On running an organization

There’s some news in the NL geek community this weekend. I’m not going to comment on it here, I’m just saying that’s the jumping-off point for what follows. I will note before I start that this is not meant as a complaint or a tirade against those who have tried to offer guidance and otherwise be involved. I am truly grateful for their efforts. I hope that the following can be taken with that in mind.

All I am trying to do with this post is offer insight into what goes into running even the most humble of organizations.

I founded Gamedev NL earlier this year. Before I did so, I spoke to a number of folks around town, checking the interest level for such an organization. I checked into numerous venues around the city. I talked to the folks who run other successful community organizations with which I’ve been involved recently.

I wanted the group to succeed and grow quickly, to attract professionals as well as hobbyists, and to provide good reasons for people to come together. I wanted it, ultimately, to help build the game development industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Here’s the part where I jump off: It’s been a tough go so far.

The number of game development studios in the province is somewhere between zero and ten, and it depends who you’re asking and how you define not only “game developer”, but “number” and “in the province”. We’re starting with a tiny pool of people drawn from an even tinier pool of organizations.

Meanwhile, game development is an incredibly broad field. Bringing together top-tier fine artists with top-tier engineers is hard enough, and it sometimes goes a step beyond what even film demands, but then one finds that all of these folks ultimately struggle with the business end of things as much as or even more than production.

How do we get money (ideally, you don’t)? How do we spend it (very carefully)? How do we attract investors (again, not the best strategy)? How do we attract players (with lots of that money that you don’t have plus a top-tier marketing genius)?

And all of those (in parentheses) notions are just opinions, and there are dozens of different answers to which you can subscribe.

You’re serving many masters right from the get-go. That’s not unique to game development, even if it’s particularly pronounced in certain ways. Any organization will gather people who have different needs and different ideas about how to serve those needs.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few folks offer help at various times. But it costs me, personally, $85 a month to run the organization. At our last meetup, we had three non-presenter, non-organizer attendees. To be clear, I am super grateful that they came, and I have enjoyed discussing game development at our meetups. But part of me knows I could just as easily, and far more cheaply, buy three game-savvy friends pizza and beverages and chat about games with them once a month and get more out of it, personally.

The point of Gamedev NL, and all those groups that, like it, aim to serve a community in our little province, is to build something. And building something requires more than simply gathering together. It requires creating a set of reliable axioms upon which a stable organization can rest. We meet here, around this time, and we do this sort of thing, and we’re all trying to learn more about these things, and so on. A communal unconscious must be made manifest.

Folks have suggested that I should book a free venue, which I’ve tried. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s also not free, since my time is worth quite a lot more than $85 after the first hour or two of calling around every month. Folks often seem surprised at how readily the different venues in town will say no to organized groups who don’t want to pay them any money.

Folks have suggested that I should find a cheaper venue. I’ve tried numerous options, but as far as I can tell the next-cheapest option that works for all hands is a couple of hundred bucks, and provides far less access than our 16-hours-a-month, hopefully-useful-for-more-content-someday deal with Common Ground does at present.

Folks have suggested that I should put out a collection plate at each meetup. Folks have suggested that I should not stream the meetup during the presentations and/or the mingling, because that provides an “out” for not attending. Folks have suggested that there should be fewer presentations, fewer meetups, more frequent activities, more ambitious programmes, that I should involve more organizers, that I should keep certain people out of the organization (or limit their involvement), that I should promote equality of access…

A community group does not serve a single homogeneous collection. There are always conflicting considerations. A strong vision is necessary to drive decisions that affect that balance. Unless people step in with their own strong ideas about useful activities, that vision necessarily derives from the few, or the one.

That can mean it’s a foolish vision. It can ultimately limit what an organization can accomplish. But it is necessary to create something, however flawed, if you want that thing to exist.

So if you’re running an organization: Thank you, and I’m with you.

And if you’re joining an organization: Thank you.

And if you’re criticizing an organization: Thank you too. But to you, I say this – if the results are not matching your expectations, you may need to take a more active hand. Expectations carry less weight than work and vision. In order to have the best version of things, we will always, somehow, have to pay for them.