IF Discussion Club this month is looking at the incentive systems and formal infrastructure in the IF community: competitions, anthologies, and shows. But as there’s a lot of material out there, I wanted to preface that discussion by providing a little bit of an overview to some of the things I’m aware of. (Edited to add: the transcript of that discussion is now available.)
Consequently, I contacted a number of people who have put together one of these events, and asked them to give me an overview of their thinking: what were they trying to do? Why? How did their goals change, and how well did it all work? I got a lot of response: many thanks to all those who took the time to write detailed responses.
I did not try to capture and describe things that were primarily about presenting a single IF work to the public (e.g., read-alouds of Lost Pig) or talks or demos of IF creation system (such as talks about how to use Inform 7 or intro-to-Twine workshops). I also didn’t attempt to cover sites that do/did on-going curation, such as IFDB, Baf’s Guide, freeindiegam.es, or Forest Ambassador, whether or not those were IF-exclusive.
Even without those restrictions, I’m sure there are a number of things that I left out. There are many general-purpose game jams that sometimes turn out to include IF entrants, which would be impossible to track down thoroughly. I didn’t try to cover all of the themed minicomps of the past decade and a half, because there have been so many. ifwiki lists 44 standalones of varying degrees of seriousness and specificity — including ToasterComp (12 entries) and BreadComp (0 entries). There are also people I wanted to contact but couldn’t reach, and there are also doubtless events I’m not aware of.
If you know of projects that are not discussed here but you have some insight into how they’re run, please feel free to add information in the comments.
This gets long! So there’s a table of contents.
- IF Comp: annual competition for games playable for 2 hours or less (1995-)
- First Ever (And Maybe The Only) Interactive Fiction Mini-Competition: a comp for games submitted with source code (1998)
- Adventure Blaster: a Win95 executable providing a nice front end to 10 IF games (1998)
- Speed-IF: sporadic very short IF game jams, typically running 2 hours (1998-)
- The Textfire Twelve-Pack: an April Fools’ joke anthology (1998)
- IF Art Show: juried competition for puzzleless, experiential IF (1999-2007)
- SmoochieComp: reviewed minicomp/anthology of romance IF (2001)
- LOTECHComp: a comp for CYOA-style rather than parser-based works (2001, 2002, 2005, 2006)
- Introcomp: annual comp for introductory, unfinished pieces (2002-)
- Spring Thing: annual comp for long-form IF (2002-)
- FrenchComp: annual French language IF competition (2005-)
- Mystery House Taken Over: a kit allowing present and future participants to remix the classic Sierra game Mystery House (2005)
- NaNoRenO: NaNoWriMo-style month-long jam for visual novels (2005-)
- Electronic Literature Collection: an anthology project of the Electronic Literature Organization (2006, 2011)
- Commonplace Book Project: a museum show of HP Lovecraft-related games (2007)
- Cover Art Drive: a drive to create cover art for existing games, which authors could then accept or reject (2008)
- Windhammer Prize: annual competition for short gamebooks (2008-)
- New Year Speed-IF: annual jam for games written around new year (2008-)
- Cute, Light, and Fluffy Project: an anthology for Ren’Py visual novels (2009)
- Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7: an IF-specific competition run by casual games site Jay Is Games (2010)
- TWIFcomp: a comp for games whose source, not counting white space, ran to 140 char (2010)
- Indigo New Language Speed-IF: a game jam for people writing with tools they hadn’t used before (2011)
- IF Demo Fair: one-off show for demonstration pieces (2011)
- Adversity Comp: minicomp for visual novels, working with provided assets (2012)
- Cover Stories: a minicomp in which people wrote games to match cover art that had been submitted (2012)
- Apollo 18+20: a tribute anthology to the TMBG album Apollo 18, with one game per song track (2012)
- Andromeda Legacy Competition: competition for works set in the shared Andromeda universe (2012, 2013)
- World of the Season: a competition for StoryNexus worlds, judged by a Failbetter-appointed panel (2012, 2013)
- Future Voices: an anthology of work written in inklewriter and published as an inkle app (2012)
- WordPlay: ongoing Toronto-based festival including a showcase of text games (2013-)
- inky path: a literary magazine for interactive fiction (2013-2014)
- ShuffleComp: music-focused minicomp (2014)
- Storybundle’s Video Game Bundle 3.0: a bundle of work about games, including some IF (2014)
- Seltani Age Jam: a jam for new ages for the multiplayer hypertext space Seltani (2014)
- Lights Out, Please: a Twine anthology of horror by marginalized authors (2014)
- Fear of Twine: on-line show for selected Twine works (2014)
- Interactive Fiction Fund: edited IF series (2015-)
- Videogames For Humans: a book-format collection of Twine walkthroughs with commentary by assorted critics (2015)
- ParserComp: competition focused on parser games specifically (2015)
- Conclusions: recurring themes and concepts from all this input
What it is: the longest-running competition in the parser IF community, the annual IF competition just celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014. It was begun by G. Kevin Wilson and continued by David Dyte; then Stephen Granade took over and was its dominant force for most of the years it ran. The comp has just newly passed into the hands of Jason McIntosh, who gave the website and the rules a bit of an overhaul and a new look for 2014.
Organizer/spokesperson: Stephen Granade, Jason McIntosh.
When I started out, I was mainly a reactive organizer. When I took over, the comp had been running for four years — an eternity! I wanted to keep it going like it had when Kevin Wilson and David Dyte had organized the competition.
Slowly my focus shifted from maintaining the competition to making it a tool for outreach. I began sending press releases to general videogame news sites like Blue’s News. I tried to make it as easy to get and play the games as possible. I began putting together OS-specific installer packages for people who wanted to try the games but didn’t already have interpreters installed, so they could run interactive fiction as easily as they could any other game they installed. As web play became a possibility, we began offering online play directly on the competition website.
(A lot of this was thanks to the hard work of Dan Shiovitz and Mark Musante, I should add. For instance, web play was something Dan made possible.)
I also tried to make the competition open and inclusive. I always saw the competition as a chance for authors to play with the with the form, and push hard on the boundaries of what we consider interactive fiction. If I took a heavy hand in deciding what was or wasn’t IF, I ran the risk of squashing some interesting experiments. Instead I tried to let the community experience the entries and decide collectively if it was or wasn’t interactive fiction. I think the discussions about the entries, especially the more unusual ones, were some of the big successes of the competition.
My biggest challenge was balancing the original competitive and in-group nature of IFComp with my growing desire for it to be a chance to get interactive fiction in the hands of people who weren’t part of the core community. The IFComp got more attention than most any other thing our community did, and I wanted to take advantage of that. There were two big problems with how IFComp was structured, though.
The first was the “no discussion” rule. Originally people playing the games didn’t talk about the games until after the judging period was over. That meant that the only times anyone outside our community (or in!) heard about the comp was at the beginning, and then right at the end, when judges and players released a huge flood of reviews. Those reviews were fun to read, but it stifled discussion because there were so many reviews happening all at once. And as social media became more prevalent, I wanted to take advantage of it as a way of boosting IFComp’s visibility. So I changed the rules to allow judges to post reviews and discuss the games during the six-week judging period.
The second was the “no updates” rule. From the beginning, authors entered their games, and everyone judged the games as they were originally entered. Authors couldn’t update their games to fix bugs, improve gameplay, or address players’ comments. This had two bad knock-on effects. The first was that people outside the community who only knew about the IFComp, and were unlikely to judge the games, would play games that weren’t as good as they could be. The second is that authors had no real incentive to improve their games, as they couldn’t release an updated game until after the comp, when they were often tired of the entire competition. So I let authors update their games during the competition, but left the original version available for judges who only wanted to judge authors’ first effort.
I didn’t make either change lightly. It took a lot of thought and discussion with others before I fiddled with those two rules. Letting judges discuss entries and authors update games were my most controversial decisions about the competition, moreso than any game I disqualified or votes I had to throw out. The changes lessened the pure competition aspect of IFComp, and were huge breaks from the competition’s tradition. But I’m pleased with the result: the community around IFComp is stronger for having discussions and reviews happening in real time, and letting authors update games has resulted in final versions of games that are much stronger than they otherwise would have been.
