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Opinion: Should I volunteer?
Opinion: Should I volunteer?
March 27, 2012 | By Heather Decker-Davis

March 27, 2012 | By Heather Decker-Davis
More: Student/Education, Business/Marketing

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, game development grad student Heather Decker-Davis shares some advice and potential benefits for those looking to volunteer in the game industry.]

I absolutely love encouraging people to volunteer within the game development community. It benefits the particular effort in question, the individual, and the game development community at large.

However, over the course of being heavily involved in a variety of volunteer operations, it's come to my attention that the general understanding of what it means to volunteer may vary from person to person. It's not just raising your hand and feeling good. These two steps are indeed part of the process, but there's a lot more to it than that!

The following are general guidelines for volunteering, which I'm hoping may serve as standards to help a variety of organizations, groups, and individuals by better educating budding volunteers on how they can most effectively serve their cause.

Initial steps

The first step to volunteering isn't just saying you'll do something. If you're eager to get involved with an effort, please start by:
  1. identifying available opportunities
  2. evaluating how realistic it is for you to contribute, based on your existing workload, schedule, and abilities
You might begin by asking a professional organization like IGDA how you can help out, and in turn, receive a list of items that could currently use some attention.

Take a moment and actively match yourself to things you know you can accomplish. That isn't to say you shouldn't push yourself to grow, but you should be able to fulfill the basic need you're stepping up for.

If you volunteer for something that's completely beyond your capabilities, the organizer is basically back to square one when this detail is discovered, which works against the overall intent of helping people.

Playing to your strengths and thoughtfully managing your time will overall aid you in becoming an outstanding volunteer.

Following through

Similarly, it's extremely important to finish what you've started. The bottom line is, someone needed help with X. Therefore, the most useful thing you can do is actually take X from a need to a finished objective.

Offering your time to help an organization, group, or individual should be considered a commitment. When you volunteer, people are now counting on you to pitch in with something!

For example, say I needed someone to make posters for an event. If no one came forward, I would be aware that I had something unassigned and I'd unconsciously operate with the understanding that I need to stretch my resources to cover it.

However, if I have volunteers, my organizational thoughts change. I might start pouring more effort into my primary tasks, in the interest of making the event all that much better. Having more hands to help essentially means you can do more!

Unfortunately, when a volunteer bails last-minute or otherwise falls short, an organizer suddenly has an unanticipated hole in their plans, and thus, must scramble to shuffle things around and make it right. Be aware that flaking out on something you committed to makes it harder for everyone else involved. Volunteers should strive to be a helpful and accountable.

That being said, it's understandable that sometimes life happens and things don't always go according to plan (emergencies, etc.). If something uncontrollable comes up, be sure to let your coordinator or organizer know as soon as possible.

Doing it well

Keep in mind that volunteering generally results in some form of work – although it can often be quite enjoyable – and thus, your volunteering efforts should be held to a high quality standard. You want to be proud of your work, right? Unless the original objective stated was to "slap something rough together," treat your task as you would a paid job.

If you're not sure what the expectation is, don't be afraid to ask! Most coordinators are more than happy to detail out tasks and get you everything you need to accomplish the given goal.

Additionally, in the game development community, always demonstrating that you uphold high quality standards as a volunteer is a great way to build an awesome reputation. In all, it publicly demonstrates that you're a hard worker.

It's no secret that this is a very close-knit industry and people talk. If they have great things to say, it's highly beneficial to how others (including potential employers,) may regard you. In contrast, if they have nothing good to say, it can have the opposite effect.

Enjoying the benefits

So it might sound like a great deal of effort, but in general, volunteering in the game development industry is great for both personal and professional growth.
  • You get out there and meet tons of great new people in your field! This is exceptionally useful to networking efforts.
  • You often acquire new skills along the way! For example, I learned the logistics behind running an IGF booth last year.
  • You feel awesome for contributing to something larger than you could do on your own.
  • You continue to nurture the game development community, which is carried entirely by volunteers who are dedicated to their craft and the constant improvement of it.
The big picture

My hope is that these tips will help you be the best volunteers you can be, and through teaching each other, we can continue to nurture the quality and reach of our community efforts.

For those of you already out there, doing all of these things and more: thank you so much! You are the amazing force that makes this field so inspiring to work in.

And to all aspiring super-volunteers in the making: go forth and be excellent!

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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Craig Fortune
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I'm sorry but I couldn't stop giggling at (what I hope is) the typo of hand for hard... "It's not just raising your hard and feeling good"

Anyway, enough smut - I was actually surprised to not see all this linked in rather heavily to students. It's an ideal way for them to get some experience before graduating in my opinion.

Heather Decker-Davis
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Good catch there... amusing, too!

I also agree that volunteering can be extremely useful to students, in particular. The benefits apply to anyone who volunteers, but it certainly helps students stand out.

John Seggerson
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As co-founder of Ümloud!, we're going to have volunteer positions open. The thing is, there isn't a good space to post volunteer positions for the gaming industry besides general Craigslist listings.

It would be great if the Gamasutra jobs board had non-profit/volunteer listings. Ideally without the price point of paid jobs. Maybe a rule where non-paid jobs get free listings?

Anna Tito
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Great article. I am definitely pro volunteering.

The one thing you need to watch out for is companies advertising roles that should be paid as volunteer ones. I worked in the not for profit sector for 8 years and it was a constant battle to make sure volunteers weren't being exploited because someone (useually government) couldn't be bothered paying for someon to do the job.

Also if you do volunteer in a development capacity make sure you are credited or at least thanked, volunteer devs are often forgotten in the final excitement of 'ooh we have a shiny new thing'.

Heather Decker-Davis
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While volunteering for professional groups/organizations is often pretty straightforward, you're right that volunteer roles on a development team can get tricky. I've noticed there are countless "I can't pay you for this" work opportunities out there, so it's important for potential volunteers to get all of the information they can and weigh the pros and cons of any particular situation. Being credited is certainly important, especially if the volunteer work is being leveraged to fill out a resume/portfolio.

Of course, if a project is made up of volunteers, the coordinators should also make an extra effort to thank their volunteers profusely for their contributions! ;)