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Goodbye to the IGDA Indie SIG


igdalogoI have been a member of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) for many years.  Last spring I joined a sub group of the IGDA called the Independent Game Developers (or Indie) Special Interest Group (SIG). Yesterday I decided to leave the group after less than a year and I figured a blog entry is a good place to tell why.   The group was struggling to reinvent itself when I joined and I thought perhaps I could help.  What I didn’t realize was that the leaders were hell bent on an agenda and would stop at nothing to achieve it. An agenda I might add that I find both preposterous and damaging to the Indie community.

I left the SIG for a number of reasons.  First, the SIG leaders are deathly afraid that the IGDA will try to impose its will on the SIG, something that in my opinion they have every right to do.  The IGDA brand name is valuable.  It is reasonable for the larger Association to protect its brand by providing guidelines to groups under its wing and using its name.  Second, I left because the SIG leaders want to narrowly define Indie game developers.  They are attempting to do so by defining appropriate “Indie” relationships to IP (Intellectual Property) and to companies with which they may do business.  The SIG leaders fear that AAA companies want to infiltrate and somehow control the SIG and by God they are going to bar the gates against it!  The SIG leaders also believe that installation of a traditional Board structure for governance of the SIG would result in suppression of the members’ views.   I think they are afraid of anything that will weaken their grip on the agenda.

They have written a mission statement…

The IGDA Indie Special Interest Group (Indie SIG) exists to advocate on behalf of independent game developers, and to assist them in the difficult task of bringing their games to a larger audience. For purposes of this SIG, an “independent / indie” is defined as a game developer who owns and controls their intellectual property (”IP”) with respect to Publishers and Distributors. The terms “Publisher” and “Distributor” are not regarded as equivalent or in any way synonymous; the former implies control of IP, the latter does not. A self-publishing game development studio is independent. However, a company that wholly owns a game development studio as a subsidiary company, or has multiple game development studios as corporate divisions, is not regarded as independent, as the company is removing IP ownership and control from the game development studios. A game developer who gives up ownership of their IP to a Publisher in exchange for funding, or a game development studio owned by a parent company, is not independent. A game developer who seeks a distribution deal with a third party, and retains full rights to their own IP, is independent.

…that makes my head spin. If you don’t see anything wrong with that mission statement then you might as well stop reading any further.  Mission statements should be simple and provide easy to remember guidance to help members make decisions when the path forward is not clear. 

While I was a member of the SIG I tried to help with its reinvention.  First, I suggested a slogan when it was suggested that what the SIG really needed to prosper was a slogan.  I thought it a little silly to be discussing slogans when the group didn’t even have a mission statement yet, but hey when in Rome.  So I suggested a slogan that I thought was rather catchy.  I recommended that we advocate for III games as a parallel slogan to AAA games… III stands for (I)nnovative, (I)nspiring, and (I)ndie!  I was told, nope, Indie games don’t have to be either innovative or inspiring…  so that slogan would not work.  What!?  No they don’t have to be either but the developers should certainly strive for these as goals for the community as a whole.  Eventually the idea of having a slogan sort of just faded away.

Next I figured perhaps I could help with the newly proposed mission statement.  They were still debating on what language to recommend for adoption so this was a great opportunity for me to help.  I recommended a mission statement that was simple, inclusive, and made no attempt to define Indies.  I believe that being Indie is more a matter of personal decision.  There are far too many reasons that people choose to become independent and that any definition will fail to capture them all.  My mission statement said simply…

The IGDA Indie Special Interest Group (SIG) exists to help independent game developers to make and distribute better games. The SIG seeks to include all game developers and organizations who identify themselves as Indie.

I was told emphatically NO… that AAA developers were trying to control the SIG and this mission statement would let them infiltrate.  Seriously?!  Why would AAA companies have any interest in this small group?  A group that is plummeting in size even as we speak?  The SIG couldn’t even muster up 20 votes for their most recent election so the leadership dropped the required quorum to 10!  Talk about a small club.  The AAA companies do not care what this SIG does.  And even if the SIG were to become powerful someday, I believe that inclusion of everyone who sees themselves as an independent developer to be important.  Buried in the minds of many AAA employees are independent game developers screaming to go it on their own… or so I believe anyway.

My last act was to try and provide an opportunity for the members to see a traditional governing structure for an Association and a constitution that was not permeated with a specific agenda.  So, I attempted to rewrite their proposed constitution and offered it as an alternative to their 9 page assemblage that they described as a “confederate” governance document.  My draft was a much simpler 1.5 page document and included a traditional association leadership board.  I believe that the constitution should be silent on the SIGs position on issues and leave the business of the SIG up to the leaders.  Positions and activities undertaken by the SIG will change as the state of the industry changes, the constitution should weather those changes without the need for constant tweaking. The constitution should establish rules for governance, motivation for the existence of the organization, and the rights of the members and little else.  I was told “NO and HELL NO” and that I was naive to propose such a structure even though such structures have worked well in thousands of organizations and for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Well that was enough for me.  I also came to realize that the only people left in the SIG by that time were the 10 or so advocates for the leaders’ position.  I was wasting my time and so I left silently and came back home here to write this blog.

Anyway, enough ranting. I was originally inspired to develop IndieGameTools.com by the needs of the Indie SIG and I expected my efforts to be formally adopted as one of the SIGs initiatives. I was encouraged by many in this objective, but, in the back of my mind I was hesitant.  I was hesitant to declare that the website was associated with the SIG, or the IGDA. In part I was hesitant because I did not want to claim an association that hadn’t been formally granted.  I saw that as a potential legal problem.   And another part of me saw signs that the SIG was not going in a positive direction and I thought I might harm my effort and harm Indies in the long run by sticking to the SIG. That premonition seems to me to be a reality now.   The ten or so remaining active members are voting on their new mission statement and constitution this week, I wish them luck.  I am going forward as an independent advocate for independent game developers, lol… that has a ring to it… no?

  1. #1 by Bob Cruse on December 30th, 2009

    Rob,

    I don’t know if you know…so I am letting you know, you know? -)

    The company that helps run the IDGA events is organizing a MMO-related Fan Event next year. Here is the blub and link about it:

    “The first annual show is being held on June 25th through the 27th in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which could possibly be the most neutral ground on the planet. The event is being organized by Last Straw Productions….”

    “While details are sparse and the website is even more barren, LFG is being put together by Last Straw Productions, the gang behind the Independent Game Developers Conference, which is going on their fourth year. Last Straw is also no stranger to MMOs, as they’re currently working on their first MMO game, Forbidden Planet. ”

    The link is: http://www.lfgexpo.com/

    Searching on Google brings a few links with more information about the event. I hate it when event organizers have piddling amounts of info on their own website…and depend on fan/online sites to fill-in-between-the-blanks. Just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Toodles™,

    Bob Cruse
    Eternal Noob

  2. #2 by Robc on December 30th, 2009

    Thanks Bob,
    I flew out to the IGDC in Minneapolis a couple of years ago and wrote a short article on it for Stratics. I don’t think the promoters from Last Straw liked my article too much because I was a bit critical of their event as a bit of a small town show. I think they do these things in Minneapolis because it is convenient for them and then tout them as national/international events. Still the IGDC conference had some redeeming qualities and I imagine the fan event will also.

    Robc.

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