A farewell note: Reflecting on five years with IGDA NYC

Friends, I hope this New Year finds you safe and well. 2020 has been trying and tragic for many of us, and in 2021, we’re all eager for renewed energy and the potential for positive change.

In this time of transition, I’m ready for something new. I determined some time ago that I’d step down from the IGDA NYC board when my term finished in 2020. As it turns out, we didn’t have enough candidates to hold an election in December, so the two open seats will be filled by appointment. Rather than seek reappointment, I’ve decided to exit as planned, making space for new leaders to step up and shape the chapter’s future.

But first, I want to take a moment to reflect on how we got here.

When I was first exploring game dev in NYC about a decade ago, IGDA NYC chapter meetings and parties were where I’d go to see demos from local studios, hear talks about game design and the future of play, and get to know developers. But by 2015, the chapter had become dormant, and the scene scattered into a flurry of other groups and meetups that sprang up to fill the gap. I was even hosting one, the monthly NYC Indie Games socials (which were once IGDA NYC drink nights, but had since become their own thing—now on indefinite hiatus, until it’s safe to gather again).

That’s when I was invited to step in and officially reboot the chapter. But I knew it wasn’t a job for one: I was up for the challenge, but only if I was joined by a full board that would share the work and the responsibility. An organization that depends on one person’s heroic efforts, motivation, and free time is doomed to sputter and fade away as soon as their stamina flags or their interest wanes. To be durable and resilient, an organization needs a collective leadership, regularly refreshed from the ranks of its active members.

So we managed to recruit a board of five — me, James Seetal, Chris Algoo, Adam McPolin, and Athena Windansea Anderson, who talked me into the whole thing — and we were off.

The debut of the rebooted chapter at its first Town Hall, in July 2015.

We didn’t want to steal any thunder or duplicate efforts, since there were already so many other groups out there doing cool things. But they were siloed and disjointed, hindering discovery and collaboration. The community was also reeling from multiple major studio closures and layoffs that year, so career support was a priority. We saw the chapter not as the sole host of the community, but as a gateway and facilitator, connecting dots and making the whole landscape easier to navigate.

I’m proud to say we’ve made big strides toward those goals over the past five and a half years. Some highlights:

2015

  • Established regular event programming, with town halls and monthly roundtables
  • Held the inaugural NYC Games and Digital Media Career Fair, in partnership with the NYU Game Center
  • Launched the Jobs and Opportunities board, listing jobs, internships, classes, funding opportunities, and other career resources
  • Launched our newsletter (eventually renamed the NYC Game Dev Digest)

2016

  • Introduced new event formats: Feedback Forums to share work in progress, and family-friendly, alcohol-free Coffee & Ice Cream Socials
  • Expanded our career fair, hosted this time by Playcrafting, and added a Career Clinic with resume and portfolio reviews
  • Launched a public community calendar, NYC Game Dev, and accompanying Twitter bot (hoping to put an end to big events always getting scheduled on top of each other!)
  • Joined government and industry discussions to promote tax credits and other initiatives supporting New York game development
  • Adopted the #NYMakesGames tag and campaign to promote local developers
  • Launched our chapter website, igda.nyc, as a community resource hub

2017

  • Introduced bi-monthly Open Office Hours
  • Held the chapter’s first annual elections

2018

  • Partnered with Playcrafting to present “Powered by IGDA NYC” talks at PlayNYC and a sizzle reel of NY-made games
  • Convened a special roundtable discussion on Unions and the Game Industry in partnership with Writers Guild of America, East

2019

  • Launched the IGDA NYC Satellite program, offering promotional and logistical support to affiliated groups hosting events
  • Received an IGDA grant to purchase equipment and began streaming events on YouTube

2020

  • Pivoted to virtual events on a new community Discord, including Developer Showcases, BYO Ice Cream Socials, and weekly Monday Afternoon Co-Working
  • Launched the NYC Game Streams community calendar, a “TV Guide for NYC game streamers”
  • Relaunched the igda.nyc website (rebuilt in Notion, with no hosting overhead)
  • Partnered with gamedevmap to curate listings of New York game studios and companies

And in 2021:

  • A general Resource List compiling info about groups, organizations, and resources for game developers in New York, which I’ll continue working on as a volunteer project. Coming soon.
  • A parting gift! I turned the Notion workspace I built to run the chapter into templates anyone can use: one for IGDA chapters and SIGs, and one for any volunteer-run community.

With every new offering, I kept an eye toward sustainability: if one of us (or all of us!) disappeared in a flash tomorrow, have we built enough of a framework that someone else could easily pick it up and keep going? Since I’ve been here as chair or co-chair to ensure continuity throughout the past five years, I guess the real test is coming next. But I’m confident that this chapter is built to last.

As I suspected before embarking on this project, none of it would have been possible without the sustained efforts of an engaged team of people. To the current members of the board, Mattia Sicuro, Olga Polukhina, Oliver Hong, and Kevin Hoskin — thank you for all you’ve done, especially amid the challenges of the past year. I know I’m leaving the chapter in good hands. To my fellow founding members and the other former board members: thank you for your service! We couldn’t have gotten here without you. My great thanks also to our current team of volunteers: Discord manager Howard Jiang, event volunteer Jasmine Greene, video producer Scott Tongue, and Tam Myaing, who has kept the lights on in our Meetup group. My deep respect and appreciation to Lorri Hopping, who cultivates our Facebook presence and kept our Twitter lively, informative, and welcoming for many years. Special thanks to Matt Fisher, who recently stepped down as our newsletter editor, for all his hard work and for being a joy to work with. I also want to extend my sincere gratitude to all our past volunteers, and to those to come.

And to everyone who has attended our events, read or shared our newsletter, posted a job, sent us a tip, participated in an election, hung out in our groups, donated, followed, supported, or just been out there being awesome: thank you. It’s been an honor to serve such a vibrant and inspiring community.

Now there’s the matter of that open seat. If you’ve benefited from the existence of this chapter, I urge you to consider stepping up. Since elections aren’t being held this cycle, you can apply directly to the board. It truly is an excellent way to meet people, make connections, learn about the industry, build confidence, develop leadership skills, and cultivate your professional reputation. And of course, there are the altruistic benefits of belonging and contributing to a community — something we need now more than ever.

If you want to talk it over, or just say hi, you can find me hanging out in the chapter Discord, hit me up on Twitter, or drop me a line at jesshaskins.com.

And now that I’m retiring from organizing, I’ll have more time to devote to consulting work. For worldbuilding, story therapy, script editing, voiceover services, and all of that stuff, swing by Paperback Studio and maybe I can help out.

It’s been a real pleasure, all. Stay healthy and safe, and I’ll be seeing you around.

Narrative designer & editor. Founder, Paperback Studio. http://jesshaskins.com | http://paperback-studio.com