Leaving the IGDA(3) – Holding a mirror to the games industry

So. After the recent events (1.Background and 2.What Happened?) where the IGDA Board has triggered a PR “FAIL”, and in passing made a mockery of the IGDA’s own flagship initiatives … does it matter? Does anyone actually care what the IGDA does anymore – especially after how it’s handled this matter?

Yes. Very much so.

Because when you look at these IGDA-specific events you can see a partial microcosm of the games industry at large, played out on a smaller scale, and more explicitly than in many places.

The massive problems that the IGDA has are the same as some of the problems that pervade the industry. The issues that some commentators (and the IGDA Board!) even now fail to appreciate or understand are the same issues that face studios across the world.

Issues? What Issues?

Is Exploitation part of the American Dream?

IGDA Board Member:

“Mike does it by compensating his employees richly.”

TCE Member:

“No, Mike does it by compensating those employee’s willing to work extended hours at the expense of their own lives, richly.”

TCE Member:

“My favorite was the guy saying “You join a company to make a game… it’s like joining a rock band. Do you think rock stars work 40 hour work weeks when they’re on tour?”

No… they don’t. But we’re not the “rockstars”, you are. You make the money, and we’re the f—ing roadies. F— off.”

Funny. It seems that the boss gets the money, the power … and when the recession strikes, or the budgets were “mistaken”, or bad decisions are made, it’s the employees who lose their “not guaranteed” bonuses, and get “made redundant” … but it’s the employees who should be working 80 hour weeks for the priviledge.

But it’s all OK, apparently, because … you don’t have to work for a living if you don’t want to (at least, if you’re a Studio Director you don’t – you’ve got all that money and all those second homes to live in).

Issue Summary

The Free Market – where anyone can choose freely to buy (or not buy) anything – is a theory, not a real-world model. People need to eat. They need homes. They need … jobs.

It is NEVER valid for a manager to excuse exploitative working practices with the declaration “You chose to work here”; they are still exploitative, and the manager is still morally and ethically wrong.

(where does this end? A proposed pricing model for life-saving drugs is “take the future life earnings of the individual, and charge them close to 100% of that, even though that is several thousand times the cost of manufacture. They should be grateful that we’re giving them the chance to prevent their kids being orphaned and dieing of starvation”. Would you be grateful? Is that how you envision a civilized society?)

When you “stand for” something, you have to actually STAND for it

IGDA Chairwoman:

“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.”

IGDA Board Member:

“I would not use the model that Epic does and I would not work for a company that does.

I’m fine with Epic recruiting only the folks who want to work long hours and make game dev their life. That leaves thousands of great employees for Kaos and other studios committed to 40-hour work weeks to steal away”

Issue Summary

Beliefs are not something you pick up and set down when it’s convenient; you either believe them, or you don’t.

If you are one of the people running the organization that explicitly describes it’s campaign for “Better Quality of Life in the industry” as one of it’s most important activities, you had damn well better believe it – or resign and make way for someone who does.

Why do so many professionals have so little faith in the IGDA?

TCE Member:

“I’ve gone to the trouble of registering on the forums simply to answer this point. I’m not an IGDA member and with comments like Mr Capps’ being essentially defended by the board I have no intention of joining.”

TCE Member:

“Ignoring the QoL issues involved for a moment, it also unbalances the industry for all well-managed companies, be it clothing or games, who do not resort to such exploitative tactics by creating an uneven playing field for competition.”

TCE Member (?):

“If i’m honest, this is a ridiculous model. Can you imagine trying to source funding, outside of the games industry, on the basis that it might make you rich if everything goes to plan?

This is the whole problem with the games industry. I do not understand how anyone can defend this sort of position. It is untenable. Sure occasionally it works but once it has worked it is not a viable method to continue your business around. Its all about risk. Unfortunately you are putting that risk on to your employees and that is wrong.”

TCE Member (?):

“As a slight aside I will also say that the reason I never did and will never join an organisation such as the IGDA is because they cannot change that which the board has a vested interest in.”

Response, from IGDA Board Member:

“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.”

