04.27.2011

An open letter to AIMIA

by Morgan Jaffit

Why AIMIA doesn’t represent Australian Interactive developers.

On the 18th of March I emailed AIMIA directly to let them know I was pretty unimpressed with their representation of the interactive industry (most notably games, and us developers who sit in the middle of the games/interactive space). The (slightly edited) email is below :

From my perspective (as ex-Lead Designer at Pandemic Aus, currently director of Defiant Development, and one of the more active cross platform game developers in Australia) AIMIA is entirely irrelevant to game developers in Australia. I say this as someone who’s active in working across film, tv, and advertising in the games space and a regular speaker on transmedia and serious games (or gamification, if we have to call it that).

I’m sure this situation comes about because you don’t have many/any game specialists involved as AIMIA members – looking at the awards (and the events you run) I can’t say I’m surprised. Games is the hub, the beating heart and soul of ‘interactive media’. When it comes to interactivity, the games people are head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the biz – as evidenced by the sudden desire to ‘gamify’. We’ve been ‘gamifying’ for decades, and represent the core of the expertise in creating engaging, addictive, enthralling, interactive content. We are the future of interactive media – and if you run your eye down the list of awards, you’d have to draw the conclusion that AIMIA is stuck well in the past.

To look specifically at your awards – award categories such as “Best Mobile Product or Service” “Best Cross Platform” “Best Use of Social Media” are all shamefully lacking in representing the (very relevant) work of Australian game/interactive developers in those categories. I’d offer feedback through your survey, but of course you don’t have a survey for people who didn’t attend, so there’s no way for me to engage. Besides which, your survey questions are all about the venue, host, transport and afterparty – not the award categories or nominations. It would seem that you either don’t realise how incredibly out of step you are with the interactive industry, or simply don’t care. At least not as much as you care about the canapés.

Your upcoming gamification event (the only thing I could find anywhere in the AIMIA site that looks even slightly games related) is another example of this reluctance to actually engage with game developers. Only 3rd Sense (who are an agency that makes games rather than strictly a games developer) are represented. You wouldn’t know from looking that Australia has some of the worlds leading projects in every platform – from flash and mobile developers through to $30 million console games, Australian games are recognised around the world. Of course, they’re not even registered by what (by name and description) should be our peak industry body locally.

In short, the situation is shameful. I deeply hope that there are moves to do something about this long term – either by engaging with the broader interactive community you claim to represent, or via a name change to something that makes less claims to represent all the interactive media professionals of Australia.

Morgan Jaffit
Defiant Development

Comments

  1. John Butterworth on 04.29.2011

    An Open Response to Morgan Jaffit

    Dear Morgan,

    You are absolutely correct – AIMIA does not specifically represent games developers or games development companies (or the games industry in general). There are long-standing industry bodies to do this already in the GDAA and the IGEA and we all prefer to cooperate and support each other rather than replicate each other’s work or start turf wars.

    What we do represent is a large and often boisterous membership of companies covering the entire spectrum of the digital industry. There are web dev shops, apps developers, digital ad agencies, e-commerce suppliers, online customer experience companies, usability specialists, major publishers, minor publishers, mobile games developers, mobile marketing firms and even the occasional games-related outfit. Somewhere amongst all this there are going to be interactive developers working for these companies and no doubt some games specialists too.

    In many respects we are a typical industry body. We provide education and training, internship schemes, insurance programs, events, networking, research, standards and guidelines, and do a bit of lobbying where it’s relevant.

    However a big chunk of AIMIA’s time (and that of our members, we’re very volunteer driven) is devoted to growing the various markets for digital content, products and services. Many, if not most, AIMIA members derive their livelihood from the broader business community and we see one of our roles as helping accelerate the uptake of digital content, products and services across the Australian economy. Greater investment by potential clients means more business for AIMIA members and that’s why we run with an unofficial motto of “more dollars for digital”.

    You’ll see this flowing through a lot of what we do. Take the Award categories. A lot of them are geared around encouraging development companies and digital agencies to enter real-world work that’s been done for companies out there in the business community. That’s why you’ll see pet food manufacturers, government departments, banks, gym chains and tourism bodies represented amongst the winners. As I said in my 3 minute speech at the Awards (which unfortunately you missed), industry awards aren’t just a pat on the back for a job well done, they also help breed confidence in the markets we are trying to help grow out there. And the AIMIA Awards aren’t just restricted to gun-for-hire jobs. Freelancer, The Loop and SBS are there for their own efforts.

    Still on the awards, yes we did a survey of attendees immediately after the event, seemed sort of sensible given the size and scale of the event and the fact that we’ve never held it on an island before so it seemed natural to ask people who attended what they thought of it all while it’s still fresh in their minds. Asking people who weren’t there what they thought of the venue, transport etc has its limitations and the awards categories are far too important to chuck in as an afterthought in a quick survey of the seven hundred odd people who were there. Categories are reviewed every year by a group of AIMIA members drawn from different parts of the industry and then if significant changes are mooted we’ve got 470 member companies to sanity check with. If what you’re really asking is why there’s not a specific games category any more, it was phased out 5 years ago due to declining entries, a reflection of the growing support for games development as a stand-alone industry by other bodies and state governments.

