On August 27, the Game Manufacturer’s Association announced that it was not renewing the contract of Executive Director John Ward and was calling a special membership meeting to discuss the decision (see "GAMA Board Calls Membership Meeting") Board member Jeff Tidball posted an essay on the decision on his site on August 29, and gave us permission to reprint it (see Jeff Tidball of the GAMA Board of Directors:  It Is Wise for GAMA to Seek a New Executive Director").  Ward responded with a post in the GAMA Facebook group, which we reproduce below.  To complete the set, board member and organization Secretary Brian Dalrymple has also shared written comments originally published in the GAMA Facebook Group (see GAMA Board Member Brian Dalrymple on the GAMA Executive Director Situation).

Until now, I have been pretty quiet.  As you all know there is a fair amount going on right now, not to mention Trade Show and Origins preparation.

To begin, I truly love my job.  I love the hobby and the great people that I get to work with each and every day.  We have very innovative people and an industry full of professionals with an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit.  It doesn’t mean that some days aren’t full of chasing cats, but GAMA is a great place to work and the whole team loves their jobs, even the one that isn’t with us right now.

By now, many of you have read the blog posting from GAMA Board member Jeff Tidball.  Jeff not only took the time to collect his thoughts, but he absolutely made his position clear.  I respect him for that greatly.

After reading and digesting his statement, I felt compelled to send Jeff a detailed response.  As I said in my reply to him last Friday, we want many of the same things.  I also shared that reply with the entire Board on Saturday morning.

There are a few comments in that response that need some clarification in context.  Last fall the GAMA Board travelled to Columbus for a strategic planning meeting.  During that meeting, I shared our current goals and priorities for 2018 & 2019.  In my response, you will see me referring to them in certain topics as to when and how we were going to address some of GAMA’s priorities.  The same applies to the Buji Report. Buji Action is a firm we hired in Columbus to assist us with leadership and culture training.  They facilitated our fall retreat in Hocking Hills and we got a pretty good report from them about our team.

As many of you are, we are getting ready for the Alliance Open House.  With a short holiday week, I know we are all pressed.  I am not planning on engaging in a lot of dialogue over Facebook, but I will be available at the Open House and after we get back.  If any member has questions, please feel free to reach out to me.


I took some time to read and digest your post about GAMA, the ED and the future.  I think we have many of the same goals and vision in mind.  I may just go ahead and post a good portion of this publicly or to the entire board as it has inspired some good dialogue.

I will be frank and forward (as always) and say I wish that you had talked to me about some of those thoughts and could have shared some of the feedback that I am providing now.  Some of this we (as a group and Board) have talked about in the past, but as we discussed, hobbit tales are often not passed on in total.

One of the basic premises I apply in business is to begin with the end in mind.  Oftentimes in our hobby, people tend to focus on an "ideal" and really don’t see the potential obstacles in achieving or operationalizing that goal.  It does not mean that I feel the focus is off nor that the concept is not valid, it just means that a systematic or pragmatic approach might yield better deliverables and outcomes.  What would be helpful to me is if you share some of your thoughts on methodology.

I also know from experience both here at GAMA and within government that a big component about moving any agenda item forward requires building consensus amongst the constituents (tiers in our case) to create a plan that is viable for the organization.

What GAMA is for

Advancing the members interests
In my mind, this ties into the survey initiative.  I do not think it is the role of GAMA to speak "for" the members, but rather to aggregate their collective thoughts on issues we should be pushing forward on their behalf.  I am sure that between the Board and staff we can collectively list out some of those high pay-off targets but we need to make sure we are asking first.  GAMA should have a clear vision as to what those "interests" are and we need to have buy-in or we will simply look short-sighted in representing the industry.

Providing educational programs and opportunities
I have always said that training and education is one of our primary functions.  That being said, our current mechanisms are within our two events.

Lynn Potyen and I worked out a community training program for retail stores a few years back when she was the GRD chair, but our existing infrastructure was too small and green to sustain it.  The framework is solid and could be used to support other training initiatives.

As above, I think a solid poll of the members at all levels would help identify some of those specific needs.  On our 2019 Goals, we do have expanded training opportunities thru the MAP as an initiative.