Issue Summary

If the IGDA is supposed to make the industry better – a better place to work, a creator of better products, a better contributor to the lives of people who consume the products – then it needs to *improve* the industry.

It is not enough to simply say “it’s a world of free speech, I’ll defend every opinion to the death” – you have to actually have an opinion of your own, and you have to push it, everywhere.

Who does all the work around here?

IGDA Board Member:

“To be frank, the complete lack of support and involvement from the membership has been totally disheartening. Production level developers dropped off of the Taskforce and Roundtable discussions about this initiative at GDC a few years ago were universally empty with a total of 5 individual developers attending all 3 sessions. There were actually more Taskforce members and HR people from studios in attendance that there where individual developers. ”

IGDA SIG Chair:

“people can identify that there’s a problem, but the workers suffering most by definition do not have time to volunteer at anything – let alone something that might get them fired.

depending on meetings at GDC… yikes. The people who feel most strongly about this issue are not the ones who can afford to go to that conference (and again, by definition their companies are not paying them to go).

I believe we’ve made a real difference in the industry. Maybe not a difference everyone likes or agrees with, but when this SIG started in 2002 nobody would even think to put up a list of “Top 20 Game Writers” on Gamasutra. ”

IGDA Chapter Co-ordinator:

“I do my damn best to make the Boston chapter a useful and good thing for our local community.

Here are the basics of the Boston chapter:

Here’s what we provide:

So, IGDA broken? Sure, in places. IGDA useless? Not in Boston, that much I can say.”

IGDA Chapter Co-ordinator:

“But Jason, we can’t just sit back and say, “Hey, we formed some committees and we’ve scheduled some meetings: come one, come all, time to GET INVOLVED.” That doesn’t work. It never does.

When I was helping grow the Boston Chapter, it wasn’t enough to just hold the meetings and expect people to show. We had to provide incentives. We had to inspire people to show up. For the chapter, that was beer, food, and an informative speaker every month. And even then I had to personally reach out to hundreds of devs and harass them every month just to get them out to their first meeting. The incentives really only helped *retain* attendees.”

Issue Summary

Ah … here’s where I get a little controversial. Here’s the thought I’ve had but never voiced, even to myself, for a long time – it was too close to the bone. But hey, if I’m leaving, I might as well come clean with myself and everyone else.

The SIG Chairs actually do stuff. They make things happen (with very little overt guidance from the central IGDA – instead they have to make it up as they go along). They don’t tend to hold a lot of meetings (although a lot do, it usually very quickly goes nowhere – I know, I’ve made those mistakes myself).

The Chapter Co-ordinators actually do stuff. They run real-world events. They (with very little help from the central IGDA) get people to do things that others talk about, only … they actually get them to *do* it.

The Board?

I’d like to apologise to Tom Buscaglia here, in the interests of fairness, because in this exchange I used him as an example of people saying, not doing – whereas in reality I think the QoL program *is* doing things. So … I’m sorry.

HOWEVER … I suspect that if it were being done by a SIG or a Chapter, it would have been “done” a lot sooner – even if a lot “less well”. Chapters and SIGs live or die by their rapid, substantial results. The wider IGDA doesn’t seem to.

Again, an apology – I don’t know the details of why the QoL stuff is taking so much time, despite Board-level direct involvement, and IGDA’s not inconsiderable resources, and there may well be (probably are!) reasons outside of Tom’s (and the other members) control. But the problem here is that if you take *so* much time over things, maybe you lose more from the delay than you gained by doing it properly. Maybe not. It’s not an easy problem.

The End

I haven’t even broached all the key topics here. For instance, there’s the issue of people in other industries claiming that because *they* routinely work 50 or more hours a week, it’s pathetic of people in the Games Industry to complain about it.

(so what? your work is different, the effect on people’s lives is different, the careers you lead are different. Even if it were all exactly the same … does the existence of your poorly-run industry somehow “invalidate” the suffering in our industry? Of course not)

But I suspect most people have already stopped reading by now :).

