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The 2015 IGDA Leadership Summit

Posted By IGDA, Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The International Game Developers Association Leadership Summit commenced late last Tuesday at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center in Seattle, Washington (US). Since many of the Summit's attendees had been involved in either PAX Dev or PAX Prime in the days prior, this event presented a nice second chance for additional professional development, and to do some off the clock socializing with industry peers.

IGDA Seattle Recruiting & Networking EventIGDA Seattle Recruiting & Networking Event

The 2015 Leadership Summit is a new iteration of the IGDA's previous Leadership Forum events that proved very popular when conducted 2007 through 2011. The event is intended to help attendees improve their leadership skills in all areas, not only as company leaders or in management roles but also from the perspective of exhibiting creative leadership.

The conference kicked off on Tuesday night, featuring the IGDA Seattle chapter's latest recruiting event, in additional to light networking for both the recruiting event and Summit attendees. A wide variety of developers attended, ranging from owners of serious games one-man studios to directors of AAA powerhouses. One attendee, Swatee Surve, was excitedly promoting her predictive healthcare application. "The next big trend in gaming is prescribed mental healthcare," Surve noted, painting a picture of the future were psychiatrists use games to discern the needs of patients, like in Ender's Game. Another group of attendees were Universe Builders Studios, who were in process of developing a space startup simulator so entrepreneurs could plan the harvesting of planetary resources. "Neil Degrass Tyson made science cool. We want to be cool, too," they said.

Edwards Kicks Off #LS2015Edwards Kicks Off #LS2015

Wednesday morning arrived accompanied by bagels, coffee, and a welcome message from IGDA Executive Director, Kate Edwards. In it, she thanked Keith Fuller and Tristin Hightower (IGDA Director of Operations) for producing the event, and introduced Jillian Mood, the IGDA's new Partner and Member Relations Manager. Edwards also thanked the event's many sponsors, including the IGDA Foundation, Amazon, Intel, Xbox, and DeVry University. She then noted that the event's schedule would be displayed by means of the Whova application, and that the established Summit Twitter hashtag would be #LS2015. Edwards next reminded attendees of the purpose of IGDA membership, asking them simply, "How will you be remembered for your work in this industry? How did you spend your time? How did you show leadership?"

Then, Summit keynote speaker Kristina Reed kicked off the conference with her lecture titled "No Spectators: How Inclusivity Catalyzes Everything." In it she discussed her long career at the Rhythm & Hughes visual effects and animation studio, and her transition into her Oscar-winning producer role at Disney. "The very act of making everybody feel welcome… increases your chance of creating something great," she noted. She also explained how company models emphasizing communicating with employees and respecting them led to increased quality of life for those individuals, and consequently to greater profit margins. "Only when a person feels absolutely comfortable will they give you their best over and over. And I would submit to you that you should never settle for less." She also revealed some unexpected sources of inspiration, like Burning Man's codified list of values, and never before seen clips from the short films Feast and Paperman, both of which earned her the Oscar award.

Reed was followed by a lecture from Rami Ismail, of the indie development studio Vlambeer. In it, Ismail talked about the "invisible obstacles" that game developers often forget to think about, like disparate access to knowledge around the world. He put it to listeners to attempt to be cognizant of these factors, but also reminded them that some failure would be inevitable. "You can't get all of it right... being visible on a global scale to all sorts of people is an impossible responsibility," noted Ismail. One example he highlighted was the concept of sarcasm, which didn't translate well into many languages. As a result of inevitable barriers like this, often communication between developers will be handicapped. Ismail encouraged his audience to keep trying to explain themselves, however, stating that "People always say 'Show, don't tell,' but actions without words create a terrible context for what you are doing."

Ismail then ceded the stage to Microsoft Studios Global Publishing General Manager Shannon Loftis, who spoke on "Creating Inclusive Content: Inspiring Teams To Do the Right Thing." In it, she described the way that Xbox's new CEO and management chain had allowed it to solve some old issues by approaching them in different ways. She also noted the way that the company had adapted to some new trends in the video game market. Namely, that women now make up more than half of the gaming demographic, and that Black and Hispanic children in North America now play more games on average than their Caucasian counterparts.

Following Loftis' talk, conference attendees were provided with a luxurious lunch buffet, and then returned upstairs to attend panels until 5 p.m. that day. After hours, conference-goers were treated with a fireside chat between Ed Fries, former Vice President of Game Publishing at Microsoft (and former IGDA board member), and Halo-icon Kiki Wolfkill, Executive Producer at 343 Studios.

The next morning, Summit attendees started the day with a lecture by Scott Crabtree, Chief Happiness Officer at Happy Brain Science. Crabtree described the value of specific gratitude, noting how productive it can be to convey to employees appreciation for their behavior, and the impact that it has had on your business. Later, James Gertzman, CEO and Co-Founder of PlayFab, presented a lecture on "Managing Through Uncertainty." In it, he cautioned leaders not to be too heavy handed. "Don't become a tyrannical micromanager," said Gertzman, "It paralyzes people with fear of failure."

Afterwards, the IGDA again provided a delicious lunch buffet, featuring local delicacies like fresh-caught salmon. While attendees munched on the food, Kate Edwards presented the results of the IGDA's annual Developers Satisfaction Survey, which showed progress in many areas of the field. Edwards also noted that the results of the DSS would be made publicly available at the IGDA's website, located here. Finally, after another round of panels and lectures, the day drew to a close with a series of Pecha Kucha inspired speed-panels, featuring Sheri Graner Ray of Zombie Cat Studios and Marty O'Donnell of Highwire Games, who quipped that "Two heads are supposedly better than one, but really it depends on the heads."

Finally, once the last lecture had ended, Kate Edwards and Keith Fuller gathered Summit attendees together to ask them for candid, immediate feedback. Commenting on the difficulty of soliciting such critique after conference-goers had returned home, they were eager to learn what members really thought of the Leadership Summit. Once attendees had an opportunity to express their opinions, Edwards and Fuller thanked them again for attending, and invited them to return again next year.

The IGDA greatly thanks its sponsors and partners who supported the 2015 IGDA Leadership Summit, including the IGDA Foundation, Amazon Web Services, DeVry University, Intel, Xbox, Rocket Recruiting, Events for Gamers, GamesBeat, Game Recruiter, Washington Interactive Network (WIN), and Women in Games International (WIGI).

About the Author
Author: Ma'idah LashaniPrior to attending law school at UNC Chapel Hill, Ma'idah Lashani spent nearly three years working as Community Manager at The Escapist. Since then, she has worked as a legal intern at both Epic Games and The Law Offices of Ryan P. Morrison. When she's not gallivanting around with her Irish Wolfhound, Onix, Ma'idah also moonlights as the IGDA's Community Liaison.

Tags:  2015  Amazon  Amazon Web Services  DeVry University  Ed Fries  Feast  Happy Brain Science  Highwire Games  IGDA Foundation  IGDA Leadership Summit  IGDA Seattle  Intel  James Gertzman  Jillian Mood  Kate Edwards  Keith Fuller  Kiki Wolfkill  Kristina Reed  ls2015  Marty O'Donnell  Microsoft Studios  Paperman  PlayFab  Rami Ismail  Scott Crabtree  Seattle  Shannon Loftis  Sheri Graner Ray  Swatee Surve  Tristin Hightower  Universe Builders Studios  Vlambeer  Whova  Xbox  Zombie Cat Studios 

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