Fire & Brimstone on Community Spirit

Some Sad Truths
I shall begin this editorial by reciting some facts. Let’s start with GEnie. On October 1, we opened up the JCGD RoundTable on GEnie. It took months of preparation, but we were convinced that the results would be worth the effort. After all, Neil Harris of GEnie had generously provided free time on the RoundTable for any JCGD subscriber. Who could turn away a deal like that?

Most of you, it seems. In the six weeks since the JCGD Round Table opened up for business, only 50 subscribers have even bothered to sign on to GEnie; participation in the JCGD Round Table has been similarly flaccid. While the area of the RT attended by the general public has seen lots of activity, the private area reserved for subscribers has been all but lost in the cobwebs.

OK, maybe you don’t have modems. Let’s turn to another issue: Jack Thornton’s industry directory. Last September Jack Thornton sent out over a thousand letters to industry people, asking them to fill out the enclosed form and return it to him for a free listing in his industry directory. All the software publishers returned the form. About 150 game designers returned theirs.

Or take the salary survey I tried to put together last year. I asked everybody to send me anonymously their 1988 income figures. I got a total of six responses. Out of 200 subscribers.

Or consider the rate of article submissions. I publish almost everything I get, with very little editing on my part. I hit up several people each issue for article submissions. It adds up to about 30 articles submitted per year. Roughly speaking, that adds up to a total of one article submission from each Journal subscriber every ten years. Oof!

Then there’s Elaine Ditton’s model contract work. At last year’s conference, Elaine gamely volunteered to put together a model contract for the industry, a tough task. Elaine published a plea in the Journal for everybody to send her samples of their contracts for her to use as source material. So far, she’s gotten a pitiful handful of responses.

I’ll conclude this sad litany by complaining to the choir about church attendance. The Journal has certainly done well. It is undeniable that the vast majority of game designers subscribe to this publication. But I still wonder about the few who don’t, or the many who forget to resubscribe.

Conclusion: No Community Spirit
The trend here is obvious. Game designers have not yet developed much community spirit. As a group, we are still pretty much loners rather than joiners. We don’t go out much for collective action. We’re too busy following our individual paths to invest any time in joint efforts.

This is made all the more ironic by the suggestion often floated that we should form some sort of professional organization, some group that would further our interests. A year ago I printed an editorial asking whether we should form an association, and requesting any interested parties to contact me. I did not get one single call, letter, or EMail response to my editorial. I have since decided to oppose such proposals on the grounds that we have not yet formed a sufficiently cohesive community to sustain such an organization. I never had any proof for my contention, just a hunch. But the confluence of all these events strongly backs up my hunch.

So what?
Now, you may be taking an unsympathetic stance toward my whining about community spirit. Who gives a damn if Crawford stands in his Game Designers’ Empire Club Tree Fort ("No Gurls Allowed!") and moans that nobody will come and play with him? You’re not in this business to join social clubs; you’ve got a living to make. So you ask: why should I bother?

Well, that’s a pretty crass question, but I’ve got an even crasser answer: money. Lots and lots of lovely lucre. Is that crass enough for you?

There are three reasons why community spirit can increase everybody’s net returns: business connections, technical support, and contract awareness.

First comes business connections. Face it, without business connections, you’re isolated. The only person you do business with is your publisher. Should you rely on blind trust in what your publisher tells you? With a broad network of business connections, who knows what opportunities will come your way? Perhaps somebody will refer some lucrative business to you. Perhaps you will reciprocate when you’re overloaded. It’s hard to say what business connections will bring you, but one thing is certain: without business connections, nothing will come your way.

Next comes technical support. This works both ways. When you participate in the community, you get to know other people with other areas of expertise. These people can be useful resources. Why should you waste a week solving a particular problem when you know that there’s a specialist at the other end of your modem wire who can show you how to do it for a few hours’ consulting time? Conversely, once you’ve mastered a particular area, wouldn’t it be nice to pick up some extra income showing other people how to do it?

Lastly comes contract awareness. This may sound like an odd term you probably are already aware of the existence of contracts. But just how savvy are you? I’ve been in this business for more than a decade now, and I continue to make embarrassing discoveries. I have learned a lot about contracts, most of it the hard way. Do you really want to go down the same path? Do you know what it feels like to create a product that earns nearly a million dollars for your publisher, and $40,000 for yourself? All perfectly legal, it was; but I’ll never make that mistake again. Perhaps YOU will...

What I want from you
OK, you’re convinced. You’ve been leading a life of sin, and now you want to repent. You promise to be a good boy, to show gobs and gobs of community spirit, and to pay for Tiny Tim’s operation. What else should you do?

First, I want you to get your electronic heiney onto GEnie. It will cost you very little money and a couple of hours a week of your time. I want you to participate in the discussions there. The acid test is this: if you fail to disagree with at least one of my postings there, you are being entirely too passive. We need your ideas, opinions, and judgements. We need your participation.

Next, I want you to get your name into Jack Thornton’s industry directory. Jack held up publication of the directory to get some more listings, so do it RIGHT NOW!!! Pick up the phone and call him at (702) 735-1800. Do it!

Third, I want you to participate in the salary survey when it comes out. I promise to make it easier by providing you with some sort of fill-in-the-blanks form. Maybe I’ll even provide a postage-paid envelope if I can figure out how to do it easily. In return, I want you to raise your right hand and say, "I solemnly swear to fill out the form and return it." Thank you.

Fourth, I want you to tell your friends to subscribe to the Journal. Don’t ask them; TELL THEM. At 30 bucks a year, you sure as hell aren’t filling the evil coffers of Crawford Enterprises, Inc.

Next, I want you to submit an article to the Journal at least once a year. That way I’ll have enough that I can afford to reject a few. Probably it’ll be yours.

And lastly, I want you to attend the Computer Game Developers’ Conference next April. Be there or be square.

Now that’s not asking too much, is it?