On the IF Cover Art Drive, for Future Reference

…and we’re done! I’ll be contacting authors by email over the next week or so (I have a bunch of addresses I need to look up first), and obtain permission for as many of the submissions as possible. If you’re an author who has yet to respond to a piece, feel free to drop me a line ahead of then, though.

I am thrilled with both the quantity and quality of the submissions, and I want to thank everyone who pitched in: between you, you made sure that art was offered for every single game on our request list and that we ended up with well over 100 games accounted for. For context, when this started, there were at my estimate around 130 games on IFDB with cover art of any kind; scrounging around for commercial covers and posting art from people’s private websites, etc., boosted that to around 240; and now we’re at nearly 300, with a number of covers still to be added if the authors approve them. Admittedly, that still leaves a huge majority of IFDB un-covered — over 3000 games are listed — but I think there’s now enough there to make the site on the whole feel a bit less spartan.

I don’t know that I’ll do this again — it was loads of fun, but I don’t want to promise to make it a yearly event or something. So I wanted to write a few notes in case anyone else wants to do another one later. (There are a bunch of bits where I say “…and this would save the organizer time” — this isn’t meant as a complaint, but I suspect it would be worth streamlining the process if it were going to be a repeat event.)

Details follow the cut.

Setup. My biggest mistake with this process was simply underestimating the scale of the project. I had expected to get significantly less participation. Now, it’s possible that subsequent drives would get less participation simply because a number of the most eager authors have already received covers — but on the other hand, new games are frequently being released, and there are, as mentioned, still thousands of art-free games on IFDB. So maybe not.

If I’d realized the scale of this, I would have organized it a little more formally. I wound up having to do a lot of hand-editing of lists, and that could be made more efficient: that might be as simple as setting up a wiki page so that authors could add their names and games to the request list themselves.

Which introduces the second point. Some authors had specific ideas about what sort of art they wanted, and said so; some had specific ideas, and didn’t say so; some had specific ideas, and felt that therefore they shouldn’t participate. I think this whole arrangement would work better if there were a way for authors to offer some preliminary comments, as a brief to the artist: “Here’s the style/scene/image I’m most eager to see represented.” Or: “These games are a series, so I would prefer a consistent set of art for all of them.” If the author really had no preferences, this could be left blank.

I have the impression that some authors think they shouldn’t be dictating terms when artists are donating time and effort already — but I suspect most artists would prefer to have some idea whether they’re on the right track. And, of course, if the brief is too difficult, artists are free simply not to attempt it. In general, though, I think the advantages here would be greater than the disadvantages, both in preventing wasted time and in getting authors results that they were really happy with.

Some kind of wiki/upload system might also be a good idea for art submissions, as well. It might spare the organizer having to maintain the list of which covers are included. Such a process would also be useful because

  • It would give the artist/uploader a chance to fill out any licensing details (such as whether the image is based on CC-BY art and needs to be accompanied by attribution). Many artists did give me this information, but I didn’t have a uniform way of handling it. I tried to remember to put any critical licensing data into the image’s information, but in at least one case I forgot at initial upload and this had to be added later by the artist. (Sorry, Eric.)
  • It might be good to offer the artist the chance to append some comments. A number of people wound up having some kind of note they wanted to attach — explanations of what they were doing with the image, offers to change specific features if the author preferred, etc.
  • It would allow the artist to supply contact information for the game author, if he happened to know; this might save the organizer some time at the end of the drive.

On the other hand, one thing I did like about the Flickr-based approach is that it allowed us to offer an RSS feed, for people who wanted to follow the art drive in their blogging software. So I don’t know. Stuff to think about.

Publicity. I didn’t handle this as well as I could have done. Several people raised objections — in one case rather angrily — because they thought I was planning to add art to IFDB/etc. without authorial permission. This was never the idea, but I can see why it raised hackles. Probably the rules should foreground this point very clearly.

It might also be worth reaching out to some related communities where IF is played, beyond rec.arts-int-fiction. TIGSource kindly posted a link to the drive, and that brought in new artists — but that occurred quite late in the process, and it might have been better if I’d thought to reach out to them earlier.

Technical Guidance. Another thing I didn’t do a great job of, and this was mostly through ignorance, was providing authors with information about how to incorporate the submitted art into their own work. I did throw in there a little bit of advice on how to use Inform 7 to blorb files with new metadata, but that’s because that’s what I happened to know how to do. There are a bunch of other options, including separate blorb software, which I might have explained. Future drives might offer a section on how to apply cover art to a game in the major systems that support it. Eric Eve has mentioned that he has ideas about how the process could be better documented for TADS 3, as well, so possibly there will be some formal instructions to point at by the time any future drive rolled around.

Author/Artist Communication. This is complicated and I’m not quite sure how best to address the issues that arose. One is that a few artists wanted to be — and remain — anonymous, for various reasons. A wiki-posting situation might actually complicate that, though I suppose artists could give themselves pseudonyms. As organizer, I pretty much had the task of making sure that I knew who the submitters were and that I was confident that I could trust them about copyright issues, and pass on any licensing information that needed to be passed on. Again, this wasn’t really a problem, but I can imagine it becoming one in the future.

And, of course, the first thing authors always asked about anonymous art was “Can I find out who did this?”

Conversely, sometimes authors wanted to request a small (or medium) change to submitted work, and felt variously comfortable about doing that. I can’t read everyone’s mind here, but I strongly suspect that the artists in question minded less than certain authors feared they might. (Speaking purely for myself, if I spent two or three hours working on a design and another 15 minutes of tweaking would take it from “like” to “love!” for the author, I’d be more than happy to put in that effort.)

Besides, my own experience of working with illustrators (volunteer or hired) is that it’s natural for there to be a bit of back and forth about a work of art, and that professionals have learned not to take this personally. We’re not professionals here (or at least, some of us aren’t), but I suspect it would be good for the art drive to foster the understanding that friendly feedback and requests for minor alteration are fine and normal. (And also, of course, that the artist is free to decline to offer an alternate version. But the author should feel free to ask.)

Anyway, there it is, for future reference.

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