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Why the game dev group will benefit from non-U.S. board chair

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has more than 150 chapters around the world representing thousands of game developers.

The 24-year-old developer advocacy group recently appointed Vesa Raudasoja as new chair of the board of directors, promoting him from the vice-chair position. He replaced David Seltzer as chair, and current board member Emily Greer moved into the vice chair position.

I spoke with Raudasoja, a game consultant and community developer based in Finland, about this change. Raudasoja said it will be good for the IGDA to further recognize that gaming has become a huge international industry. He helped grow the IGDA Finland into more than 1,700 members and 12 hubs.

He is also a board member and evangelist with the Finnish Game Jam Association as well as co-founder of Devs.tv. I talked with Raudasoja about the change and the significance of having a non-U.S. chair.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Vesa Raudasoja is the new chair of the board of the IGDA.

Above: Vesa Raudasoja is the new chair of the board of the IGDA.

Image Credit: IGDA

GamesBeat: I wanted to hear your perspective on the leadership transition. Can you explain some of that?

Vesa Raudasoja: Where do I start? Of course it’s an honor that the board has the confidence to choose me as chairman. I’ve been working with the IGDA for 12 years. It’s been a great career, if you can call it that exactly, with the IGDA. I’m the first chairman to come from outside of North America. I’ve been getting a lot of positive messages on that side.

GamesBeat: What do you think is important about that, having someone come from outside North America?

Raudasoja: We are an international organization. We have roughly 150 chapters around the world. The chairmen have mostly been from the U.S. and Canada, though, and North America can feel very far away if you’re looking from Europe, Australia, or Asia. Now, I think that having a chairman from outside that region will bring an international spotlight. At times it’s been said that the IGDA is very North America-centric. This proves that we’re really international. Everyone has an opportunity, around the globe, to join the board, to become chairman, to bring an international perspective.

GamesBeat: Are there issues you’re particularly interested in or well-versed in that you think the IGDA should push forward?

Raudasoja: The IGDA is doing a good job in many fields, but my personal agenda has been always the international part, working together to collect chapters and people across different countries. That’s what I’ve been trying to bring in my work on the board of directors, the perspective of small countries like Finland, and the European side in general.

In Finland we have a very tight community. We believe in working together, exchanging information and experience. Those are the qualities I want to promote on other topics that the IGDA stands for — helping people with their careers and studies and becoming better game developers.

GamesBeat: Finland is a good example of that kind of chapter and community, then.

Raudasoja: Finland, at the moment, is home to our most active chapter. We have roughly 1,700 paid members. We have about 6 million people in the whole country, and the game industry altogether is about 3,000 professionals. Of course, there are also a lot of hobbyists and students. But we’re proud that the IGDA covers more than half of the industry.

We’ve been working hard on that case, starting more than 15 years back. We started quite small. Of course, the whole industry was very small back then. But now we have 12 different cities where monthly IGDA activities are happening. In Finland, people have an idea of what the IGDA is for. It’s very well-liked here. It’s fun to work in a case like this, with a lot of awesome people working around you. It’s been an interesting ride.

GamesBeat: Worldwide, has IGDA membership been growing? Do you know what the trend has been like?

Raudasoja: Different chapters get bigger or smaller as people move around. From the Finnish perspective, though, it’s growing. At the moment we have a lot of really talented people working on the board and a strong staff doing a lot of work to gather more members. Membership is on the rise, bit by bit.

Above: Jen MacLean is permanent executive director of the IGDA.

Image Credit: IGDA

GamesBeat: Are you still collecting a lot of data and issuing reports about the state of the game industry, surveys on things like crunch and working conditions?

Raudasoja: Yes, of course. That’s a key thing we do. I can’t remember, at this instant, what’s up and coming on our specific program. But we have good relations with the industry at large. It’s easy for us to get answers from game developers across the world. We’ll have more reports in the future.

GamesBeat: How do you get a larger portion of the development community to join the IGDA?

Raudasoja: Speaking from a bit of the Finnish perspective again, when you have a good cause — working together, sharing information, meeting new friends and colleagues, what I consider the heart of the IGDA — it’s not so necessary to offer things like discounts, things that are more concrete. It’s more about getting people together. When the positive vibe is spreading and people are seeing things like what’s happened in Finland, the work we’re doing, they want to be part of that flow. This might sound a bit optimistic at a high level, but I’m optimistic by nature. [laughs]

Community is something that stays. It’s a kind of home base. If people feel at home with their development community, they’ll want to support it. This is voluntary work. We’re not being paid. It can only happen because there are people around who believe in that cause.