Promoting our unique form of social entertainment
This is a lot more open.  Right now, we promote the industry thru our two events.  I have been discussing with Anne-Marie our initiative to begin an aggregated YouTube channel for the industry (It was on our GAMA Goals and Priorities for 2019 that I gave the Board last fall).

This is also the premise behind our support & participation in the "Essentials" program at Essen.  That support and scouting endeavor is also one of our strategic goals for 2018 & 2019.

Can you share your thoughts on methods we could use to further this endeavor?

Increase adoption of and engagement with hobby games Absolutely agree!

Moving this forward could be approached from a variety of directions.  I would ask what your vision is for this and what direction do you think we should pursue from your perspective?

Foster networking Absolutely agree!
We do this in a variety of methods now, the Trade show, Origins Trade Day, sponsorship participation in distribution open houses and new initiatives we targeted in our 2018 & 2019 goals that we provided last fall.  Participation in Essen, moving to more use of the MAP.

Are there specific functions or efforts that you feel we did not address that we can pursue to benefit the membership?

Foster sharing of best practices and innovation Absolutely agree!
Obviously, the Trade Show is a great example of this, but in an industry this rich with innovation we can always benefit more from sharing best practices and innovative ideas.  I would love to hear more suggestions from the membership on how we can provide mediums that would be helpful and not too time-consuming that they would use.

Pool resources toward common goals Absolutely agree!
This is exactly the structure of a 501 c 6; to support companies with common business interests.  I refer to my earlier comment, we need to hear what those "common" needs are from the membership itself.

Last year is a great example of how responsive GAMA can be in this area.  We were faced with a common business need (background checks) and GAMA resourced and executed a support program for all tiers of the membership to provide background checks at a discount for any GAMA member at $7/each in about 90 days.  We pooled the resources and the common needs of the industry to leverage that need into a program that provided a business service to the members at a discount.

I feel we can use this example as a way to assess and operationalize other common needs throughout the membership.  If we listen to the need, assess the business obstacles and act with the collective need in mind we can truly assist the members.

Host trade and consumer shows Absolutely agree!
I know we targeted Essen as a place for us to expand our presence in 2018 & 2019.  That gives us three events in four quarters. (not counting the open house schedule) I am not sure we have the bandwidth to add in another trade or consumer event.  Were you thinking we would add additional events into the annual schedule?

Host industry events Absolutely agree!
I refer to my comment above.  We can always plan more events in tangent with events that the membership is already attending but the annual schedule is already pretty tight.  I think this is the major reason that we have been discussing in committee and at the office about more virtual options for members in our 2018 goals.

Provide an information resource hub Absolutely agree!
This was the whole premise for us moving toward the membership portal.  Our initial system launched two years ago this fall.  The provider we are currently using does have additional functionality that we are not using or that is not "turned on" yet.  For example, we just activated the job board last month after Origins.

Carry out marketing activities Absolutely agree!
When we are talking about marketing, there are a variety of areas where GAMA wears that hat.  We market the Trade Show (Business to Business marketing); we market the Origins event (consumer marketing); and we market the awards program.  I know that our marketing in all those areas has improved over the past few years but with the additional PR & Marketing coordinator position my hopes are we are getting better each cycle.

I don’t want to have a myopic view, are you referring to more industry marketing or am I more on track with the internal responsibilities that GAMA has for its programming?

Interface with other trade organizations in adjoining industries Absolutely agree!
We started these efforts years ago, with Milton at ICv2 introducing me to some of my counterparts during Toy Fair.  We have active partnerships and coordination with:

  • The Toy Association
  • ComicsPro
  • American Booksellers Association (ABA)

Some of the relationships are more active and some have more business potential than others.  For example, our partnership with the ABA offers a new event for us to support in January this year.  Their Winter Institute can potentially drive attendance to the Trade show in March.  We are able to exchange content and provide value to members at several tiers in our market.

I agree that enhancing those relationships is a good direction for GAMA.  As our market gains momentum and others lose traction, GAMA is uniquely positioned to provide solutions to other partners while increasing visibility and market exposure for our segments of the industry.