19 Replies to “Leaving the IGDA(3) – Holding a mirror to the games industry”

  1. Well, I actually readed it. All 3 of them.

    I’m a student of something like Computer Science (Here in spain we take things a bit different :-P). I’d heard of the long journals in the industry, but I see it’s worse than what I’ve imagined. I hope it could change…

  2. The funny thing about those SIG chairs and chapter leaders is that they can be just as successful without the umbrella organization. If you want to continue to run an ARG SIG, you will. Setting up a forum to host it is hardly a barrier.

    The local IGDA chapter here in Seattle had tons of great meetings before it was an IGDA chapter. It started to decline when Chris Hecker moved to the bay area, and continued in a stepwise decline as Chris Erhardt and Jen Sward stepped away. These days it doesn’t even meet anymore. If an energetic local developer were to step up and run things, it would resurge. None of that has anything to do with the fact that it became an official IGDA chapter somewhere along the way.

    FWIW, I’m not a paid IGDA member out of a sense of “what’s the point” more than any specific objection to the organization.

  3. Adam, I had some trouble following your argument here. You left IGDA because the board doesn’t want to say that Epic Studios is wrong to expect (and be up-front about it) an uncommon level of commitment in both effort and time from the employees and reward them for it? Or you left IGDA because it’s an inefficient organization without a clear focus and mission?

    I could write a great deal about why it’s the search for blockbusters (by publishers, studios and individual developers alike) which naturally and inevitably leads to sacrifices in work-life balance, if I wasn’t just leaving for a vacation myself. Guess if I think blockbusters are the only way to go?

    As for the latter, I guess that’s why I’ve never seen the point of becoming a member myself..

  4. “It seems that the boss gets the money, the power … ”
    Not only do the bosses keep their jobs and even their bonuses during a recession. When a game costs twice as much as planned and takes twice as long as planned, they *still* get not only their bonuses but raises and promotions.

    Life isn’t fair. However, if you’re well-informed, you can avoid the worst of the unfairness. I’ve been in games for years and very quickly decided that I would never work for a AAA game studio due to the abusive labor practices.

  5. @Osma

    An IGDA Board member going on record at an IGDA event to state clearly
    his belief that the path to success for a studio is to massively
    overwork their staff. And the IGDA board then appearing to rally round
    and support him, and refusing to criticize his statements.

    It’s hypocritical (this is the same IGDA that has made “Quality of Life in the industry” it’s major plank for the last couple of years, ever since EA spouse”), it’s mildly unethical (the board shouldn’t be peddling such self-serving sentiments when speaking at IGDA’s own events), and it’s grossly irresponsible (how many people will be influenced by the IGDA’s response into thinking that maybe Mike is right? Especially since the *CHAIR* of the board refuses to criticize him over it!)

    Don’t you think that’s bad? I do.

  6. I have gone through and read all of what’s been said on the issues and I have to agree with why you have left. I had always assumed that the IDGA was a type of union set up for better welfare of employees putting in the long hours and had considered joining.

    However, after reading this it’s pretty obvious that programmers and/or artists are not who the IDGA represents which is reflected in their board members views.

    It seems pretty clear that this attitude of working employees until they burn out and using any excuse to do it isn’t going to change in that organisation.

    If change was to be made this not only needs to be the number one issue on the agenda but it needs to be felt strongly by the people leading the organisation. This isn’t going to happen when the people leading the organisation are the employers of said companies trying to quell the uprising of union members demanding better working conditions.

  7. You might be interested in reading up on the Finnish system that deals with the rights of employees. On the core level, each field of employment has a worker’s union/federation, which negotiates a deal with the respective employer’s federation. Once the worker’s union has enough members and has reached an agreement on the rights of the employees in the field (on top of legislation), every company operating on that field has to obey the agreement by law, even if there’s zero members of the union working in that particular company.