GamesBeat: I saw this morning that Jen MacLean put out a call to action for the industry to take a more proactive stance on loot box monetization. This seems like it’s coming in advance of possible regulation from the Federal Trade Commission in the United States. What’s your own feeling on where the industry should be on that issue?

Raudasoja: I’m still working on that. At the moment I don’t have a strong personal view, but I’m looking forward to working with Jen and the board on the topic. It’s a global topic, and in some places it’s more and more in the news. We’re working with individual developers, and we hope to be able to make a statement on things that matter.

GamesBeat: Is gender balance and diversity balance in the industry going to continue to be a topic of interest?

Above: Game industry map

Image Credit: ESA

Raudasoja: Of course, diversity is important, that we can have people from all around the world who want to work on games working on games. We’re working in heavily on that topic, to continue trying to balance out the industry and making sure that everyone who wants to work there has the same opportunities.

GamesBeat: Do you see a different role that you might play compared to what David Seltzer had done in the past?

Raudasoja: Nothing major. We both have been in the industry for a while, more than 10 years. I’ve been at smaller companies, closer to the indie development side. Time will show if we have very different views, but I think our basic principles–we’re on the same level on many things. I’ve only just stepped into his boots, so we’ll see how it goes.

GamesBeat: How do you like working with [IGDA executive director] Jen MacLean? What do you see that’s different about working with her compared to [former executive director] Kate Edwards?

Raudasoja: I hadn’t had a chance to work with Kate that long. I was a newcomer on the board and there was a lot for me to learn. But I’ve worked a lot more with Jen. I’ve had chances to visit the United States for GDC and the IGDA leadership summit. I really like what Jen is doing. She’s doing very good work. She’s the right person for the job, representing the organization globally. She’s internationally recognized, an authority on game development across many countries.

GamesBeat: As far as priorities for you and for her, looking forward six months or a year, what do you really want to get done?

Raudasoja: Spreading the message of what we do and keeping up communication. There are a lot of great things happening in the IGDA, in all 150 chapters. In many places chapters are doing great work for their local communities, or on an even bigger scale. I’d like to see and hear more people recognized from our small chapters and interest groups and bring that message forward. We also want to grow the organization, and growth can come from that effort naturally.

Cooperation across borders and continents is always on our minds. We live in a global world. People in the industry can move from country to country and continent to continent pretty easily and we want to promote that.

More and more important topics are coming out where we’ll make our statements and express our opinions, our views. Equality and diversity are still important to us. The world isn’t perfect, even in 2018. Many cultures and countries may do things differently, but we see game development as something that can bring people together. We can learn from different chapters and different people in different countries and different cultures, all the uniqueness in our local communities.

Above: Game developers around the world.

GamesBeat: In 2017 I wrote a long article on “Where in the world are game development jobs?” I’ve always been interested in finding where the new hot spots are for games, where the emerging areas are. That seems like something the IGDA would be aware of.

Raudasoja: I can definitely show you a hot spot in Helsinki. [laughs] That’s also an interest of mine, looking for the countries that aren’t at a high level all the time like Europe and North America and Japan and so on. Looking at places like Africa, South America, and India. Eastern Europe as well — it has a game industry happening that’s rarely seen in global media — and parts of Asia that you wouldn’t expect. If the game industry is growing somewhere and they’d like to have a bigger community happening, we want to be there encouraging them to join the IGDA, to join this global family. We share our experience around how to help build community.

This isn’t a new program, but we’ve taken 15 chapters to focus on for the upcoming year. We want to put extra effort into helping them. Five of them are in the U.S. and the others are outside that region. I’ve been traveling around the world pretty actively for a few years now, meeting people from all over the place.

GamesBeat: What do you feel are some important things you’ve learned in that process, meeting game developers all over the world?

Raudasoja: I mentioned earlier on that game development is something that brings us together. There are similar issues in making almost any game. Depending on whether you’re in the big city or the countryside, you might have some different problems around things like finding quality talent. But the core mechanics, a lot of them are the same. And game developers are awesome people wherever you go. Whether I’m talking to people at an IGDA chapter in Japan or in Switzerland or the U.S.–it’s a creative industry in so many ways, and that gives people a certain mindset on how they look at life and look at their projects.

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