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Indie Game Contests - To Enter Or Not To Enter

Comparing contest submission rules of IGF and Activision's Indie Games Compeitition, identifying the potential pitfalls, and deciding which best to enter.

It is of course contest season! Or contest submissions season to be more exact. We already submitted to a smaller one, and submission for the Independent Games Festival still needs some work.

Submitting for IGF is of course worth it, not only because it is one of the biggest opportunities for an indie dev team to stand out and be recognized, but it is also the fairest, with little to no strings attached. It is not beholden to a big publisher, and it is an opportunity for indie devs to shine. 

Another contest that we are thinking about is the 2nd Activision Indie Competition. The cash prices are outrageous. Basically the winner gets $175K, and the runner up gets $75K. And it is judged by IndieCade judges. So far so good! But then as we read the contest rules in more detail, we were more confused and concerned. 

The submission asks for “expected schedule, budget, team make up for development of the game, and execution plan.” While this is fine and reasonable in a way, to ask a contest submission for this much information is a bit out of the ordinary. Especially in terms of execution plan.

Not exactly sure what to say there, that we will work day and night to make the game? I guess the point is to see if the team knows what it is doing or not, and if it has any organization at all. 

“The submission must not feature brand names or trademarks.” This is really unclear. I’ve asked ePrize, the entity running the contest, but haven’t gotten any response yet. The confusion is that, I don’t know what feature refers to. Is it referring to someone else’s brand name or trademark? If so, this makes total sense.

But is it referring to our own brand name or trademark? If so, then this is more than a bit weird. Does this mean that we cannot have a name or logo for the game? If we happen to like our game, and want to get it trademarked, are we disqualified? And what is the point of not allowing a developer to brand his or her own game? Doesn’t seem to make sense. Hope I can get some clarifications about this soon. 

“The Submission cannot have been submitted previously in a promotion of any kind or exhibited or displayed publicly through any means.” We’re not quite sure what “publicly” means. Does it prohibit us from entering into other contests? Does it mean that we can’t have game progress or game content be shown on our own blog or by any game media? If so, this seems really harsh. Indie devs deserve every opportunity to shout at the mountain top, since no one else would do the shouting for us. 

According to the submissions rules, in order to become a finalist, an dev must sign documents giving “Activision the right of first refusal to be the publisher.” But also according to the rules, there can be 5-10 finalists, which means that some finalists may not receive any money at all from the contest. And the submission has to sign to “acknowledge of Sponsor’s development of game concepts that may be similar to entrant’s Submission.”

In this case, there is a concerning worst case scenario, a dev places as a finalist, gets no money from the contest, has to have Activision as the publisher, and Activision doesn’t do enough to market the game. While this of course protects Activision, and I’m sure Activision has the best of intentions, signing this doesn’t make me feel totally comfortable. Granted, we are talking about Activision here.

It would probably be an awesome opportunity to work with Activision. But strictly speaking in terms of the rules of the contest, this does seem a bit forceful. Activision is paying a lot of money, but this entire contest reads more like a vehicle for Activision to scout for games to publish. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, the lesson here is just to understand what a contest is exactly about, why we are entering it, and making sure that everything is clear. 

For the time being, we will probably elect to pass on it and focus Guns Online for IGF next year.

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