GAMA Marketing Director Jonathan Albin resigned his post on Tuesday, and former Executive Director Mark Simmons distributed a statement in which Albin laid out his reasons for resigning and extensive concerns with the direction of the organization. This is the latest in a series of staff departures (see 'Mark Simmons Resigns') that Albin said 'are taking a toll on [GAMA's] effectiveness.' He described the organization as 'still functioning..., [b]ut like an automobile missing a cylinder, no, half a block....'
Albin described his state of mind. 'I...am tired of the lack of communication, the lack of trust,' he said. 'The current Executive Committee and Executive Staffers have killed my spirit....'
GAMA Public and Member Relations Director John Phythyon issued a brief statement saying that Albin had resigned. 'Mr. Albin was a valued member of the team, and he will be missed,' the statement said. 'GAMA thanks him for his years of service to the company [sic]. We wish him well in his future endeavors.'
The GAMA statement took care to attempt to allay any potential concerns about the upcoming Origins show. 'GAMA anticipates that Mr. Albin's departure will have little or no effect on this year's show,' the statement said.
We asked Phythyon for more specific reactions to Albin's comments, and he declined to comment, citing the fact that it was a personnel matter.
But underlying both the staff departures and the battle over GAMA's bylaws and governance (see 'GAMA's Bylaws Stay the Same') are deep differences between members of the board of directors, its executive committee (the volunteer officers of the organization), former staff, the organizations voting members, and the rest of the industry on whose behalf the organization works.
We spoke to former GAMA executive director Mark Simmons about the organization as it stands today. 'GAMA is off mission, in crisis management mode, and managing by proxy,' he said. 'Communication between GAMA staff, the board, and the executive committee has degenerated tremendously. In fact, GAMA's communication to its members and the industry has degenerated.'
Asked what the nature of the crisis was, Simmons expressed a lot of concern about the upcoming Origins show and said that he was worried that the number of problems at the GAMA Trade Show would be amplified by the greater scale of the Origins consumer show.
Phythyon described the conflicts in a more positive context. 'GAMA's evolving, and is bigger than ever before,' he said. 'People are seeing the value in it. When organizations grow, a lot of people want to make sure it's growing in the direction they want it to.'
Simmons granted that he thought that almost all of the people involved were positively motivated, but he described some voting, board, and executive committee members as 'very good people on a bad path.'
Both Phythyon and Simmons agree that governance issues are at the heart of the conflict, which has been simmering in some phase or another for several years. Among the key questions are whether there should be an executive director position (authority is currently divided among three staff director positions), how much control should reside with staff, the board, executive committee, and membership; at what level of detail decisions should be made by each group; and whether the organization should remain controlled by the manufacturers, or open up control to other tiers.
The stakes are increasing. With the incorporation of the Origins consumer show into GAMA's operations, the organization now has annual revenues of over $1 million, up from $250,000 seven years ago, according to Simmons.
Governance issues led to the departure of Simmons last fall. Although he cited the high stress level of the job at the time, he said that much of the stress was caused because he was 'constantly undermined.' Simmons said that on September 29th, he was told by the president that the executive committee had made a decision to eliminate the executive director position, and was offered one of the three staff director positions. Simmons says he declined the offer and resigned the next day. He said the problems leading up to his departure had been simmering for a year, and had involved 'poison' being spread by one board member/executive committee member, but also serious differences of opinion with people he respects about what the role of the executive director should be.
Simmons feels that there should be an executive director position, that it should be delegated more authority from the board and executive committee, that the paid staff should be expanded, and that the board should take a more strategic and less hands-on role in running the organization.
Phythyon described another aspect of the governance disputes. 'There's the perception that people are trying to take power away from the membership,' he said. He cited as an example the recent decision to move the GAMA trade show from the Orleans to the Riviera in 2005, which was made by paid staff, approved by the board, but questioned by some of the voting members who thought they should have had a direct say in the question.
Other recent decisions are also questioned by some, including the decision to move the organization's offices from Colorado to Columbus, Ohio, site of Origins.
GAMA's voting membership is small (only a few dozen voting member companies out of over 100 total members of the organization), and dominated in numbers by mostly small companies (most of the larger game companies are not voting members of the organization). That raised the question of whether a big/small dynamic was also part of the conflict. We asked Phythyon whether the increasing importance of big companies' revenue at the GAMA and Origins shows was causing smaller companies to think they were losing influences. He said no, and that in fact, 'Big companies feel like the small companies have taken over.'
The next occasion on which these conflicts will come to a head is at the membership meeting at Origins, where a new board of directors will be elected. While it's unlikely that all issues will be resolved, the directors who are elected will reflect the power of the various factions (at times shifting, depending on the issue), and the composition of the new board will set the tone for how those conflicts will be resolved in the future.
GAMA has come a long way in recent years, and now runs the largest U.S. trade show for pop culture retailers, as well as a major consumer show. It also supports important efforts to promote the game industry as a whole. Its stated objective is 'to promote the general interest of all persons engaged in the buying, selling, licensing, or manufacturing of game products.' This is a worthy goal, and we hope that recent staff losses and the sharp differences over governance can be overcome and the growth and long-term improvement in organizational effectiveness can continue.