Are We Ready for a Formal Association?

One of the trickier issues to arise during the Computer Game Developer’s Conference was the desirability of forming a professional association for computer game designers. There were good arguments on both sides of the issue.

A professional association could write a sample contract for game designers. A fair-minded sample contract could serve as a standard by which publishers’ contracts are measured, and might goad publishers into removing the most objectionable clauses. A professional organization could also provide an auditing service to individuals who doubt their royalty statements. Science Fiction Writers of America provides such a service to its members.

The need for a more collective approach from computer game designers is undeniable. The sad truth is that we game designers have consistently gotten the short end of the stick. Artistic credit is still given only grudgingly and in minimal doses. The financial pie is still divided by the publishers, and they wield the knife with understandable bias.

Most people I spoke with are unwilling to support a confrontational organization; they would rather see a professional association that improves their lot through constructive measures, primarily vehicles for sharing information. For example, I would like to see us prepare a master directory of entertainment software talent. This would include not only such obvious things as the person’s name, address, and telephone number, but also areas of interest or expertise, hardware preferences, some sort of self-categorization or description, and perhaps even a photo. Another nice idea (from Brenda Laurel) has the association compiling a library of hard-to-find special-interest documents.

An association would allow us to legitimatize whatever leadership we select. Right now, I am the closest thing we have to a leader. A properly elected leader would be more effective than I could be. Moreover, an association could set up its own finances, a cleaner arrangement than we have now.

But there are good arguments against the idea of forming an association just yet. First and foremost is the sad fact that we are not socially ready to form an association. An association is a formal expression of a community. Whenever any social group crystallizes out of the larger social milieu, it eventually creates a formal expression of its existence. We, the community of computer game designers, are just now in the process of realizing that we are a community. Our sense of community may be too weak to get us through the difficult act of creating an association. Any association will represent a series of painful compromises that will leave each and every one of us grumbling. To create a successful organization, we must all have such a strong sense of community that we are all willing to accept the idiotic compromises necessary to get along together.

There is another argument against the formation of a professional association: it may not be necessary. The fact is, we can use other means to accomplish many of the goals traditionally tackled by a professional organization. We already have the JCGD as a forum for public discussion of business and design issues. We are just now instituting the bulletin board system for JCGD subscribers. That will permit direct discourse between members of the community. We have already had a very successful conference for computer game developers, and have begun planning work on the next conference. Certainly there are other things that we could do if we had a formal association, but it is important to note that what we have right now can accomplish a great deal. Why should we add all the overhead of a formal association to obtain what might be only a marginal increase in benefits?

I used to think that the formation of a professional association for computer game developers was inevitable. Now I’m not so sure. It may be that we could carry on many of the functions of such an association through the medium of the BBS. After all, we all possess the hardware necessary to do it, and the costs of telecommunicating are still less than travel costs. I don’t know that the BBS really can replace a traditional association, but I do think that it’s worth a try. At the very least, the BBS gives us an excellent place to hold an extended Constitutional Convention.

So there you have the three possibilities: we form an association sooner; we form one later; or we use the existing media and never formalize an association. What should we do? Write up your ideas and send them to me I’ll publish the best submissions.