Vision for GAMA
Presentations from the GAMA Trade Show recorded and made available on the web to the membership
I thought we talked about this as a group but this is already in the pipeline for 2019.  20 Eyes Entertainment (Jeff Dohm) does our commercials for Origins and this year Dominique added in more time in the contract to provide recording at the Trade show.  Having professionally edited content for the MAP is critical for this to be a success.

Sample contracts for the membership (art, design, copyrighting and editorial services)
There have been conversations about this over the years.  Frankly, in the strategic planning documents from years gone by that I gave each of you last fall, this "hub" was one of the visions that led to the concept of the Membership Portal.  Again, one of our goals for 2018 was to expand the MAP suite of services for members.

If we have a list of specifics (like you provided) this is easy for us to put up on the membership area.  This is a relatively easy task for us to complete this fall thru our pro-bono law firm even if we have to pay for a few templates.  I am sure there will be items that specific tiers of the membership would like in addition to those you listed but part of our job is to ensure the members that we can continue to add to those items as needed.

Code of conduct for conventions
Again, this is something that I had hoped we would discuss on the Board agenda as part of the Harassment initiative.

We have already begun building a coalition of conventions to norm convention processes, but it is much broader than just a code of conduct.

The goal of the group is to make reporting inappropriate behavior easier for exhibitors and attendees, to standardize those processes over a multitude of shows, enhance the training of our volunteer and contract staff, to clearly outline for people the difference between professional and social space (language that I stole from Nicole Lindros) and ensure that all attendees and exhibitors understand that event rules apply in professional space, while social space is outside the control of the event itself.  This is the same issue I brought up with the Board at Origins and that I brought up during the Annual Membership meeting about "show creep" as all of our events become more popular.

Promote worldwide events for gamers in conjunction with the retail membership
I am not really sure what direction you are suggesting we go on this one, but would like to know more of your thoughts.

Right now, companies provide organized play programs and a good number have a retail store component that feed into larger events. (i.e.: qualification events) I am not sure what role GAMA could or should play in this current process.

I know we already run two larger events, but would the concept include GAMA becoming a more virtual event organizer?  Having run large events, this could be a pretty extensive endeavor depending on the desired outcome.

Hosting online discussions about the art and business of gaming
We certainly have the ability to host discussions thru the MAP and with technology evolving every day I only see this potential growing.

The communications committee that you serve on made some recommendations in this area that I reviewed with Anne-Marie as Chair.  I think we agreed that our first sort of "Town Hall Meeting" would have a target date of this coming fall.  If we find that pilot successful, I am sure we can expand it moving forward.

I also think this ties into the 2019 goal of expanding virtual training for the membership as a whole.

GAMA networking events at other conventions
We do a good bit of this already, but I may be missing the networking portion.  For the past several years, we have partnered with ACD to host the retail lounge at Gen Con.  This year, that program was not sustained, but I did talk with the senior leadership at Gen Con about us getting more involved in their trade day function.

I truly feel that GAMA should be assisting with a business to business event at every show that "fits" our market, but that is not something we just "do".  It requires coordination with the venue and their leadership to establish a relationship and figure out a good fit.  Like our partnership with Gen Con, that design may indeed change over time.

Now I may be overthinking this and if the goal is just to have a happy hour kind of event at shows, that is a much more achievable task for the organization.  I have just been more focused on content.

Collection, collation and dissemination of data about commerce of the business
The Board asked for a Data Initiative last fall.  I have put these updates in my monthly report and have been in the ED report on the Board monthly conference call.

To clarify, the DATA Workgroup started working on this last fall.  Our approach is that the task would manifest in three phases:
Retailer Data (Gathered at the GAMA Trade Show) This year we had 168 retail stores participate
Consumer Data (Gathered at Origins) This year we had 528 consumers participate at Origins (The free games enhanced participation)
Manufacturer Data (Planned to gather this fall during a slower period for manufacturers) This portion is still in formation and is planned to release this fall.

The cost to access to the data would be participation.  Any retailer, manufacturer, etc would only be able to access the information if they are an active participant.  This first pilot year there are bound to be some lessons learned and the goal is to sustain this annually so we can continue to improve and enhance the data the organization is collecting.

