A former board member of the International Game Developers Association says the organization is actually working against the interests of its members. Kazemi, who resigned from his post in March with just days left in his term, detailed his disillusionment with the IGDA in a post on his personal blog yesterday.
At the heart of Kazemi's criticism was that the group's top priority was self-preservation rather than advancing its members' interests. The most important thing for the IGDA board of directors was their fiduciary responsibility to the organization, Kazemi said.
"This means that any action we could take as an organization that carried any sort of significant risk of us losing a chunk of members (or god forbid, our corporate sponsorships) would be immediately shot down by a majority of board members with some variation of the refrain, 'My fiduciary responsibility to the organization prevents me from supporting this.' What this translated to: anyone with an agenda that promoted anything but the status quo would be heavily challenged."
"[A]nyone with an agenda that promoted anything but the status quo would be heavily challenged."
Kazemi said this prevented the organization from helping its dues-paying members in a variety of ways. The idea of maintaining a list of bad studios to work for was a non-starter, but even creating a whitelist of studios with sterling reputations was shot down for fear of alienating some possible members. Even measures that might have saved money could be problematic. Kazemi pointed to problems overhauling the group's website, where the board decided it would be better to pay to rebuild it with the same functionality rather than streamline it and risk anyone being upset with the loss of any features.
"Given the current state of the IGDA, by buying into the idea of 'fiduciary responsibility' to the organization as their primary duty, board members are working against the interest of the individual developers who pay dues," Kazemi said.
Ultimately, Kazemi said developers would be better off if the IGDA didn't exist at all.
"I believe that it is in the interest of game studios and publishers for an association of workers like the IGDA to exist in an ineffective state in order to drain the energy of people who could otherwise do effective pro-developer activism and to provide a straw man that can be pointed to in order to show that organizing will get us nowhere," Kazemi said.
While he doesn't believe that the publishers and studios use the IGDA to keep their employees pacified by design, Kazemi said that they nonetheless benefit from "the phenomenon of toothless, distracting organizations."
Kazemi concluded his post with an apology to the people who elected him to the IGDA board. In the comments, he said he was researching the history of unions and labor organization before offering any solutions about what to do next, saying, "What I do believe is: a fundamentally different type of organization (or a set of them) is necessary."
[UPDATE]: The IGDA has responded to Kazemi's post in a message of its own from IGDA chairman Dustin Klingman.
"It's important to clarify that the primary duty of a board member is NOT fiscal responsibility," Klingman said. "Our primary duty is to advocate on behalf of game developers to ensure quality of life, the perpetuation of our craft and help prepare the next generation of developers. While accomplishing this, the board members do have a fiduciary duty to the members of the IGDA to spend their money in pursuit of these goals, not to the existence of the IGDA organization."
Klingman said the board would act in the best interests of its members, even if it meant disbanding the organization entirely. He also pointed to the group's advocacy efforts regarding unfavorable Amazon AppStore terms and the fight over California's legislation to keep violent games out of kids' hands as evidence of its accomplishments.
"But more important than any specific achievement is the hard work, good intentions and dedication of our membership and volunteers," Klingman said. "We are so fortunate to have some incredible people amongst our ranks - and more than anything else, Kazemi's post diminishes them and their hard efforts.
"It is easy to became disenchanted with the behind the scenes running of a non-profit. Advocating for game developers is hard, thankless, and often controversial work. But the board doesn't think disengaging or giving up is ever the answer. We are committed to continue working with anyone willing to donate their time to make our industry a better environment for everyone involved - a cause to which we as an organization are still deeply committed."