Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup
Change We Can Believe In

Matthew Sakey | 13 Oct 2009 11:50
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Looking to get on my List? Tell me the International Game Developers Association is irrelevant. That you don't see the point in it. That if the IGDA did something for you, you'd join. Those on the List will not live to see the golden future of my reign, and it's their loss.

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But such statements have a glimmer of truth. The IGDA is no poster child for decorum or excellence in representation. Board members are elected based on unvetted, single-paragraph statements and resign in disgrace while others engage in puerile flame wars on the Association's own forums. The group's crushingly apathetic membership is composed of thousands who, in many cases, don't even realize they're members. Many perceive it as a mouthpiece for big-money interests rather than the working developers for whom it was founded to speak. A "toothless masturbatory body" is how one developer described it.

Criticizing the IGDA doesn't get you on the List; doing so and then doing nothing will. Because here's a fact: The industry needs the IGDA. Someone needs to unify the disparate voices, to offer protection when threats rear and to provide tools for community and professional development. The IGDA is necessary, but so is significant reform.

Ernest Adams founded the organization in 1994, merging with the nascent Computer Entertainment Developers Association. (Erin Hoffman's excellent article covers the history, so I'm going to skip it.) Adams wanted "a professional society, not a trade association, nor a guild, nor a union. It would be about advancing the state of the art, fighting for creative freedom, improving working conditions, providing continuing education, and (perhaps, later) such things as small business medical insurance and legal assistance."

Disclosure: I've written the Culture Clash column for the IGDA website since 2003, and I'm loyal to the organization and its people. I want to talk about legitimate opportunities for change, not snipe from the sidelines. The possibilities are vast, so to keep focus we'll zero in on three imperative reforms: member services, membership structure and Board responsibilities and election procedures.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

"I recognize that there are many who look for that dollar-to-dollar relationship between what they pay in dues and what they get for their membership," says IGDA Executive Director Joshua Caulfield, addressing the accusation that the Association doesn't do anything for its participants. "However, associations require more than just dues - they require participation to present their full benefit."

"The IGDA gets a lot done!" argues former Executive Director Jason Della Rocca. "Over 500 dedicated volunteers work their asses off day in and day out. From SIG whitepapers, to committee standards, to chapter meetings around the globe, to the 2,000-person party at GDC, co-publishing books, etc. Stuff gets done. The greater challenge has been effectively communicating all that."

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