IGF 2015 submissions are due to close in October and I thought I'd blog about my experience last year to A) help me decide whether I should submit again and B) because I wish I'd had a hell of a lot more information about what your $95 actually buys.
tl;dr - don't enter if no one's heard of you & your money buys you nothing (I'll explain this less hyperbolically in the post!).
So the IGF competition basically consists of 3 phases. Submission, Waiting/Customer Support and the Finalists/IGF Awards. I can't tell anyone anything about the Finalist stage except the ambivalent knowing you wont get nominated but hoping you do is pretty hard going especially when it's followed by the crash back down to earth when the nominations are announced. The other 2 though I have experience with.
I remember working my ass off preparing a build and marketing material for the IGF last time around and I wasn't sure right up until that night If I was going to submit or if it was too early. I did submit & it was too early but getting that stuff together was extremely important for me for 2 reasons. 1)It was the first proper marketing I'd done for Alaska and I learned so much from it and 2)I got more coverage than everything that had come before, albeit not very much, but coverage is everything in this industry. It was a fantastic experience and going through and categorising the competition and realising that you are hopelessly out classed was fun too. I blogged about my predictions here which turned out to be way off but also helped me realise months before the nominations were announced that I had no hope of being one of them.
What I mean by that is that once you submit, you will likely never hear from anyone related to the competition ever again and if you do it'll be to tell you something is wrong or broken. I don't think anyone will mind if I share the fact that I got 2 comments about my game, both some of my most precious and insightful feedback I've had and those 2 comments alone made the whole thing worth it. I was quite disappointed however to learn from analytics in the game that only 4 instances of the game were ran over the 5 month period I was in the competition for.
I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME THIS BEFORE.
Judges are under no duress to play your game, they are unpaid volunteers. While I've learned since that 2 people are assigned your game to play as an obligation and in my experience it was honoured, you can't expect it. They might just not bother, or boot it up for 30 seconds and move onto something more interesting to them. I'd also like to point out that none of this information is readily available from the IGF itself and I feel like if I'd known what to expect beforehand I'd be able to check my expectations, hence this post.
So the period from October to March basically consist of frantically working on the game and uploading builds in the hope that people notice you're in active development and check out the game. You get no feedback from the IGF whatsoever about whether or not people are playing or talking about your game & you can only communicate with judges through the build or if they ask a question about it on your page, these questions and the answers are publicly viewable to all judges. Behind the scenes judges can talk privately about your game amongst each other or in a chat room thing. Which is a good thing. Although, as someone who views negative feedback as the most valuable kind, I'd love to see what people have been saying but I understand why this isn't the case.
This is where the IGF starts to perform badly imo, I'm well aware it's a VERY hard problem to solve and I think it does an acceptable job, but basically as the nominations approach subject specialists are selected, pertaining to the categories and their word re the nomination is gospel. All the other judges just serve to highlight interesting games to this small pool. Bear in mind it's very likely these specialists haven't played your game. This is largely down to how the categories work, there are categories for lots of things like audio, writing(sic) and visual art. I don't think this is helpful and I think getting rid of the technical excellence category was a half step that made things worse.
Suggestions for devs
Here are my tips for submitting if you are considering it.
- Don't submit if a lot of the judges likely have never heard of you - There's just so many games to compete with the judges will be forced to filter your game based on a single screenshot (Remember, they are volunteers!)
- Don't Don't Don't submit you game if you haven't put it in front of people before - This should've been obvious to me and it really wasn't but much of my focus on builds while the competition was running was fixing the tutorial so that someone could play the game without me hovering over their shoulder. This was after I'd already blown my 2 chances to grab someone! Don't do this, seriously.
- Don't expect anything - If you go in with low expectations you wont be disappointed when you get literally nothing back. Seriously there's going to be 600 other games, many of which are well known, great games the judges are already excited about. Last year games like Quadrilateral Cowboy didn't get a look in, can you honestly say your game is better, better known and as immediately impressive as that!
- If you are going to submit work extra hard on the trailer and image, make sure it grabs people and something you're happy with representing your game for the next 5 months. My IGF trailer was terrible, I hate it and it looks nothing like how my game plays or what my game looks like. It was a rush job and I quickly replaced it with a slightly better one but it still has more than half my youtube views and generated traffic long after I swapped it out because sites embedded the initial version.
- PUT ANALYTICS IN YOUR GAME - This will alleviate a lot of the frustration as you will be able to see how many and how long for judges play and where they fall down, feedback from judges (who are basically some of the best designers and critics in the business) is far too valuable a resource to squander.
Suggestions for the IGF
Firstly I'd like to say I'm well aware the IGF is cash strapped ($95 for 600 games isn't actually very much money and the prize pool is $50,000 or something). And I'm very grateful to all involved both as a developer and a gamer. But if we don't help to improve things, they wont get better so here are my suggestions for how the competition could change to be fairer in my opinion.
- Foreknowledge - A lot of this post is guestimates and reconstructed from talking to judges about how it works. If developers know what they were getting into before hand I think their experience of it would improve significantly (think an accurate official version of this post, detailing, exactly how it works).
- Feedback Feedback Feedback - while the competition is running it'd be nice to see if you are generating any buzz and how many people downloaded your build, basically as much information as you can without compromising the integrity of the competition, I understand this is a bigger ask than it might seem though.
- Mandate or make an optional link for some sort of publicly available demo for the public to get in on the action - not the full thing or anything obviously but I'd've loved to have got to taste some of the games at last years IGF, lots of them I still wonder about & it'd be nice to get more of a feel for them than 1 image & trailer.
- No categories, no judging tiers - This is the biggy so I'm going to take a couple of paragraphs if that's ok with you?
It's both doable and obvious. These 2 work together to fuel the same game getting nominated for almost all the categories on account of the fact they're the games the judges like. As a developer and a gamer I don't like to see the same game in every category. Especially if it's a game everyone has already heard about or played. I feel this phenomonon is getting worse as the submissions increase and judges are forced to filter out most of the games very early.
My theory is that if all the judges voted and the votes were weighted, so judges like @weetim who played almost every game had more say, it'd incentive playing more games for judges and It'd generate a full pool of lesser known games rather than the same famous games over and over. The categories are pretty meaningless anyway. Games like The Yawg or Dominique Pamplemousse weren't nominated for the audio category because they had great audio. They were nominated because the judges loved the games (As they should be!). It'd also help developers better understand if they were in with a shot. There was a theoretical 38 slots for games last year and they were filled with 23 games, that's pretty decent but I think it could be improved.
I don't want this post to come across as whiny or anything, I'm genuinely writing this out of love for the competition and the indie games it supports. I just wanted to make some suggestions and maybe help out devs considering entering be prepared for what it is. I had no idea whatsoever what to expect when I entered. If I read something like this I expect I would still have entered and I think I'd have had a better time because I wouldn't have had the expectation that a percentage of the 300 judges would play my game. Like I said before this information is largely reconstructed from talking to judges and trying to peer through the opaque framework of the competition. Some of it might very well be wrong and I encourage anyone who knows otherwise to correct any mistakes! Also I forgot to link to one of the most important things I gleemed from researching how it works so I'll bang it in here: http://www.matthewwegner.com/igs-2013-soapbox-talk/
At the very bottom of that page are a bunch of stats about last years judges, I'll relink them here incase they disappear or something. If anyone objects or anything I'll take them down of course.