I’m also pleased that, during my tenure, the nature of entries changed and expanded. I was excited to see the growth in non-parser entries because it meant that we were reaching authors who in past years wouldn’t have been in the community. I’m also glad that Jason McIntosh, who took over the comp for me, tackled the last big item on my wishlist that I never took care of: allowing transformative works in the competition. Remixes, mashups, and fanfic are vital creative movements on the internet, and I’m glad that IFComp can encompass those movements as well.
Jason McIntosh wrote up a response so massive that he gave it its own blog post on his blog, but here are a few excerpts:
I immediately knew that I wanted to update both the appearance and the basic attitude of the ifcomp.org website. By the end of 2013, the site, originally programmed by Stephen Granade and maintained by Dan Shiovitz, both benefitted from and suffered under 15 years of gradual code-accretion, in the manner of countless other long-lived software projects. The software’s roots reaching back nearly all the way to the IFComp’s origins in the 1990s meant that it made many functional assumptions about interactive fiction, its authors, and its players that that no longer proved universally applicable by the mid-2010s.
His goals included
- Let the website exist as a permanent and year-round museum about the IFComp and a gallery of all its past entries
- Link to — and, when necessary, create — modern interactive fiction resources, and keep these links and resources up to date
- Weaken the no-copyrighted-anything rule
- Provide explicit guidelines to authors and judges
- Apply a modern design sitewide that looks equally great on both huge desktop monitors and tiny phone screens
- Make it easier than ever for judges to play and rate the games
- Design robust, modular, tested software that I won’t mind revisiting and revising year after year
…but there’s a great deal more to read (about these and other points) over at his site.
First Ever (And Maybe The Only) Interactive Fiction Mini-Competition
What it is: a first mini-comp in which authors were asked to submit games along with their source code, focusing on a particular premise provided by the organizer. The games and source overview page is still on internet archive. Contrary to the comp’s title, the minicomp soon became a popular format for IF events, and it was followed in fairly short order by ChickenComp (June 1998; 19 entries), and then DragonComp (2000; 7 entries), DinoComp (2000, 14 entries), Manos Comp (2000; 1 entry), and ToasterComp (August-September 2000; 12 entries). However, these themed minicomps usually went for a relatively simple theme, whereas the First Ever posed a pretty demanding premise:
Your rich relative has recently died, leaving behind a wacky will. He has left the entirety of the estate to the relative who wins a scavenger hunt. The game should begin as the will is read and the lists of objects and their values are handed out.
The player should be able to attempt various different paths:
Egotistical (The player tries to win the hunt for themselves.)
Cooperative (The player finds another relative (or group of relatives) and makes a deal with them to try to win together.)
Altruistic (The player attains objects and gives them to some other relative so they can win instead.)
Subversive (The player tries to thwart others attempts to obtain objects.)
How far the player can get along any of the above paths and how easy it is to switch from path to path is up to the author. (There may only be one path available, but the player should at least be able to try the others.) Ideally, the NPCs would be able to choose any of the above paths as well, but you only get a month to do this, so maybe not. Also note that genre and setting are not set here–feel free to place your game whenever and wherever you like.
Extra Credit: For a bonus point or two, include something from the now sadly-defunct Silly Game. There are potential locations, objects, and characters you can use here, also obtainable from ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/mini-comp/sillygame.zip, which contains three html files with the three lists). Be sure to give credit where credit is due.
Organizer/spokesperson: Lucian Smith
I had completely forgotten that the genesis for the idea was a class!
What became pretty obvious pretty early on was that my premise was entirely too complicated. I was trying to push things forward in terms of craft, and I pushed a little too hard. So, I adjusted and announced the ‘micro-comp’, whose rules were, in their entirety: “Mini-comp premise too complex for you? Write up just a scene or two from a (hypothetical) game based on that premise. No scene is too small!” Most entries hovered somewhere between those two poles.
Even before the mini-comp was done, Adam Cadre announced a simpler competition: the ‘Chicken Comp’, where the entire premise was ‘a chicken crossing a road’. That turned out to be much more popular, and I even submitted my own game, partly to make sure that everyone knew that we were all experimenting, and there were no hard feelings or anything like that. From there, we eventually evolved to Speed IF’s (again deriving from conversations on ifMUD), which I again participated in a time or two, and which were a lot of fun.
What it is: a pleasant front end, designed for Win95, for playing 10 selected IF games. It was intended to be a friendly introduction to the medium for new players who might not know where to get files and interpreters.
Organizer/spokesperson: Eric O’Dell
I have no current contact information for Eric, but his original announcement post explains a fair amount:
For those who have not seen it yet, Adventure Blaster (AB) is a user-friendly Win95 front-end to WinFrotz/WinTADS and ten well-reviewed games, including:
Theatre, by Brendon Wyber
Wearing the Claw, by Paul O’Brian
The Lesson of the Tortoise, by G. Kevin Wilson
The Underoos that Ate New York, by G. Kevin Wilson
Babel, by Ian Finley
The Edifice, by Lucian P. Smith
Kissing the Buddha’s Feet, by Leon Lin
Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin
So Far, by Andrew Plotkin
Losing Your Grip, by Stephen Granade
AB comes with a self-extracting automated installer, a nifty front end, the WinFrotz and WinTADS compilers, the aforementioned ten games, and an extensive help system which includes descriptions and reviews of all the games, hints, walkthroughs, and solutions where available, an introductory tutorial by Mike Roberts, and several FAQs and additional help for users who want to find out how to play the rest of the games at GMD and elsewhere.
The current version of AB is specifically aimed at novices who have never played IF, or who haven’t played any IF since the old days. This is, IMHO, a great tool for introducing your IF-impaired friends to the medium. Feel free to distribute it wherever you like.
There were some subsequent discussions about building an Adventure Blaster 2.0, but they didn’t come to anything. In 2004, Dave Cornelson put together a compilation CD that was intended to have a similar use, this time containing a much larger selection of games; as it became more plausible to do on-line play, easy entrypoints increasingly moved to the web. The People’s Republic of IF, for instance, maintains a page of handpicked suggested IF, and in some sense the whole of IFDB serves as a curation device (though on such an epic scale as to be outside the reach of this article).
What it is: sporadic very short IF game jams. These are usually announced on ifMUD and propose a whimsical theme; authors then have two hours to compose their games (though it’s common for people to run a bit overtime). There is no official judging mechanism and Speed-IF games are not always systematically archived. ifwiki lists 78 Speed-IF events at the time of writing; Speed-IF events were initially numbered, but as people lost track of the current number, they started to be named things like “Speed-IF y=1/x”.
Some Speed-IF concepts have even spun off into special events or recurring competitions of their own, with “Speed-IF” carrying a lot of the connotations of “game jam” in the wider indie environment. Eventually several spin-off concepts also came along with different game jam durations attached: 24 Hours of Inform (24 non-continuous hours allowed, run 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009) and IF Marathon (48 hours of creation allowed, 2002, 1 entry).
Organizer/spokesperson: Various, but originated with Dave Cornelson.
Speed-IF, man it’s been 16 years since we started those. But I remember. I had worked on Cattus Atrox for a month straight to get it into the 98 IF Comp. After doing all that coding I was sort of in “5th gear” and had trouble winding down. So that enthusiasm led to an ifMUD call to write some IF together. I thought of the MadLib process and I think it was supposed to be an hour at first, but then we went to two hours, even though it actually took longer. I think Chris Huang was the only one that finished the first one. The style obviously was something mudders were fond of and so it’s carried through to today. I think overall it’s an excellent way to get your IF “chops” back in order or to push yourself to learn new things. The results have varied wildly with some good content coming out of it, but I think the collaboration, camaraderie, and simple fun are the most important aspects. Speed-IF has really not changed since those first two or three efforts. We somehow naturally decided on two hours, mad lib style. I don’t think we had any other rules.
