Renee Gittins — a game developer, current board member, and secretary — is new executive director at the nonprofit IGDA, succeeding Jen MacLean, who stepped down in April to take a job in business development at Amazon’s game business.
And Nika Nour, former head of public affairs at the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), will serve as the new executive director at the IGDA Foundation (IGDAF), which MacLean also headed.
The IGDA has more than 10,000 members and well over 100 chapters around the world.
“I’ve been involved in game development in my own career and I’m always excited to give back,” Gittins said in an interview with GamesBeat. “This is a role where I can give back not only to people who are interested in the game industry but also established veterans who have been working in this industry for years.”
Gittins, who is CEO of her own game studio Stumbling Cat, has a technical background. She became active as a board member of the Seattle chapter of the IGDA, and then she joined the global executive board a couple of years ago.
“I find that giving back to people in those communities as a really satisfying thing to me,” Gittins said. “I have so many friends that have provided so much support over the years. I want to provide support for prospective game developers so they can pursue their dreams like I have.”
Gittins said she learned from MacLean and former IGDA executive director Kate Edwards, who were both fearless in their advocacy for game developers on issues such as crunch (unpaid forced overtime), fair labor practices, and mental health issues for game developers. Gittins said she considered those issues to be “extremely important” issues.
“I’m hoping I can take the lessons I’ve learned from them and continue to apply it to the IGDA and grow the organization,” Gittins said. “Anyone who winds up in this role has to be a very passionate person. I would like to think I have tempered fire, but certainly, I am very passionate and driven.”
The IGDAF the charitable organization aimed at ensuring that the game development workforce can better reflect the diversity of gamers who play games around the world. It offers scholarships, mentorship, and other benefits for students and members of the game development community.
In an interview, Nour said, “I’m incredibly thrilled to be working alongside Renee at the IGDA. She’s an amazing choice with her game developer background and her keen sense of being able to identify developers’ needs. With the IGDA Foundation, I hope to hone its focus in getting more mindshare for diversity and inclusion in the game industry.”
She added, “I”m really looking forward to forging new paths and looking at new ways to ensure that the industry, game development professionals, and our players at large can find a more inclusive space in gaming.”
And she said, “I’m a child of immigrants. I’m a woman who absolutely loves games. I grew up in a household where I wasn’t even allowed to play video games. Anybody who knows me personally knows that I eat, breathe, and sleep on the topic of diversity inclusion, and not just for games but for the tech industry at large. I think it’s really critical to highlight the positive achievements related to games and remove any obstacles that prevent underserved people and communities from gaining access to the industry.”
Gittins brings a combination of advocacy and game development to the role of executive director, having previously served on the IGDA board of directors for more than two years. Prior to that, she worked as a technical producer at several game studios, and will now step down from her current position as a Solutions Architect at Spirit AI to focus her efforts on the IGDA. She will retain her role as CEO of Stumbling Cat, which has been making the game Potions.
Gittins said she wants the IGDA to offer better support and resources for the IGDA’s members and volunteer leaders. She wants to take a more active role in representing the needs and rights of the developer community.
As part of that objective, the IGDA will develop a multi-part initiative to foster the IGDA’s community through increased focus on global support for local chapters and special interest groups, while working to bring these communities together online. Gittins puts a strong emphasis on boosting benefits for the entire IGDA community, including established developers and industry newcomers.
Jen MacLean has joined Amazon.“Renee has been an indie developer and a game community organizer for years, even before joining the board. I’m excited to have her lead the IGDA and provide a strong voice for game developers’ rights and needs worldwide,” said Lucien Parsons, IGDA board of directors chair who has served as interim executive director since MacLean stepped down in April. “The board of directors has the utmost confidence in her ability to make the IGDA an even better resource for game developers around the world.”
Nour steps into the IGDAF role after spending more than a decade with internet and video game companies working on social and cultural impact initiatives. In addition to her role at the ESA, she also served as director of communications and creative strategies for the Internet Association and new media specialist for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Under Nour, the IGDA Foundation will empower the next generation of diverse talent while advocating for current leaders in the industry. To inspire young people to leap into game development, the IGDAF will amplify the positive achievements of the industry and deliver on impact-oriented projects, foster new ideas, and collaborate on solutions.
“Diversity and inclusion efforts are critical to ensuring the growth and success of video game developers, players and businesses,” said Nour. “The industry can do more to support women, minorities, LGBTQ, accessibility needs and underserved communities, and the IGDA Foundation’s work would be incomplete if we didn’t focus on the whole inclusivity pipeline.”
“Nika has established herself as a leader in diversity and inclusion in our industry,” said Luke Dicken, chair of the IGDA Foundation board of trustees and interim executive director before Nour’s appointment, in a statement. “I’m thoroughly excited by the skillset Nika Nour brings to the table, and can’t wait to see the impact she will have on our organization and more broadly this industry.”
Both Nour and Gittins said that diversity is a prime topic for the IGDA and the industry. Roughly 20% of game developers are women, based on industry surveys. Asked how to get more women into programming and game development, Gittins said, “I don’t know if I have a single solution. As for my own career, it was knowledge that programming was a potential path. Promoting the game industry as a whole does a lot toward providing support for young women. Promoting diversity in the game industry helps as well.”