    The games industry is covered by the IT sector collective agreement defined by the “Federation of Special Service and Clerical Employees” and deals with working hours, leaves and compensation, among other things. You can read the contract here:

    http://www.erto.fi/mp/db/file_library/x/IMG/20992/file/collective_agreement_its_05_07.pdf

    and more about the federation and related legal systems in general in here:

    http://www.erto.fi/in_english/

  8. I just started working for a game company(it is in top 3 ), and will not tell it’s name. but after 6 months of hard work it just sucks to see that here it is the mentality that the 40 hour work week sucks.
    You are never payed for extra time.
    Extra time is incuraged(but not rewarded).
    It made me sick when i “had ” to stay a weekend at work because something was not done.
    I will not stay more than another 6 months with them this is what i can say now.
    Rockband my ass.
    I guess they exploit because people allow themselves to be exploited.
    Deadlines are highly unrealistic because they want to spend with us as little as possible so it makes sense.
    Remember:
    A happy slave is the worst enemy of FREEDOM!

  9. Just FYI if anyone is confused – the IGDA is set up as a trade organization, not a union. In fact, as I understand the law in the US, it could never transform itself into a union. If the videogame workers want a union, they’ll have to start a new organization for that purpose. If people are expecting IGDA to behave like a union, they’ll always be confused.

    And this is IGDA’s fault for not doing a good enough job explaining that it’s not a union.

    I won’t dispute that the IGDA has an image problem, has a lot of difficulty getting its message out, and in short it has a lot of room for improvement in a lot of areas.

    At the beginning of this post, though, you said IGDA’s problems seem to be a microcosm of what’s wrong with the whole industry. I think we both agree that at the heart of IGDA’s problems is a hesitation to act, and issues with communication.

    Do you think the industry as a whole (not just IGDA) has a problem with saying and not doing? With not holding people in power accountable? For not empowering people with good ideas? With PR and communications?

  10. It seems that some people are missing the point. It’s not about working 60 hour weeks; I did this both when working at 3DO and while working at my own company. The problem here is two-fold:

    1) The IGDA has been trying to focus on the “Quality of Life” issue. After EA Spouse, there was a lot of criticism directed toward the industry in that people were expected to throw away their lives to work long hours because the game needed “crunch time”. The IGDA saw this as an important issue and wanted to address it.

    But now we have an IGDA board member at an IGDA event basically saying, “Fuck Quality of Life, you better want to work 60 hour weeks if you want to work for us.” That level of hypocrisy is something that just doesn’t set well with some people.

    2) This attitude perpetuates some of the problems we’ve been having in the industry. A lot of people burn out, so we don’t always retain the quality people we need. There might be someone who could really revolutionize game development, but if he or she is not willing to put in 60 hours (or more) per week, then we will never benefit. There are a whole host of issues that we need to address, but that we will never be able to, if this noxious attitude isn’t addressed properly. This is one of the reasons why the IGDA should be addressing this issue.

    The ultimate problem here is that the game industry is a small and incestuous place. Speaking out against Mr. Capp is not necessarily the smartest career move. People like Adam and myself have a bit more latitude than the IGDA board members because we work in online games and are a bit more independent minded.

    In the end, nobody should force Epic or its employees to conform to what we believe is best. But, it certainly is the role of the IGDA to express disapproval if they want to take the issue of Quality of Life seriously. All this tells me is that the IGDA isn’t serious about the Quality of Life issue, and that there’s still no reason for me to become a member.

    My thoughts.

  11. I’m disappointed, I’m not in the industry although am an IGDA member and help some of the SIG’s. I haven’t checked on the IGDA’s progress with QoL or their board members (or even the forum in an age).

    I think they should be more accountable, this kind of thing where the board can have a divergent view from the actual organisation is just…well, it doesn’t make sense. There have been some good cases of the IGDA calling out people on statements in the past though.

    I do however agree the IGDA isn’t a union (and being international would never be able to be one I bet). There is nothing they can practically do except try and persuade people, investigate the problem, provide proof and do PR – perhaps they need to do all of this much more.

    I am not sure I’d have quit over not getting a board position. I would have pushed for more active involvement of IGDA members in the QoL issues, since you have said it seems to be backwards at times. Having any board minutes released to the organisation, and having the monthly newsletter stating any progress would be a good start. I’m going to be asking some questions at GDC I think, just as an outsider it seems a bit disturbing that it’s like this.

  12. If things are not at least mentioned in the newsletter next month, let me know and I will make some noise about it.

    I was at the event and was shocked at this panel… If I remember correctly I tried to ask a question about this and basically received a non answer.

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