I doubt anyone remembers the IFLibrary Competition which went directly up against Adam Cadre’s Spring Thing way back in those days. I was frustrated with some of the IF Comp rules, specifically the quality of the lower tier games not being weeded out in some formal process, but mostly that I think judging should be open and we should be able to discuss games freely in all mediums. So I think I had one, maybe two IFLibrary competitions, but then I let it go. Spring Thing has survived.
I think the IF Comp has gotten better and has alleviated the quality concerns I used to have. I still don’t like the closed judging. I would like to see more collaboration between IF authors. So a competition that forced you to submit a game with two or more authors would be cool…or forcing each pair of authors to be one established, one newbie. Sort of like a Mentor’s Competition or something.
I’d also like to see more UI competition. Let’s push the boundaries of the user experience and make that a primary voting point in a competition.
The Textfire Twelve-Pack
What it is: an anthology of more than twelve joke “demos” purportedly representing the forthcoming lineup of a new company called Textfire. The demos were designed to hint at terrible gameplay experiences: for instance, in Pumping!, you take on the role of a heart.
The anthology may also have served as something of an inspiration for the IF Arcade collection put together the next year by Adam Cadre, which featured 17 IF adaptations of classic arcade games. Both of these collections were put together in private by a selected group of people and then sprung on the rest of the community, in contrast with, for instance, the Apollo 18+20 project (see below), which solicited open participation.
Organizer/spokesperson: Cody Sandifer
IF Art Show
What it is: a juried competition for experiential, often puzzleless IF pieces; it accepted entries in “Landscape”, “Portrait”, and “Still Life” categories. Pieces went through a judgment period and then were released alongside their reviews.
I have a strong personal affection for the IF Art Show, since my first real release was written for the Portrait category. I also really liked the juried aspect: people selected for the juries tended to go into more thoughtful depth than IF Comp reviewers always did.
Organizer/spokesperson: Marnie Parker
In the “concept” section of her website, Marnie writes:
The rules of the IF (Interactive Fiction) Art Show are specifically designed to try to exclude traditional “game elements” from entries/exhibits. They also try to lift any narrative frame (plot) as much as possible.
What is left? Art. Experience for experience’s sake. Interactivity for interactivity’s sake. Non-goal (basically) directed interactivity.
Games are very much about solving puzzles, racking up points and winning. Many also focus heavily on plot, relying on the F part of IF to be interesting.
So the rules restrict puzzles and plot, to try to remove the game point of IF.
What, then, is the point of IF Art? The question might as well be… What is the point of any art? Or… What is Art?
What it is: a competition for games in a CYOA rather than parser-based style, at a time when this was fairly uncommon in the IF community.
Organizer/spokesperson: Mark Silcox, Roberto Grassi
What it is: despite the “comp” name, this was really a reviewed anthology of short games about love and romance, run near Valentine’s Day.
Organizer/spokesperson: Emily Short
I ran this comp because I was trying to encourage IF in a genre that was pretty underpopulated at the time, and I basically wanted there to be more games in genres that I wanted to play, and to provide some alternatives to the very heavy emphasis on SF and epic fantasy. I was also interested in NPC interactions, especially when it came to romantic relationships, and wanted to see what might come out of this. I borrowed the IF Art Show method of having a panel of people who had agreed in advance to review all the games, hoping that guaranteed feedback would be an incentive for people to enter. At the time there was a lot of concern about games being released without feedback, and I’d had a good experience with the IF Art Show approach to reviews. In contrast with the IF Art Show, we weren’t picking winners, just writing up responses.
Because there were so few people who seemed interested in getting involved, we also were pretty gentle about conflict of interest issues — both J. Robinson Wheeler (on the reviewing panel) and I (actually organizing the comp) submitted games. But it wasn’t really a competition with prizes or even a designated winner, so this seemed like less of a concern at the time.
There was such a range of different entries that I’m not sure I could describe the result as a coherent anthology: Adam Cadre submitted (pseudonymously) a game that subverted the whole premise, while other contributions ranged from Matt Fendahleen’s conversation-heavy doomed romance August to Roger Ostrander’s light puzzle game Second Honeymoon about trying to finish a bunch of tasks for your spouse. I think if one actually wanted to produce a themed anthology that fit together well, it would take a bit more commitment and editorial shaping than this (compare Apollo 18+20, which was much tighter). But that kind of focus wasn’t really what I was going for at the time, and it was a fun project.
The title of the comp still makes me cringe a little, but oh well.
What it is: an annual competition for just the beginnings of games. Judges are asked to vote on one criterion only: how much they want to play the rest of the game in question. The top three winners are named in a ceremony on ifMUD, while the remaining entries are unrated. There are cash prizes, on condition that the author actually completes the game in question within one year of the competition. The majority of prizes have gone unclaimed, but a few works were indeed finished in the long run.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jacqueline Lott (the competition was started by Neil DeMause, but Jacqueline has run it every year except the first)
What it is: annual competition for long-form games, initiated by Adam Cadre in 2002 and run most years since (with a hiatus in 2010). It is currently run by Aaron Reed and has recently undergone a significant set of rule changes.
Organizer/spokesperson: Adam Cadre
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
At the time (i.e., the turn of the millennium), it seemed as though the IF calendar was completely dominated by the fall comp. If you put a game in the comp, you were assured that over a hundred people would play it, and it’d even show up in the compendia of reviews that quite a few people posted to Usenet immediately upon the end of the judging period. Whereas if you released a game at any other time of year, it might come and go with little trace. As a result:
- everyone aimed for the comp
- almost no games would be released for eleven months, and then in October, bam, fifty all at once
- since the comp had a two-hour time limit, longer games became rare
- because people didn’t want to wait an extra year if their game wasn’t ready for release by the comp deadline, they’d just submit buggy and/or half-baked games
So, since it seemed like players were attracted by the opportunity to play several games at once and weigh in on their comparative merits, I decided to try starting another comp, hoping for the following results:
- a new batch of games midway through the dry season
- more sizeable games, as judges were given much longer to play each entry
- fewer half-baked games, due to a nominal fee to encourage people to take entering the comp seriously, and a disqualification for games too buggy to play
How did your plans change over time? (For instance, did you wind up changing your goals, changing rules for participation, etc.?)
I think I upped the entry fee from $5 to $7 the second year so the prize distribution math would work out better. Other than that, I don’t recall.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
The entry fee turned out to be not nearly enough of an incentive to make people finish their games; the first year, 14 people submitted entry fees and only one person finished a game.
With respect to the current version of Spring Thing, Aaron writes:
— Make Spring Thing more differentiated from IFComp
— Make something more foundationally welcoming to broader/different groups of people. Moves such as eliminating the entry fee, the lower-pressure atmosphere from eliminating numerical rankings, relaxing constraints on commercial games or finished IntroComp entries, etc.
— Create an event for authors where all games and gamemakers are more equal, more akin to a gallery exhibition than a competition. This in part grew from tension in last year’s Thing between different maker communities who participated, much of which seemed to stem (in my interpretation) from fears that one side or the other was going to “get all the votes.” Eliminating rankings specifically is an attempt to sidestep divisiveness over what “counts” as IF or what kinds are better than others (which has uncomfortable echoes to me of divisiveness in the larger gaming community over what “counts” as a game, or what kinds of makers get to “count” as legitimate).
— At the same time, I still wanted to preserve incentives for entering (ribbons, prizes, exposure). This year’s trial will help tell if there’s enough incentive, or if there’s a drop-off in participation.
Plans Change Over Time:
— Will have a better answer to this after a year of the new Thing, but I definitely had to scale down some of my initial ambitious goals (such as letting authors and players have accounts where they could curate, say, lists of favorite games) due to amount of available time. Running the ’14 Thing was more work than I’d expected– even a small event takes a lot of effort.
