point fighting for an organization that’s made it so specifically clear that it doesn’t believe in the things that you believe in.

With this issue in particular, if it can’t deal with these issues even internally, it’s got a snowball’s chance in Hell of fixing them in the wider industry.

So … I quit. I’ve got some IGDA commitments at GDC next month, which I’ll obviously see through, but after that, I’m standing down as a SIG Chair, and having nothing futher to do with the organization.

Next…

…why this has wider significance than the internal politics of a single non-profit organization.

4 Replies to “Leaving the IGDA(2) – What Happened?”

  1. “Secondly, the membership at large have proven – diplomatically – that they don’t agree. There’s no point fighting for an organization that’s made it so specifically clear that it doesn’t believe in the things that you believe in.”

    I think this has every bit as much to do with election process and campaigning (or lack thereof) than simply that members don’t agree with your position. It is partly a popularity contest, and partly a matter of members only having a few sentences on the “Candidate Statements” page to base their decision off of.

    I hope to set the bar a LOT higher when I start running for the board. I’m kicking off my campaign officially at GDC this year. Unofficially, I guess I’m kicking it off here :)

    (For those playing along at home, I’m the “The Chapter Co-ordinator of one of the larger IGDA Chapters” Adam mentions, and I’m user “darius” in that IGDA forum thread.)

  2. Just for the record, there is no president of IGDA. I think the title you’re looking for is Executive Director.

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