Game Developers & NPOs

I finally put thought and words to something nagging me for the past two years. With my work in founding and working on Ümloud! and a new video game non-profit project (I’ll post later), I’ve worked with a number of people in different aspects of the video game industry. Lots of journalists, lots of PR personal, and lots of people not working in the biz. Yet in the two years I’ve worked in the game related non profit world, I find myself with very few contacts from actual game developers. Which leads me to state:

Very few game developers work with non-profit organizations (NPOs).

As with any overly broad statement, there’s nuance here. I’m setting the bar to beyond monetary donation, but committed infrastructure involvement. I don’t have hard facts to prove or disprove this statement; Believe me, I wish I had hard facts. There are some developers who do great NPO work out there, some even volunteer with Ümloud!, whom do count and are doing good things.

What is clear to me is an overall lack of willingness from developers to work on NPOs. I’m trying to figure out is why I’m the only developer involved with these projects. Of the Child’s Play community organized events I know of, I can’t think of any developer that’s founded any (please tell me if I’m missing something). I see involvement on a corporation level, which is awesome, but I’m trying to find individuals acting on their own. I should not that I’m not limiting the argument to only Child’s Play, that’s just where I’ve done my research through the years.

One could say that development life is too demanding. To that I say bullocks. The first Ümloud! event was done in 8 weeks for both event and organizational setup while I was build engineer at Telltale Games. A crunch mode in the NPO and perpetual crunch mode as my game dev job. This earns me the right to say this argument doesn’t hold weight. If there’s a cause you believe in, I can’t buy the argument that you’re too busy for it. Nor does that argument hold with others who also have jobs and lives to live and still work for NPOs.

I don’t know why I’m the only game developer I know that works on NPOs. I don’t want to be the only person. Seriously, it’s bloody lonely doing this work. It’s frustrating when I try to get the game community together to work on these projects, the community that gathers contains very few game developers. I’m trying to demand better for my fellow artists in the game industry. I want this to change, but I don’t know what do so differently. The only thing I can think of doing differently is saying:

Get involved with something!

Google & Non-Profits

With Ümloud! a real boy and granted full 501(c)(3) status, there are an avenue of options available to non-profit organizations. There are services and goods which companies provide for free or discounted based on non-profit status. I’m going to take Google as an example and talk about how this process goes in one particular case and how it could be better.

There are a few things that Google makes available to non-profits in their range of products. Some don’t need to check your non-profit status. One requires extreme but understandable scrutiny. Then there’s this middle ground which for a company such as Google, is surprisingly more complex and resource intensive than it should be.

Of all the programs and services Google offers, there are three levels of involvement to use these products. These are terms I made up since Google doesn’t classify products this way.

No Application are products that work once you set them up with no need to confirm non-profit status. Besides Google Apps, these are products that are no different to anyone, individual or organization.

Non-Profit Status Clearance are products that require a non-profit status check, but not discerning beyond established rules. Checkout falls into this category as Google wants to make sure the entity has the non-profit status for tax and legal reasons. The idea being any valid non-profit gets clearance.

Full Evaluation is on the other end of the spectrum. It’s not enough to be a non-profit, but Google making the decision to go beyond what they do for any non-profit. For Google, it’s the Grants program which goes beyond free product and is a direct partnership with the company. High bars of entry are expected here.

The difficulty I’ve had with Google is in this middle category, status clearance. The problem with these Google products is the lack of centralized application process. When you apply to any one product, the forms are similar enough as far as status clearance is concerned. The prerequisites are the same which all focus around having an entry in GuideStar to validate status. However, each product goes though each step from square one, regardless if you have already established a relationship with another product.

I would like to see Google have a one-stop shop for this middle ground. As a non-profit, I want to establish and register with Google once. Where I as the non-profit admin go to one place and have Google recognize the entity of Ümloud! as a non-profit. Then when I go to other status clearance products, the process is simply setting up the tool, rather than a human being checking if I’m a non-profit again.

Besides the reduction of time for staff to go though applications for every product, it should be easier for current and future Google products to latch onto the status clearance. Then a non-profit set of features wouldn’t need to reinvent the approval process for that product.

I could see an expansion of this with the Grants program. The first step being on the non-profit clearance list, then an organization can apply to Grants. At least then the applications to Google won’t require basic validation and spend more time on the premium standards Google has for Grants recipients.

If this can happen, then non-profits can spend more time doing their work, rather than waiting on procedure. Not to mention Google having a better handle on the organizations who use their services.

If by the off chance someone from Google reads this, I would love to talk and consult with you and your staff about this. I’m in the Bay Area and wouldn’t mind stopping by for a chat!