— Having a set of rules that’s clear but not overwhelming. This year, as an experiment, I’ve replaced the more verbose original rules with a much shorter set of basic guidelines and etiquette requests, and declared myself a “benevolent dictator” capable of arbitrating any difficulties that arise. This approach would work less well in an event like IF Comp with both more of a reputation and more stakes on the line (i.e. cash prizes) or if I didn’t have a certain amount of pre-existing cred in the IF world, and it might not prove to be the best long-term solution. The hope is that this approach helps everyone concerned see the forest without getting hung up on the trees. (“What do you mean by this word in the rules”; “technically this person is violating rule 14,” etc.) But we’ll see.
— Infrastructure is a major challenge even for a small event like this one: web hosting and design, dealing with form submissions and voting scripts, hardening them against spammers, attackers, and abusers; managing entry information and wrangling game files, emails to participants, etc… not to mention promotion/outreach. These can all be stumbling blocks for someone wanting to put on a community event. (Not everyone has time; not everyone can design a website or afford hosting, and so on.) Having a “forum-based” event helps b/c you get the forum tools for free (posting, private messages, ban/ignore, attachments etc.) but then your circle of participants is more limited.
What it is: a mostly-yearly competition for French-language IF games, organized by the French IF forum. Due to the small size of the community, the same people both contribute and vote.
Organizer/spokesperson: Hugo Labrande, Eric Forgeot
Eric responds to my questions:
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
You can see the original thread on our forum there. We were very enthusiastic in those time! :)
I’d say the first motivation was to encourage us, and me in particular, to create a whole game and complete its development. It was a success because we managed to made it, and we had more contestants than expected (5 instead of only 2).
On the other hand, we didn’t manage to get much more participants in the future, as you can see there.
About the rules, we didn’t change them much, because they were quite liberals from the start: we suggested topics and anonymous participations, but it wasn’t compulsory.
We tried to reach other “communities” (such as CYOA), but it didn’t worked much (we occasionaly gained one or two participants but not many more)
We also did a few speedif, which were quite a success, we managed to gain more participants (among people registered on our forum, and also sometimes elsewhere) and we had great moments chatting on IRC:
http://ifiction.free.fr/index.php?id=jeux_speedif (but it’s not sorted by events)
We also gathered sometimes for tracking bugs in our games.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
We didn’t have much challenge, as it remains quite informal, with few participants, we can delay (we always delay!) or cancel some events if necessary.
I guess there’s no official organizer, in the sense that there is not one person setting the rules and the deadlines, etc. It just kind of happens: usually someone will start a thread some time after the previous one, saying “we need a theme! who has one?” (the theme is optional – in the past, it’s been general things like “the sky”, “female protagonist”, “the wind”, etc.). A few people will usually volunteer a theme, and say whether they’re considering entering the Comp; we usually say “same deadline as last year”, and off we go.
The same kind of goes for other events: we did a few SpeedIFs a few years ago (err… 2007, already??), and they all happened like “who wants to? who’s available next Sunday, or how about the one after that? Let’s meet on IRC at 10am”. This summer we did a “debugging sprint” (play games for 2 hours and submit bug reports), and it happened the same way.
I guess I should mention at that point that when I say “we”, it’s half a dozen active authors and a couple of others; so we have to find something that works for everyone. Like this year, 4 people are planning on entering games, but 2 of them said they might not finish them in time, so we pushed the deadline to Feb 1st.
The hard thing about this Comp is that it is pretty vulnerable, because of the low number of authors ; we ended up cancelling it in 2010 and in 2012 because nobody (or just one person) had a game. There are a lot of things that can come up, other projects, other deadlines, lack of motivation ; it’s hard, because there are so few authors and the Comp depends on them, but at the same time, do you really have the energy/time/ideas to make at least one game a year, every year? I don’t know how other people feel, but there might be a kind of pressure on authors to create something if they want to keep the community alive. Another interesting thing is that since 2006 and JB’s Ekphrasis (and it might actually be the only example ever), all the games have either been 1/ first attempts, 2/ speedIF creations, or 3/ comp entries; to put it another way, there is hardly any game that just comes out for the sake of it. One could think that maybe authors save their games for the Comp, or maybe it’s that they wouldn’t create anything if there wasn’t an event, and they need the deadline and the nudge to commit to IF. I personally feel like those events are what keeps our community alive!
The advantage of an event is that there is motivation to do something along with others, and have your game played by whoever votes or participates. And, let’s be honest, there has definitely been cases where a game comes out and only 2 people on the forum play it.  This also applies to comps : I think it was the comp 2011 had 5 entrants and 3 voters, all of whom were entrants who reviewed the other people’s games (that’s a Comp Winner and a Miss Congeniality all in one!).
However, things have gotten a bit better last year, with 7 votes, and Jack Welsh reviewing the games on his blog, which everyone appreciated! Hopefully this year we can get more votes; Andrew Schultz actually gave us a great idea yesterday that we should publish walkthroughs systematically, to help players (and especially those who feel like their French may not be good enough). I’m trying to find ways to get more people to play (and/or discover) our games ; I opened our Twitter account a few months ago, been trying to find forums online with people who might be interested in trying it out, writing walkthroughs, etc. Nobody has really been communicating actively, I think, and nobody really knows how to do it either; communication is definitely something we can improve, and is vital if we want to keep a good community with motivated authors.
: That’s what happened for Ekphrasis : JB spent 2 years coding that game, 3 people beta-tested the first part, one of them kept playing afterwards and reached the end of the game, and that’s it for our community (you and a few others in the English-speaking world did more than we did, sadly). And in the end, a few months later, he decided it wasn’t really worth it and quit IF (he since made Out There, a mobile game with CYOA elements which is quite successful).
Mystery House Taken Over
What it is: a kit allowing participants to remix the original Sierra game Mystery House, which had been released into public domain. Mystery House was reimplemented in Glulx; a small group of authors were invited to revise the game however they wished as part of the initial release. The project was funded by a grant from Turbulence, which supplied some financial backing for the organizers and the initial set of participants.
Organizer/spokesperson: Nick Montfort, with Dan Shiovitz and Emily Short
Mystery House Taken Over was an interesting project, not successful in many typical ways but good nonetheless. We got some people who were not involved with IF to be part of the initial group, and the kit was used in classroom teaching for a while after the project went online. I don’t think there were major changes to the project or challenges — except that no one made & posted games after the fact, so the project didn’t really take off in that phase.
What it is: an annual NaNoWriMo-style month-long jam for visual novels.
Organizer/spokesperson: Ren’Py forums
Georgina Bensley writes:
From my experience the VN community does not go out much for competition. Someone attempted to put together a year-end panel-judged award once a long time ago, simply to state what the ‘best’ games released in the year were, but as I recall it only made it through one set of awards before it fell apart in a mess of hurt feelings. VNsnow.com runs his own year-end awards now and has for a while, but they’re simply his own personal opinion and rules. This seems to cause less fighting, as people not interested in his opinion can just ignore him.
The biggest ‘event’ of the year in VN circles is NaNoRenO, which is non-competitive and obviously modeled after the similar novel-writing challenge. There’s a page here showing the rules and scope of the challenge ten years ago (I think that the ‘two endings’ part may have been dropped since then, since I’ve seen choiceless games in recent years). An overview of successful releases from all years can be seen in this post here. Things have really exploded in the past few years, the number of entries is jumping up and a lot of them are managing quite impressive artwork as well.
On Lemmasoft, the start of NaNoRenO means a special subforum being created for challenge projects, and most people make an initial post setting out the kind of game they plan to make, which they may or may not manage to update throughout the month. It gives everyone an idea of what to look forward to by the end, or to take bets on which games will manage to complete by deadline, since many don’t. There’s also a countdown clock added to the forum to show the approaching deadline.
Electronic Literature Collection
What it is: an occasional anthology of electronic literature of various forms, including some classic parser IF, as well as a considerable amount of hypertext and other forms of work, in order to preserve these works and make it easier to access them, especially for teaching purposes; its editors come predominantly from academic study in electronic literature. Two volumes have been released so far (volume 1, volume 2).
Organizer/spokesperson: Editors for volume 1: N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, Stephanie Strickland. Editors for volume 2: Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley, Brian Stefans.
