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 has given us permission to reprint it here. Ward responded with a post in the GAMA Facebook group (see "GAMA Executive Director John Ward Responds"), and 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).
I was elected to the board of directors of the Game Manufacturers Association about 14 months ago. I’ve been a fan of the organization for longer than that, and have been attending its conventions — the GAMA Trade Show and Origins — for the last 20 years.
From time to time, I had been publicly critical of this or that bit of GAMA logistics or execution, and a few voices suggested that if these things concerned me, I should get involved. So, I ran for the board.
What I Think GAMA Is For
For many, GAMA is synonymous with the GAMA Trade Show and with Origins. For them, the organization maps directly and entirely to putting on those two shows.
However, GAMA is much broader than that. GAMA has a clear and written mission, purpose, and vision. They’re publicly accessible on the front page of gama.org. All three were updated by a special committee in 2016, and those revisions ratified by a vote of the members, so these are not irrelevant, unexamined statements from the before-times. They reflect recent thought, and the organization’s active assent.
GAMA’s purpose is its reason for being. It serves the hobby games industry in three ways:
- Advancing its members’ interests
- Providing educational programs and opportunities
- Promoting our unique form of quality social entertainment
GAMA’s mission is its ambition for action. Under the umbrella of being an essential nexus for new and experienced game industry professionals, it aims to:
- Increase adoption of and engagement with hobby games
- Foster networking
- Foster sharing of best practices and innovations
- Pool resources toward common goals
- Host trade and consumer shows
- Host industry events
- Provide an information and resource hub
- Carry out marketing activities
- Interface with other trade organizations in adjoining industries
GAMA’s vision is the world it imagines. It’s short and to the point:
- A game on every table, a table for every gamer.
- That’s my essential preamble, what informs my opinions at the bottom of it all.
My Vision for GAMA
There are 13 bullet points above, between GAMA’s mission, purpose, and vision. I believe GAMA currently does perhaps two or three of those items to a level of quality. However, I think they’re all important, and I think they’re all things that GAMA’s members deserve.
I’ll suggest a few examples of how I think those bullet points might be made concrete:
- I’d like to see the presentations from the GAMA Trade Show video-recorded and made available on the web to the membership.
- I’d like to see GAMA provide sample contracts to its members for things like art, design, copywriting, and editorial services.
- I’d like to see GAMA provide a sample code of conduct for conventions.
- I’d like to see GAMA make available a code of professional conduct for game professionals.
- I’d like to see GAMA promote worldwide events for gamers, in conjunction with our retail membership.
- I’d like to see GAMA host online discussions about the art and business of gaming.
- I’d like to see the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design work more like an organization of creative professionals.
- I’d like to see GAMA networking events at other conventions.
- I’d like to see the collection, collation, and dissemination of data about commerce in the business.
- I’d like to see GAMA spec out a POS system for game retailers, with this industry’s specific needs in mind. I’d like to see GAMA build and license it to stores, if the research suggests it’s practical.
GAMA could perhaps do all of those things given enough time, but it can’t do any of those things without the will to do substantially more than put on two conventions a year. In my experience, that will is simply not there at present.
The GAMA board of directors announced on Friday that it is not renewing the employment agreement of its Executive Director, John Ward (A fair number of members want to know why, and that’s great, because it indicates that GAMA’s members are interested in the governance and management of their trade organization).
The board’s decision arose in a closed meeting of the board, so the details and voting record of individual board members are confidential. The board’s consensus in recent discussion has been that the decisions made by the body are the decisions of the entire body, and so it would be inappropriate to publish a list reciting the votes of each member.
(Side note: This is based on very recent dialogue, the ultimate resolution of which is still pending. The question arose in the first place when a previous board decision led to a board member’s business being threatened. So, if you’ve seen or been part of board meetings in the past where detailed notes and vote-tallies were circulated, that’s why what I’m reporting here may be different from your experience.)
I wasn’t on the GAMA board ten years ago when John Ward was hired as its Executive Director. Many people, some of whom were intimately involved in the hiring process, some of whom were on the board at the time, many of whom were acquainted with the state of GAMA at that time, have assured me that John Ward was the best candidate for the position of ED when GAMA faced existential crises of finances and responsible organization. I believe them.
It’s been suggested that because John was the right person for that job, ten years ago, he must therefore still be the right person for the current job. There’s a logical disconnect there. The right person to turn a company around is not necessarily the right person to envision its future. The right person to fight a war is not necessarily the right person to rebuild the landscape. And so on. The skill sets are different.
Circumstances change, and GAMA’s have changed. The change is largely thanks to John Ward. The board gives him credit for what he’s done and applauds what he’s accomplished. So make no mistake: I thank John Ward for the hard work he’s done for GAMA. At the same time, I believe that a new voice and skill set would be better to lead GAMA for the next ten years.
The Leader I Want
The new leadership that I’d like to see at GAMA would be someone who:
- Sees the big picture and viscerally understands emerging seismic trends, like crowdfunding and streaming, to better educate the membership and light the way into the future.
- Includes and motivates a wide variety of volunteers to do real work to improve the organization, such as improving the Academy and Origins Awards websites, and staffing committees to welcome and orient new members.
- Crafts and maintains transparent and rock-solid internal processes — most effectively built in good financial times — for financial record-keeping, transactional communications, convention operations, and the like.
- Builds and mentors a team of staff and volunteers who are empowered to do great work independently, and make clear reports when the circumstances prevent them from doing so.
Some doubt that these are realistic expectations. These doubts underestimate the growth of the industry over the last five years, and underestimate the quality of people who’re interested in the business of tabletop gaming. Every time in recent memory that I’ve had to hire someone to do a job, making a public posting of my needs has resulted in a greater wealth of qualified applicants than I’ve known what to do with. I suspect the same will be true here, especially given the competitive compensation GAMA is able to offer.
* * *
I love games, gamers, gaming, and the game business. I said this out loud when trying to convince people to elect me to the board, and to everyone’s credit, no one laughed.
I believe that GAMA is a positive force for the industry, and can be an even greater one in the future if it continues to evolve.
In order to continue growing in the way that most benefits the widest variety of GAMA’s members, I have come to the conclusion that it’s a wise decision to seek and hire a new Executive Director at this time.
As always, you can easily reach me to share your opinions. My email address for GAMA business is jeff dot tidball at gama dot org, and my cell number is (323) 253-6258. I’ll talk to anyone about nearly anything, including any of this. In case you’d like to reach the entire board by email, you can send a message to board at gama dot org.
If you’ve read this far, I appreciate that you care about GAMA — thank you!
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.