    Quickly touching on your other concerns, the theme about the growth of digital in the broader economy continues. Many of our events reflect this and Gamification is a great example. Yes, people have been using games mechanics for non-game purposes for yonks and we have periodically done work in serious games in the past (and, yes, we’re not fond of the term “gamification” but it’s not up to us) and as awareness of the potential of the concept has grown in the broader business community recently it makes sense to do some work around it. That’s what we do. Same goes for a lot of other AIMIA work, the ongoing mobile consumer research helps companies understand the pros and cons of investing in mobile strategy, ditto the retail industry research. Standards and guidelines help people understand what’s current best practice. And if you don’t like the AIMIA Awards, you’re going to hate the Amber Awards, they are all about online customer experience and service in banks, financial services companies, retailers and the like. It might sound very hum drum to a lot of us in the digital industry but customer service is a big deal in the general business community and if we want them to invest more time, money and resources in digital we have to work with them on it.

    I don’t see a name change anytime soon but if you have an idea for a moniker that covers all of the sorts of companies I’ve mentioned above without it sounding exclusionary we’re happy to hear about it. For the record we don’t make any claim to cover all the interactive media professionals in Australia, in fact we don’t claim to cover interactive media professional full stop, we’re primarily a trade body representing member companies who feel they are in the interactive media industry.

    To finish up, we’re a membership based organization and what we do is driven by the support and guidance of our membership. If there’s a group of games development companies or interactive media companies that don’t feel they are being properly represented elsewhere or think AIMIA could a better job then please feel free to join AIMIA and have your input. There’s loads more that we want to do and there are always things that we could do better but it needs the support of members to make it happen. Given that you’re in Brisbane I’d be very happy to put you in touch with Michael Burke, the AIMIA Queensland President who is also the boss of Liquid Interactive.

    Finally, I’d actually argue that AIMIA is firmly stuck in the present, only it’s the present that might not appeal to some people. It’s the present as experienced by the broader business community right now as they grapple with the changes, threats and opportunities that digital throws at them and we work both within the digital industry and beyond to help companies rise to the challenge and make the most of the opportunities that digital has to offer. As I said, we’re a membership-based organization and welcome anyone that feels that what AIMIA members are doing for the industry is relevant to them.

    John Butterworth
    Chief Executive
    AIMIA

  2. Morgan Jaffit on 04.29.2011

    “Our members range from Australia’s top digital media powerhouses, including the ABC, Sensis, Yahoo!, Google, BigPond, Foxtel, Disney, ninemsn and Fairfax Digital, to the country’s best known interactive advertising, mobile content, web development, games design, and special effects companies.”

    If it wasn’t for that part of the description or your role (from your website), I’d be far less likely to question the lack of games in the various award categories or work you do.

    The real issue here is twofold – the first comes about because of exactly the blending of digital into everything else that you speak of. You say “the GDAA is there for game developers,” which is fine. We’re not just a game developer though – we’re also a cutting edge interactive agency (see our recent work with the NBA, and our upcoming work with major recording labels), digital incubator, distributor, content provider, transmedia IP generator, and more. The world isn’t black and white, and your reply seems to indicate you’re happy with everyone staying in their boxes.

    The second arm of the issue (specifically with the awards) is that when you say “The Australian Interactive Media Association says this is the best Mobile App of the year,” it seems a bit much that some hugely successful Australian developer mobile apps that are garnering worldwide attention are left out of the mix.

    Defiant is exactly the kind of company who should be a member of AIMIA as well as the GDAA – we move in both worlds. However, the trouble for us is exactly in your claim to “welcome anyone that feels that what AIMIA members are doing for the industry is relevant to them.” – until more companies like Defiant (that straddle the various elements of the industry) are members, you won’t be doing stuff that’s relevant for us. Chicken and egg, sadly.

    In the end, I understand you exist in order to represent your members. That’s fine. People from the outside might look at your awards and hope they represented the best in interactive media in Australia, and become confused at the omission of great studios doing great work. That’s what happened with me – and I think that gap will simply get larger in the coming years as our various industries blend more and more into one another.

    At the very least, I would hope that you’d reach further beyond your members when putting on events like Gamification or App Commercialisation – both would have benefited greatly from having Australian game developers present. Given that (for example) Half Brick have made more money through commercialising apps than any other company in Australia, it seems weird to not reach out to them. Likewise all the great game development expertise that could have offered new perspectives at your Gamification event. I can assure you, there are many people who would happily have been involved – and by reaching out in that fashion you’d help to forge those links that lead into the future of Australian digital media.

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