The ELO’s project page describes its aims thus:
The Electronic Literature Collection is a periodical publication of current and older electronic literature in a form suitable for individual, public library, and classroom use. Both volume 1 and volume 2 of the publication are available online; volume 1 is also available as cross-platform CD-ROM, while volume 2 is available on a USB flash drive, both in a cases appropriate for library processing, marking, and distribution. The contents of the Collection are offered under a Creative Commons license so that libraries and educational institutions will be allowed to duplicate and install works and individuals can share the Collection with others.
Commonplace Book Project
What it is: an organized anthology of games based on the works of HP Lovecraft, which were then exhibited at the Maison d’Ailleurs event in Switzerland. It was a cross-language collection with entries in French, English, and Spanish; several of these games were collaborations by multiple authors, as well. IFDB lists the available work.
Organizer/spokesperson: Peter Nepstad
About the French entry, Eric Forgeot writes:
It was a quite huge project, and we collaborated on a common game which was displayed in the museum (see attached files). For the occasion we learnt how to use collaborative tools such as SVN, and we also improved the French I6 libraries (and it also helped with the I7 ones).
Cover Art Drive
What it is: a drive to create cover art for a range of existing IF games, which the authors could then either accept and make official, or decline/ignore. Authors were invited to say whether they wanted cover art, but contributors were also allowed to propose art for games that had not solicited covers, as long as the author had not explicitly opted out.
All covers were displayed temporarily in a Flickr account that was then wiped at the end of the drive, so covers that weren’t selected weren’t officially retained anywhere (in order to discourage their use when authors hadn’t approved said use).
Organizer/spokesperson: Emily Short
This is a somewhat unusual one, since it aimed to produce art rather than more games. IFDB was fairly new at the time, and it had the ability to display cover art, but very few games actually had any cover art to display, which made the place look a bit barren and discouraging to newcomers. We were also at a point, just then, when indie gaming sites were starting to cover IF, but almost all of these posts wanted some sort of image to display alongside the articles, and a screenshot of parser IF is often pretty dull to look at. So it seemed like it would be great if more IF games had cover art. The problem, of course, is that the skillset that goes with making a text game doesn’t necessarily include typography, design, or drawing, so there was no guarantee that authors actually were able to make cover art for themselves. So possibly an event that helped people get cover art that they liked would help deal with this problem, give IFDB a bit of a looks upgrade, and also help establish more of a pattern towards having cover art in general.
The other motive was that I know from experience how cool it can be when someone makes an artwork inspired by your own. IF is so much work to write that we have a fairly minimal custom of anything approaching fanfic — there’s not even all that much fan IF for established fandoms, let alone fanfic of other IF: though in 1998 there was an IF Fan Fest designed to elicit this kind of material, it didn’t develop into a long-running tradition.
So I thought, or hoped, that for some authors it would be a cool boost to see that someone had enjoyed their work enough to come back and do an interpretation of it — including authors who hadn’t written anything in a few years.
I wrote a post-mortem at the time, which goes into more detail about the practical aspects.
What it is: an annual prize for short gamebooks, limited to 100 sections or fewer. I’ve written about some of the recent contestants here.
Organizer/spokesperson: Wayne Densley
The Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction began in 2008 as a competition to provide a venue where authors might showcase their work and in doing so promote gamebooks in general. At the time it seemed evident to me that there were a number of talented authors within the larger gamebook community that had no effective way of promoting their work, and it seemed logical to organise a competition that would give them that opportunity. After a short period of consideration the Windhammer Prize was born.
From the introduction to the Windhammer Prize homepage the following is stated:
“The Windhammer Prize continues as a means to promote the gamebook genre, and to provide exposure within a competitive environment for aspiring gamebook authors. In particular this prize values creative and original works of gamebook fiction. The challenge given to those who wish to participate the development of a full gamebook experience whilst meeting stringent requirements regarding length and original content.”
From the beginning the competition was designed to give authors a structure within which they might develop unique works of interactive fiction, and provide a mechanism by which their books could then be reviewed and compared with other entrants. It has become a feature of the Windhammer Prize that large amounts of feedback generates as a part of the competition and all that commentary is provided to the authors at its end with their notification of results. In the main feedback is positive and constructive, however it can sometimes also be a painful process.
Over time the rules and entry guidelines have changed, mostly regarding voting and the requirements for length and content of entries. The prizes have also evolved over time and have included since 2012 commercial publication of First Prize and Merit Award winners. With this evolution I can say however, that the original goals, and the specific focus of the competition, have remained the same.
The biggest challenges in running the Windhammer Prize have been purely administrative in nature. It is no small task to develop a gamebook, even if it is only 100 sections in length, and authors who participate expect a fair and efficiently run competition that showcases their work to as broad a range of readers as possible. Over the years the running of the Prize has evolved just as much as the rules, and the success of those changes I think is reflected in how many of the authors have returned to compete.
One of the great satisfactions of running the competition has been to see how many participants have gone on to find commercial publication of their work. I do not credit the Windhammer Prize as the sole reason for their success, but I do think the exposure they found helped if only in a small way.
For the future I can see the Windhammer Prize growing into a much larger competition. The prizes will get bigger and the exposure broader as the competition establishes itself amongst a wider range of gamebook enthusiasts. It is a great deal of fun to put on and as long as authors are prepared to enter it will continue.
New Year Speed-IF
What it is: an annual game jam run at New Year with a minimum of rules. Games can be written to a theme, but need not be; they may even be things that the author had started writing already and submitted at the last minute. ClubFloyd plays through the results.
Organizer/spokesperson: Marius Müller, Juhana Leinonen
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
Jacq ran a Speed IF in 2007 in which I participated. When 2008 came around, I thought it would be nice to have a very loose event at the end of the year for small games. I personally often feel sad at the end of a year and I haven’t done any creative work. I thought others feel the same. I thought it would be a nice tradition and also a good way to start the New Clubfloyd year.
How did your plans change over time? (For instance, did you wind up changing your goals, changing rules for participation, etc.?)
The one thing I did change over time was making the rules looser and looser. One goal of the comp is to have games that are playable on Floyd the first week of January, but my main goal was not to discourage anyone who feel they have a project on the backburner, or something experimental, to finish it. The main goal was to be inclusive to anyone who wanted to participate. As the rules state, you have to try very hard to get disqualified.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
Uh, none, really. Jacq was alway cool with the Clubfloyd thing. I never got any game with malicious intent. I usually upload the games to ifdb after we’ve played them, which is a bit of work, but real challenges? Nope.
Cute, Light, and Fluffy Project
What it is: an anthology of short, “light and fluffy” visual novel stories, assembled into a single download file.
Organizer/spokesperson: shared on the Ren’Py forums; final release by King of Moé.
The initial proposal arose as part of a thread agitating for more “cute” stories:
Yes. We need more cute, innocent fluff that makes the big boys cringe.
There’s only about 4-5 titles with fluff in them that I know of, so…
MOAR catgirls, panties, ribbons, bunny suits, sparkles, happy stories, magical GIRLS, shiney things… MOE.
WHO’S WITH ME? 8D
The final release included four stories and a shared menu.
Casual Gameplay Design Competition #7
What it is: a competition for IF with an escape the room theme, sponsored by the game-review site Jay Is Games and Armor Games. JIG provided its own portal for playing the games, and offered a $1000 prize to the winner chosen by JIG winners, with $500 and $250 prizes for the next two top-placing games. In practice, there was a tie that meant the prize split was $1000/$250/$250/$250 instead. This was one of a series of gameplay design competitions run by the site, but the only one devoted to interactive fiction.
