Recent "Board Member Brouhaha" has obscured the value of the IGDA. I'd like to put the focus back on the larger organization for a moment. In a comment in my previous blog, Adam said he was unsure of the benefits of joining/participating in the organization. Here is an updated and improved version of my response.
Benefits of any professional association generally fall into two categories, tangible and intangible. Tangible benefits of most professional associations tend to run toward discounts, exclusive privileges, publications, access to industry experts, group health insurance programs for their uninsured members, etc.
Professional associations like the Association for Computing Machinery can offer huge benefits to their because they are over 50 years old, charge much higher membership fees for both their main organizations and their SIGs, and have hundreds of thousands of members internationally beacause they cover almost everything that has anything to do with computers. They are run by large teams of full-time professional association managers, can often cover the expenses of their volunteer leaders and are large enough that corporations frequently cover the expenses of employees that do significant volunteer work for the organization.
IGDA and their single professional director (who has some support from professional association managing group) is tiny compared to the ACM. And of course at the moment the IGDA has been without a director for almost three months, but they are in the final steps of selecting and announcing a new one, hopefully soon.
IGDA has some of the benefits listed above but not all of them. Current full lists can be found at at http://www.igda.org/join/. As far as I know IGDA is working on beefing these up as they can. At the bare minimum, by taking advantage of one or more of these discounts you can break even on the money you spent on membership or event "get ahead" a little.
Generally though, people don't join professional associations for exclusively for the benefits list. What makes joining a professional association generally worthy of dollars spent
is the way they can help you professionally and the way they can help
the profession overall.
The real way they help you professionally is if you're active. Volunteering to work with a chapter or a SIG initially helps you with networking. Becoming the leader of a SIG initiative helps you get new experiences and new credits under your belt and distinguishes you from being just another "game guy" (or gal).
Intangibles for an individual look something like this. I'd been going to GDC for a few years before I really got involved and knew very few people in the industry. I first got involved with the Writers SIG and then the Education SIG, eventually joining the executive board of each, though I recently stepped down from the Writers SIG role to give new blood a shot.
I now know hundreds of people in the industry, have gained recognition for the work that I do at my job and within the industry, gotten additional publishing and speaking opportunities that I never would have had without my work in the IDGA and have transformed myself from a relative unknown to an "Expert Blogger" among other things :-).
Most of what
I've gotten out of it has been based on what I put in. It also tied to my
career needs as a game professor and journalist. That said there are tons of
stories out there of folks across the industry who can say
the same. Last, but certainly not least are the friendships that have
grown out of working virtually shoulder to shoulder with folks on
things we all care about.
Intangibles for the industry at large look like the following three examples.
First, there's the Ed SIG's Global Game Jam. Three front-line volunteers (Gorm, Ian and Susan) and a handful of others (proud to say I was one) got 1,650 students and professionals around the world to churn out 370 games across 53 world-wide sites in a weekend.
The event was extremely high profile garnering hundreds of press hits large and small and put something positive about games out there for a change instead of the usual "Seduction of the Innocent" kind of crap press we get. It was also an extremely positive experience for those people who participated as developers or site coordinators. And we're gonna do it again :-) There'll be more information on the Global Game Jam web page soon. In the mean time go play some of the games if you haven't already. This is just one of the efforts of the Education SIG, which also runs a two day summit at SF GDC annually andmaintains an on-line library of courses in the field. For more, see the Ed Sig wiki
Next there's the Game Writers' SIG, which has PUBLISHED THREE BOOKS on game writing. They've co-programmed the writing track for the Austin Game Conference/Austin GDC for several years and has pushed for game writing to be treated as a skill in and of itself rather than the red-headed step-child of Film and Television writing. For more, see the Game Writers SIG wiki
The there's the tireless (and unsung, I'm sad to say) efforts of Michelle
Hinn, Chair of the Game Accessibility SIG and her group to get the
industry to support the needs of ALL gamers who want to play. They write white papers, do demos of game accessibility at conferences around the country and write white papers, I'm proud that Kevin Bierre of that SIG's leadership is a colleague of
mine at RIT. Reid Kimball, another of that SIG's leaders, is a former
student of mine (though he was awesone BEFORE he walked into my
class, can't take any credit there) Reid has joined the Writers SIG as
well and has a blog here at Gamasutra and is making great contributions in all of those places. For more on the Accessibility SIG go to their wiki
I picked these because I've had some level of involvement with them personally or know the folks involved well enough to highlight their efforts, but its likely the same could be said of most, if not all of the SIGs.
There are three main take-aways here.
The first is that the $50 membership helps pay for the infrastructure for the organization that allows these volunteers to do what they do. Even if the tangible benefits don't seem inspiring, perhaps supporting the good work of all these volunteers might be worth the investment. That's really why most people pay membership fees to any professional associations, to provide the base that keeps the intangibles happening.
Second, the IGDA (or any other professional organization) isn't the board, it's the membership and its volunteers. Board members come and go, but the work I've described above has been done by folks who have worked together through several board administrations and will continue to do so in the future.
Third, the IGDA is about to undergo a Sea Change with a new Director for the first time in nine years. That will likely cause lasting, though not immediate, changes in what and how the organization works. It's a perfect time for folks who want to see the organization grow and evolve sign up and get involved. I encourage you to do so.