The friendly guys from IndieSpeedRun clarify a few of the criticisms, down in the comments. I've taken the liberty of adding them to the article. Go check them out!
The IndieSpeedRun is a gamejam that is already going on, up until January 6th. Unlike previous gamejams and competitions, this one changes a few things.
You have to pay to take part
The winners gets a cash-prize
It is voted on by Jury, instead of community
I am eager to see how this new approach will fare, and contemplated joining up. Then I studied the rules, and I have to say: No thanks.
This is a necessity of the format, I admit. You can't give out cash-prizes without the cash, and a small entry-fee that would help cover this would be incredibly useful.
After the discussions about the 100$ Greelight-Fee, and the continued irritations about the 90$ to have your game entered into the IGF, 25$ seems kind-of acceptable.
Clarity of Prizes
What does "Take away 2500$ in cash" mean? Does the first place get 2500$? Do the next-ranked games get something? Is the 2500$ split up between a certain number of highest-ranked games? These are valid questions, yet they are nowhere adressed.
Now, several days into the event it is not clear who will get what in the end. I'd like the rules for such an investment to be a bit clearer about these things. In the state they are now, this is not reassuring.
Then it was announced that more prizes will be announced in the near future, yet this is all the message says. Which in practice means more confusion for the participants and the curious observer.
The rules specify a team-size of "1-4" people. And here I am out. As previous jams and competitions have shown (Ludum Dare, Global Game Jam, Unity's Flash In a Flash), a team with a large amount of resources will invariably win. Maybe a few teams of 2-3 people will score well, maybe even a single-person game. But going up against 4 times the amount of work-time they can muster up, the larger, experienced teams with several games under their belt will probably make it.
And that kind-of undermines the idea of the "Indie". There is only little competition between these different levels of resources available. It's as if you were to race a F1-car with your bicycle.
IndieSpeedRun tries something new. Unlike other jams, which are strictly set to run over a certain time, this jam gives every team its own unique time-slot.
Until January 6th there is time to "start" the project. Once you have hit the "Go"-button, you get assigned a theme and have 48 hours time to come up with a game and complete it.
This has upsides, of course. You aren't hampered by ime-period starting at night due to being planned in another timezone. You can chose your own 2 days to use, which allows you a certain flexibility.
Yet the downsides remain. If you complete you game early, other teams can see it and will have an easier time besting it.
More importantly however, is that the "spirit" (for a lack of a better word) is gone. Take the classic Ludum Dare, for example, where ~1500 people work in parallel over 48 hours. At the Global Game Jam it is more than 10000, on hundreds of locations. This feeling is vitally important, and might easily be understated.
The combined excitement, news, reports, and shared deadline are a motivator not to be underestimated. It is what makes us stay awake until the last minute in the middle of the night. It is what keeps us motivated to keep going. It is what makes the event special.
With IndieSpeedRun, the “spirit” might as well not even manifest.
Most previous jams have a set "theme", to which your game should adhere. It can be chosen by a single person, by a committee, or voted by the participants/everyone. The important thing is, once the jam begins, everybody has the Same Theme.
Adherence to the theme is not strictly necessary, but your game will invariably be scored lower if it barely contains or flat-out ignores it. The theme is important to a) make sure everybody starts on the same footing, and b) all games have an independent basis for comparison. That way it is even possible to have an objective comparison between a text-adventure and a 3d-shooter.
IndieSpeedRun will assign a random theme to each team. I highly question this.
While the "random theme jam" has been done before, it works better in jams and events on location without detailed rankings, where you have a bunch of people. In this case the jam becomes about hanging out with people as much as the actual creation of the games, if not more so, alleviating the need for a strict scoring-basis.
Yet a unique (random) theme for each theme brings conflict. As I have learned in a multitude of gamejams, a "bad" theme can break a game, a team even. Some themes are "easy". They allow many approaches, and can be easily slotted into existing concepts. Other themes sound good on paper ("Evolution", for example, which was a disaster of a theme during the last Ludum Dare), but are extremely difficult in execution.
The theme for the last Global Game Jam was "Ouroboros", a theme so convoluted, of the ~25 games of my location (GGJ Bremen) only one team actually made a game centered around it (my team).
Comparison goes out the window as games will probably vary wildly in scope and quality. The missing central theme will eradicate the single baseline to compare games against.
Gamejams have many motivations, the main ones being “having fun”. People experiment, do things that couldn't be done commercially, create wondrous and unique pieces of entertainment.
Not now. The unique aspect of this jam is “win cash”, and suddenly all experimentation goes out the window. Entering the jam requires more investment than others. You need to pay to enter, to show your motivation. You need people to be able to compete.
A game has a much higher chance of scoring well by adhering to an established genre and format (see the results of Ludum Dare). Artful experimentation appears contra-productive to this.
People will start planning the game before the actual 48h-period starts, and then may try to shoe-horn the theme into it. Actual, well-thought-out planning takes a lot of effort and time, which in the jam-period is thought to be better assigned to the “building” of things. It only appears prudent.
Will I compete?
Probably not. Although a chance remains.
The 25$-entry-fee is discouraging, yet acceptably low. Should I enter I feel I would have to use the possibility and compete with high-quality 4-person-teams. In order to have any chance in this I would have to highly compress my game, not allowing any deviation of “the plan”. I feel my creativity would be crippled, and the fun possibly sucked out.
Or I am wrong about this. Maybe IndieSpeedRun won't be bad at all. Maybe it will become a yearly fixture, growing in size every iteration. Maybe we can combine it with other jams (entering the highly-regulated Ludum-Dare-games is a popular idea). Who knows, maybe it's perfect for you.
Probably some interesting games will come out of it. Maybe a few of those will continue to become commercially succesful. That would be awesome.
Maybe calling IndieSpeedRun a "jam" is a misnomer. The organizers themselves state it is only "sort of" a jam, so we might end up arguing semantics.
Perhaps this might help establish a new class of "higher profile"-jams, which we have already seen in the succesful attempts of 7DFPS and FuckThisJam. This I will grant it, as there are few of those, and more might be useful.