The combination of outside-the-community exposure and significant cash prizes was effective: the competition drew some 30 entries, including several that went on to be XYZZY winners later in the year. However, rumor is that it didn’t draw enough traffic to Jay Is Games to make them consider running another IF-focused comp.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jay Bibby
What it is: a competition in which the source code of each game, not counting white space, could not run more than 140 characters. This elicited more than sixty entries, including several in Russian; Inform 7, perl, URQ and QSP were popular implementation systems. Adam Thornton pulled off a particular coup by translating the whole source of his massive WIP into a white-space-based encoding so that it could be entered. An additional 15 or so entries drifted in after the deadline.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jack Welch
From the announcement:
TWIFcomp is a competition for tweet-sized interactive fiction. Why? Because the world needs more strangely-themed interactive fiction competitions and this one requires little time to write, play, and judge. The idea grew out of a RAIF thread a few days back and seems like just the thing to take IF into the attention span-challenged future. The basic premise: write a complete game in 140 characters.
Indigo New Language Speed-IF
What it is: a game jam in which authors had to create with IF tools or languages that they hadn’t previously used in any substantial way. Entrants are here; ClubFloyd played through the participants, and kept a transcript. There was no formal ranking or judging of the entries.
New tools and languages often have a tough time getting adoption in the community. People tend to be inspired to use a tool when they see what it can do; just reading a hypothetical prospectus makes it harder to imagine the possible results or guess how much work might be involved. Having a body of code samples and some other experienced users helps new authors get started. The more work there is in a given engine, the easier it is to get people to write more.
So to some extent this kind of comp encourages authors to branch out and grow their skills, but it also provides a possible avenue of support for new or underutilized systems.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jacqueline Lott
IF Demo Fair
What it is: authors were invited to submit experimental and demonstration games to be shown live at one of the IF meetups organized by PR-IF in Boston. They did, in great variety: everything from visual novels to interactive poetry to IF interpreters that generated procedural music based on the source code to a typewriter rigged up to play Zork. It was an especially popular venue for people who had some physical type of IF machine they wanted to share. Many of these games cannot now be played, but there are some writeups on this site as well as a series of reviews in SPAG.
Organizer/spokesperson: Emily Short
I wrote up a bunch of post-mortem notes on this at the time, which are more detailed than my memory is now.
There was no judging aspect to this process, though: the aim was to be as inclusive as possible and showcase the variety of things going on in IF, which meant that all entrants were accepted. (I suppose it’s possible that someone could have tried to enter something that we just didn’t have the physical resources to display, but that didn’t happen.) I was much more concerned with fostering energy and enthusiasm, and getting feedback to people.
The live show experience was pretty great on the energy front, I think: people seemed really excited to be able to talk about their newest work. Feedback was less consistent, in that it was hard to collect many responses for those authors who weren’t able to be there in person, but that’s part of the reason we did a set of SPAG reviews afterwards, so that there would be at least some record and response to these works.
In retrospect, this event feels very much the product of a different mindset: before the Twine revolution, a time when it felt as though the majority of the challenges facing the IF community were technical challenges, and if we could just get together and collaborate on new solutions to those, there would be amazing results. This is not to say that technical progress isn’t still important: Twine itself proves the significance of having the right toolsets for the kind of production that people want to do, and I still devote quite a lot of my own time to working on these kinds of problems. But the focus of the last few years has been different, I think it’s fair to say.
What it is: minicompetition for visual novels, which provided a premise and a collection of art assets for authors to use, as well as a 10K word upper limit on content. There was then an open discussion period on the Lemmasoft forum, in which the organizer actively worked to draw out detailed criticism of the various games.
Organizer/spokesperson: Georgina Bensley
I did run my own competition one year with the stated intention of stimulating discussion about the mechanics of writing and storytelling-through-medium rather than focusing on the quality of art/music. To that end, I provided the resources and banned any outside resources being added. This was also helpful for newcomers who’d never worked on a VN before and were intimidated by needing to find art to go with their story. Original contest thread here. Interestingly, many people banded together to share coding tips and help each other out as much as they could without breaking anonymity.
Stories were required to be entered anonymously, and in order to cast votes, players were required to discuss, review, and compare a number of entries. Lemmasoft as a community has a difficult time being critical or comparative about people’s work, especially when the authors are right there taking part in the discussion. I think we got some really good conversation out of it, but some people still ended up feeling threatened by the arguing over certain games. The final discussion thread with games is here.
What it is: a minicomp with two rounds: in the first round, participants submitted potential cover art; in the second round, authors wrote games to match a given piece; in the third round, authors beta-tested one another’s work.
Organizer/spokesperson: Sam Ashwell
What it is: a tribute to TMBG’s album Apollo 18, with one game per track of the original album for a total of 38 games. An additional constraint was that the album’s original short “fingertips” tracks were realized with one-move games. Participants signed up to cover particular songs and swapped beta-testing services. IFDB lists all the tracks.
Organizer/spokesperson: Kevin Jackson-Mead
My initial goal was simply to do something cool. I’m sure I was inspired by how cool I found various other minicomps that I had seen or heard/read about. I hit upon this idea, and it was kind of an accident that it ended up being Apollo 18. I believe I was looking for albums that were going to be having anniversaries, so that it could be released on the anniversary, and I happened to see the date of this one in the list. It was an album I knew, but I didn’t really think how good it would be for a group project like this, especially making the Fingertips songs be one-move games (which I think may have been suggested by someone at a PR-IF meeting, quite possibly Nick). I pinged the PR-IF list about it to see if people thought it was a good idea, and I got a good response, so I went for it. I posted a call on the Gameshelf (http://gameshelf.jmac.org/2011/12/apollo-1820-the-if-tribute-album/) and it was off an running. And I don’t think things really changed much from that original post.
The hardest thing for me was the organization, since I don’t really consider that one of my strong points. I created a Google doc to keep track of things. I’m attaching a screenshot of that just for your edification. There are emails and whatnot in there, so it shouldn’t be published. As you can see from the screenshot, I sent out games for beta testing in different batches (I guess six batches), and I’m sure keeping track of all of that drove me a bit to the edge. I do recall that I told my wife to tell me not to take on any more big projects for a while (which I think I also told her after the IF Theory book).
I think Sam can probably talk for a long time about minicomps and what one should do for them (I think he had a post about it on intfic some time last year), but a couple of useful bits I can recall:
- Having a beta test deadline and then the real final deadline meant that if someone flaked, I would know it by the beta deadline. And it did happen, and I had to find some people to fill in at the last minute, including filling in a little myself. It was stressful, but it got done.
- I decided to make it simply a compilation and not a competition since I knew there were some people who wouldn’t participate if it were a competition (S. John Ross is the one who I remember, and he did end up contributing a game). And thinking about it again now, really, doing an album as a compilation makes a lot more sense than doing it as a competition.
- Before doing something like this, I think it’s a good idea to bounce ideas off of someone, like what Sam did for that recent minicomp he did, where he posted his thoughts and then invited people to comment and make suggestions. Like I said, I bounced the initial idea off of the PR-IF list and then discussed it more in person with people at one/some of the meetings.
And one other point I’ll add is that my burnout after the project was so great that I didn’t go back and actually play all of the games, and I still haven’t to this day. I’ve played a number of them, but not all. I will maybe some day go back and play them all, but I guess it’s still just too hard to go back and revisit. I’m very glad I did the project, and I know people who participated had a lot of fun, but for some reason it’s just hard.
Andromeda Legacy Competition
Spokesperson/organizer: Marco Innocenti, author of the original game and one “canon” followup
The idea of a shared world anthology is not new in the IF community; there have been several attempts, but most of them have failed to come together, often because the time commitment required from multiple people was just too great to be manageable. The Andromeda sequence is one of the few actually to manage a shared-world outcome, with
five six games written by four authors, and a uniform cover art series that pulls the set together.
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
Honestly, arrogance. Ego-boosting was the first engine of the ALC. I wanted to witness my universe as seen by other authors. I’d like to see how the events, the geography, the idea could blossom in other’s hands. I’d like to see how talented writers would cope with the Hyerotropes. (I’m still waiting for a game by you, hint, hint: that’d make me super-rich – in the heart, I mean!).
Never, even for a second, I was looking for ideas to steal from, and I hope you believe me. It was just out of curiosity. Eventually, people came up with some very cool stories and characters so, yes, in the end I stole a bit. But that was eventual (and done with authors’ agreement).