A POS system for GAMA retailers
This has been a vision of mine since I came to GAMA.  It is actually on my "task board" in my office and has been there for a couple years.  I agree that the value this would bring to the hobby is immense.  Unfortunately, so are the operational challenges that such an initiative presents.  Not only the cost of the program design and integration with distribution but the system upkeep, maintenance and support would be more than a full-time job.

Do I think we should still consider it?  Absolutely.  How would I envision it enacted?  Retailers would get the base program for free (including the monthly maintenance and updates) In return, the stores would partner with GAMA on non-disclosure language so that we could actually enhance the DATA initiative I discussed above.  This would be a great asset to the individual stores and GAMA members.

The Leader you want
See the big picture, understanding trends to light the way for the future
If you want to ask me what I see as the big picture and what should light our way, I will refer to our recent staff retreat.  Our team felt that GAMA should become the "Google" of the games industry, sort of a one-stop shop for business enhancement.  As our industry becomes larger and we turn toward our focus more toward the mainstream market, processes, data, training and best practices will have an even broader and more impactful effect on companies that are entering or striving for growth in the industry.  This ranges from true industry market data to the ever-looming threats on intellectual property (IP) theft and from product fraud.

Motivates volunteers to do real work to improve the organization (Academy and new members)
I would argue that we have some pretty motivated volunteers that are already doing "real work" to improve the organization.  The Academy is a great example of this process. Do we need to edit and update the Academy website (yes and again, it was a Q4 goal for GAMA on our 2018 plan) The real work is in the actual product and outcomes of the Awards.  Almost all of that "rubber meets the road" work is the direct result of the volunteers that help with the Juries and the Awards ceremony onsite in Columbus.

Do I think there are opportunities to tell new members when they join how to volunteer for the organization?  Absolutely!  We continue to talk about ways to make the new member experience better, to provide more information and to be flexible enough to channel the energy that members bring to the table.  Part of this is retaining our volunteers as well.  That includes the processes we are working on thru committee so that when a member does raise a good idea and it is not adopted, we can demonstratively show why that suggestion was not considered, why it had to be put off until other takes were either prioritized, or why we needed to complete other tasks to lay the foundation for that good idea to succeed.

Craft and maintain transparent & rock solid internal processes (financial record keeping, transactional communications, convention operations, etc.)
We have had this term of "transparent" battered around now for several months on a variety of Board discussions.  To be clear, we are a membership organization, so in my mind we operate much more like a public entity rather than a private one.  This is one of the initial assessments I made to the Board when I transitioned from public service to my current role.  Almost everything that I would place into the "GAMA" silo should be transparent to the members. (financials, membership program participation, membership numbers etc.)

In addition, the Board should have a clearer view on the internal operations of the office in its oversight.  "How we do things" like contracts, venue logistics, fiscal oversight are areas we have targeted in the new board member onboarding in our 2018 Goals we reviewed last fall.  The plain fact is that now Origins and the Trade Show are stabilized, it is time to shift more resources into the GAMA silo.  The entire reason we created the Administrative Assistant position on the GAMA table of Organization is to give support to this sort of process improvement.

If there are specific areas that you feel we should have either in that Board process or more public facing, I welcome that kind of specific feedback as we move this project forward.

Build and mentors a team of staff and volunteers that are impowered to work independently and make clear reports when the circumstances prevent them from doing so

On this one Jeff, I would have to seek some clarity.  I think the independent report for the BuJi Team that we hired to evaluate and enhance the office speaks volumes on the culture we have established at GAMA.  Their assessment was very clear that we had a great team.

When it comes to volunteers, are you suggesting that volunteers are responsible for core work product and reporting to GAMA?  In my experience that is a lot to ask from a Board member let alone an individual volunteer, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

In my mind, volunteers are a great resource for a non-profit (even a 501 c 6 like us) to use, but a blanket statement that they are empowered to work independently concerns me.  I have a great team of staff and although each of them works with a variety of volunteers for show support etc.

At the end of the day it is the GAMA staff that are responsible for their jobs and initiatives getting accomplished to support the organization, not the volunteers.

I know this is pretty lengthy, but as I said at the beginning, your post spurred me to share my perspective.

I look forward to hearing yours as well, John.

John Ward Executive Director

The opinions expressed in this Talk Back are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily refect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.