entrepreneurship games industry

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. ”


“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 :).

entrepreneurship games industry

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:

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:


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 ( 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.


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

entrepreneurship games industry

Leaving the IGDA(1) – Background

This is a series of posts about one of the big problems facing the games industry: honesty, exploitation, standing up for better quality of life, and actually “doing, not talking”.

IMHO it has added poignancy given the vast layoffs that have taken place across the board in the past 12 months. I’m splitting it into sub-posts so that the people who already know e.g. all the background to where we are now don’t need to trawl through it to get to the commentary.

I bear no personal ill-will to any of the people involved, and I don’t hold their opinions against them; in some cases I strongly object to the things they’ve said as spokepeople of their organizations, and I disagree strenuously with some of the opinions, but none of that makes them bad people. Although it might well make the organizations they represent into “bad organizations”…

IGDA: International Game Developers Association


Formed some 8 (?) years ago, but in reality only really an independent organization for the past 4 (?) years, the IGDA’s vaguely-worded mission is to represent “game developers” in all forms, and make things better for them. It is non-specific whether it stands for “developers” as in “individuals who develop” or “developers” as in “development companies”, although there tends to be an implicit slant towards the former.

Alternate Reality Games (ARG) SIG: A “Special Interest Group” of the IGDA


Formed in 2005 by myself and 10 other people, our mission is even more vaguely worded :). But something along the lines: provide fora and support for ARG developers to meet each other, learn from each other, share ideas and advice, discuss developments in the industry, and generally just meet and talk to like-minded people.

IGDA Board Elections: 2nd Feb 2009 to 24th Feb 2009

The Board consists of 12 elected volunteers, who each serve 3 years, with 4 of them re-elected each year (so there are always 3 tranches of directors at any one time).

This year, I put myself up for election. I felt that despite all the good things IGDA was doing, it was failing in a couple of key areas to do with its role in the wider world of game development. It needed to get a lot more pro-active. It needed to stop just talking about what people should do, and do more to make them, and help them, to get there. Too many people have no idea what the IGDA is, even in a vague sense, and I wanted to fix that too.

TCE: The Chaos Engine


An internet forum that – unusually – is private, and enforces reasonably strict membership criteria. You must be:

  • A professional employed in the games industry
  • Not a manager
  • Work in the “making games / shipping games” part (i.e.: not PR, not HR, not Finance, etc)
  • Not a journalist

In essence: it’s a place for people who actually make games, with all the attendant joy and suffering, to talk freely with other knowledgeable people, without the presence of rabid fanbois who know nothing about what they’re talking about, and without the constant fear that an unscrupulous manager or HR drone is reading your every word and looking for excuses to fire you.

The stage has been set … read on to What Happened?