How did your plans change over time? (For instance, did you wind up changing your goals, changing rules for participation, etc.?)
They didn’t change too much, up to the point when I decided to stop the ALC entirely. I’m still in need of seeing what people can do with the Hyerotropes. But, in the end, it all fell on itself, by itself.
I tried upping the prizes (I even had a donor) to lure more authors, but what I came up with was just a single new entrant. Given my lately bankruptcy, I decided to close the Comp as it seemed unable to lure more writers.
This can change in the future: I know there are at least two games in the making based on the Andromeda Universe by well established writers. I hope people would consider making games based on the AL even if no Comp’s out there.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
None, so far, apart from finding entrants. I guess the problem lies in finding people willing to write your own story (although I think I made myself pretty clear that no rules were to be followed but “do what you want” — and the most successful games followed that rule pretty much to the core). Authors have ideas, and maybe giving a background doesn’t help much. As far as I can see, there’s not that much fan-fiction in IF. And when you can count on myths like the Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones… how’s one supposed to believe Andromeda would fare better?
On the other side, the least difficult task was finding people willing to help. Wade Clarke, per example, was indeed supreme. He helped putting up things, judging, reviewing. If there’s one thing I’m pretty sure I can say is: just start. Somebody in the IF Community will eventually stand up and fight alongside. You are not alone.
Anything that you’d like to add would be welcome.
First: I’ve seen too many authors preoccupied by following the canon. “Can I do this? Is this right? Is this out-of-character?” Well: if your questions are because you want to make a game as accurate as you can, you are welcome. If they exist only because you fear the rage of this author, you are way outta track. I don’t really care. It’s not an exam. It’s not like I have this cosmic whip and those swaying out of the beaten path will be punished. Just for saying. Sometimes it felt like an hindrance: “will I be able to be completely in canon? No, so I give up.” That would be a pity.
Second: I’d like to see things like these spawn more often. I’m looking forward to the next-up Parser Comp, but I’d really like something like the ALC to have birth, sooner or later. There’s a quantity of games out there whose background could be used to potential… This said: the ALC can continue, too. It’s not like I’ve copyrighted it or something. Anybody could make it roll again. Feel free and serve yourself! Maybe, someday, someone will have the wits and time to complete the trilogy.
World of the Season
What it is: a juried competition for StoryNexus worlds, run twice under the auspices of Failbetter via their company forums. (2012 and 2013 announcements.) The panel of jurors was selected from a group of experienced authors and readers; winners received promotional placement on the StoryNexus site.
Organizer/spokesperson: Alexis Kennedy et al
We ran it as a filter to allow us to boost the better worlds. The biggest problem was that we’d overestimated the flexibility and ease of use of SN, so from the second competition onwards, we had very few entries.
The first competition had a good clutch though – and notably, because Jon Ingold was one of the judges, it got Meg [Jayanth] talent-spotted, ultimately leading to 80 Days. So I guess there’s a morality story about comps being useful for demo pieces.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jon Ingold
Our initial idea was a mixture of things – partly, just to raise our profile by doing something “community-ish”; we had [the same idea that everyone else had] that getting creators to come hang around your platform would generate buzz and sales. In general, that hasn’t worked for us any better than I’d guess it worked for FailBetter, and I still don’t understand how Choice of Games do it, but more power to them.
We were also proving out a technical pipeline, inklewriter->app, with the intention of getting more publishers / authors to make content for us, because we were originally intending to be a fairly Choice Of-ish company, with a repeatable platform for delivering content written by others. By the time FV actually appeared, we’d already pretty much given up on that, I think, but having solicited entries we didn’t feel right now finishing up the app.
We toyed, initially, with charging for it and doing royalties, we fairly rapidly realised that the App Store wasn’t that kind of place – in the same way that Walmart and Tesco’s aren’t, and wouldn’t be sensible places to stock anthologies by local poets. As I remember, we also got a lot of flak from people when we announced the competition who were suspicious about whether we were going to charge and not pay a royalty.
We had a lower number of entries than we hoped, and most were of a low standard — some were even entirely linear, with only single choices throughout; some were linear without any choices at all! I think we realised from that that actually finishing something interactive is more difficult than finishing straight prose; you can’t just charge from beginning to end and ship it – and I think that’s one reason why e.g. fan-fic sites are massive, but interactive equivalents don’t seem to exist.
Still, we were happy enough with what we ended up with; the app itself has been mostly ignored but had a few nice comments. I think it’s been downloaded about 13k times now, which is higher than most book anthologies, I would think. I don’t think any of our authors have gone on to anything else, but I may be wrong, and I hope at least they use the credit on their CVs.
I’d love to do a follow-up, because I like supporting new writers, but it’s hard to persuade Joe (or my wife!!) that we have the time to do that kind of thing. Still; I live in hope of having a regular “indie/community” output and nurturing talent; that would be nice.
What it is: a one-day festival for text-based games, run in 2013 and 2014 in Toronto.
Organizer/spokesperson: Jim Munroe
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
WordPlay is our free one-day festival celebrating the most interesting uses of writing and words in contemporary games. As an IF author & player myself I am predisposed to celebrating IF, but my my role as executive director for a videogame arts organization, I was aware of the growing appreciation for interactive fiction within the larger games community — and not just as a historical touchpoint. Design-wise, it was also becoming increasingly seen as a place of innovation for narrative techniques, and culture-wise, Twine was attracting a huge amount of traditionally excluded authors. I wanted to create an event to surface this in a public way.
We’ve run the festival twice, attracting between 150-200 people. Once I saw that we had a large enough base locally to sustain an event in the space, I did more international outreach with the second festival. I had enjoyed the international gatherings in Boston I’d attended and was interested in providing a space for the international community to congregate, and it seemed to work out well.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
The main feedback we got from people was that they didn’t get enough time to play all the showcase games as they wanted to attend the programming. So we’re looking at the possibility of doing a two day festival next year to spread it out, which would allow us to do more in-depth tutorials/workshops as well, but it’ll depend on a few things.
What it is: a literary magazine for interactive fiction, running to three issues. It included cover art and online-playable games in several formats.
Organizer/spokesperson: Devi Acharya (Devi’s current work can be found here.)
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
About a year ago I found myself at an interesting juncture–I had a lot of access to and information about both the interactive fiction and literary magazine communities. I’d spent time both looking into recent developments for the communities and participated in content creation (through writing/editing/beta-testing) in both areas as well. But it didn’t seem to me like these two areas were in much communication–few of my writing/editing friends knew much about IF, and the majority of IF pieces seemed to stay solely within the IF community. I thought it could be very daunting for someone on the traditional publishing side of things to start their journey into IF–especially if they happened to stumble across a large database like IFDB and did not know where to begin–and so figured the best way to try to bridge these two worlds was through a slightly more traditional platform–the literary magazine.
Starting out, things were pretty freeform and subject to change–I was more interested in testing the waters to see what worked than to get a fully-polished product off the ground from the get-go. This meant a lot of changes as time went on–a streamlined submission form, more updates to the blog, and different methods of publicity. When the site first went live I wasn’t even sure what the first volume would look like–but after a good amount of thought (and a good amount of writing) I decided on interactive magazine “adventures” using Twine, Inkle, and Inform 7.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
Although I’d participated in lit mags in the past this was the first time that I found myself running an entire operation. I came to appreciate just how much effort goes into making sure everything runs smoothly–from managing submissions to setting schedules to selecting covers. From the onset of the project I wanted to maintain a small, tight-knit editorial staff, so being conscious of their schedules and mine was something new to me but not wholly insurmountable.
I’m curious about what led you to discontinue…
I just wasn’t seeing the number of submissions I would have liked–not enough to keep the lit mag going. There are probably many reasons for this, but I think the primary one is that I’m no expert in publicity and I think a project like this does need someone who works to get the word out on multiple channels. We didn’t have much of a social media presence and I would have liked to have done more outreach in both the editorial and IF communities.
I’d also like to add that from the beginning this project was never built to last–it was an experiment. I wanted to keep things as small and as inexpensive as possible, and so while I loved working on the project I also sensed it was time to let it rest.
Storybundle’s Video Game Bundle 3.0
What it is: a purchasable bundle consisting mostly of ebooks about games, but including a number of Ryan Veeder’s games, and commissioning a new game specifically for the bundle, The Ascent of the Gothic Tower. Ascent was available only via the bundle for some months, but was released as freeware in September.
Organizer/spokesperson: Simon Carless
Basically, I’ve been a big fan of Ryan’s work for a while now, ever since Taco Fiction. He’s a witty, smart writer and his games are consistently the ones that make us laugh out loud the most when the Bay Area Interactive Fiction meetup gets together. (Thought what he wrote exclusively for Storybundle ended up being more serious – which was just fine with me, too.)
In general, the StoryBundle project – where I curate a set of eBooks about video games in association with Jason Chen’s ‘pay what you want digital book bundle’ site – has more relied on existing game culture/history eBooks and magazines, which are emailed to a Kindle, but we have the opportunity to feature or commission other kinds of interactive storytelling. Text-based interactive storytelling is close enough to books that I felt it would fit, and there’s some precedence for this. (We’ve also featured things like Geoff Keighley’s making of Portal 2 Steam app, which has interactivity built in.) I think IF is a massively under-rated medium, and it’s great to get it out there as part of a bigger vessel and see how people respond to it.
Anyhow, I could guarantee Ryan a certain amount of income – the bundles work on a percentage of the gross after credit card fees – so I approached him, and happily, he was interested. I didn’t make any particular demands on the length or format of the IF, I just wanted a new work from him – and exactly what happened with The Gothic Tower. We realized that many of the bundle buyers wouldn’t know any of his work, so as you’ll see we included a simple web browser-based index to try the following:
- The Ascent of the Gothic Tower, a brand-new story of distance and elevation, exclusive to StoryBundle
- So, You’ve Never Played a Text Adventure Before, Huh?, a brand-new tutorial for the uninitiated to the frustrating and sometimes rewarding world of text parser-based interactive fiction
- The XYZZY Award-nominated They Might Be Giants tribute The Statue Got Me High, in which a dinner party ends in disaster
- Nautilisia, a symbolic journey deep into the mind of a person who has played Link’s Awakening many times
- Wrenlaw, a vignette about geocaching while alone
(It’s also interesting that Ryan had the idea to make and code the tutorial, which was very nice of him. Text adventures can be confusing if you’re not used to them!)
Anyhow, I saw some positive feedback for his games after we released the bundle, and overall, I think it was a success in a modest fashion. (The bundle as a whole sold a few thousand copies – it’s very difficult to work out who reads or plays what, of course…) The deal was that Ryan could make both of the exclusive IF free a few months after the bundle, so then everyone gets a chance to play them. So that’s really the best of both worlds. And I found The Gothic Tower to be a touching and rather otherworldly experience – one of those things, in a slightly Murakami type way, that you’re not really sure if you’ve connected with in the right way, but you enjoy wafting through the fronds of narrative in it. (Of course, the soda machine is the elephant in the room.) That’s a rare feeling – and totally worth our efforts, I think.
What it is: one-off 2014 mini-competition for games inspired by songs submitted by comp participants.
Organizer/spokesperson: Sam Kabo Ashwell
My initial goals for ShuffleComp were mostly selfish. While I had enjoyed a lot of speed-IFs over the years, I was kind of bored and dissatisfied with making very small, low-fi games; but I didn’t really feel equal to the Comp (nor, if I’m being honest, do I really want to give up reviewing Comps). Cover Stories had made me feel that I, personally, did pretty well with moderate pressure and a bit more direction than ‘make a game, about this long.’
I’d been really impressed how well the community responded to Apollo 18+20 – the way it allowed for a range of contribution from very small things like the one-move Fingertips games to comp-sized works like Dinner Bell. But it was never something that I personally wanted to participate in, because I don’t really care much for TMBG.
People were talking about a successor to Apollo on intfiction.org, speculating about which albums would work for it, looking at other albums that had an anniversary coming up, and, well – everything I thought of seemed like terrible ideas. Most music doesn’t have that experimental goofing-around quality that TMBG cultivates. Tom Waits came up, and I thought, man, his particular style’s so very specific, in terms of subject-matter and mood and use of language – and the question’s not even about how you’d capture it in one game, it’s how could you get a bunch of separate authors who would all click with that music and respond to it and find a way to reflect on it? And that’s true of more music than not, really. A big wacky thing full of odd bagatelles that’s tonally all over the place is a good homage to TMBG, but it’d be awful for, say, the Manic Street Preachers.
The shuffle thing was a way to avoid a focus on any one artist, and to give everyone a better chance of finding something they responded to. The idea there came straightforwardly from the jacket-quote speed-IFs I’d run previously.
My plans changed a fair amount over the course of planning, and I’m so, so glad that I talked it over on the forums. The fact that I did Shufflecomp rather than another Cover Stories had a lot to do with how excited people seemed about the idea. The pseudonym thing – both the concept and my sense of how exactly to pitch it – was entirely a product of that: Dan Fabulich suggested it, Carolyn VanEseltine added the shuffled element, and over the course of conversation I figured out that it should be as serious or as trivial as the author in question needed it to be.
But the core goal didn’t ever change much: I wanted a mid-level event that encouraged quality work to some extent, but didn’t have the pressure of the Comp. I wanted a fun event that didn’t take itself too seriously, that would be a fun easy thing compared to managing the XYZZYs: but at the same time, I really hate the idea that in order to motivate participation you have to lower expectations. I wanted something that would challenge people, that’d push them into doing better.
So I made some calls on rules to cover questions I hadn’t considered, and sometimes it took a bit of chewing-over to get there, but they were all made with the same principles in mind.
The biggest challenges were all to do with the unexpected scale of the thing, which made every little admin task bigger. Probably the biggest single time-sink, and one that’d have been really easy to farm out to volunteers, was checking all the songs for trigger-warnings. But the actually-taxing part was just the volume of small things that needed to be addressed. You have to remind participants at every step of the way, and in advance. More than you feel is reasonable, if you’re an introvert; you have to overcome the worry that you’re spamming everyone. And every author you get in an event like this is going to have their own needs that need addressing – it might be re-uploading their game because you uploaded the wrong version somehow, or clarifying a rule, or getting them to be less anxious about whether everybody will hate their music. Or you spelled their name wrong in one place. It piles up, and I don’t have huge stockpiles of social energy, and I got disorganised and worn-out. But you can’t do leadership through bulk email and expect to get a good response.
In terms of things that changed last-minute: I had made an assumption that everybody would be cool with being credited as the contributor of songs. At the last minute, I realised that this might not be the case, and asked about it. Some people really didn’t want to be credited; some wanted me to hold off until after the event; and some people didn’t want to know who their songs were from. Getting all those conflicting desires to work was fiddly, and if I had thought about it sooner I’d probably have gone with a more one-size-fits-all solution: but that didn’t seem fair to people who were already signed up, so I went with the more complicated, hand-crafted fix.
Sam has also written a detailed “how to minicomp” post that builds on a lot of his experiences, here.
Seltani Age Jam
What it is: a jam for new ages for Seltani, the multiplayer hypertext space based around a Myst fan theme. Creators had two weeks (Nov 10-24) to work on their creations, which then culminated in a tour of the newly created space. There was no competition or judging element.
Organizer/spokesperson: Andrew Plotkin
I wanted to get more people thinking about using the tool. I was hoping for six-to-ten rather than just three, but the novelty of the system had worn off at that point — that was the tail end of Seltani activity from that direction. I still think that if enough people mess with Seltani, there could be a critical mass of audience to keep it going. I was hoping that the jam event would kick up over that threshold but it didn’t.
Lights Out, Please
What it is: a pay-what-you-want anthology of short Twine horror pieces by marginalized authors. Proceeds from sale are distributed among the participants.
Organizer/spokesperson: Kaitlin Tremblay
My initials goals in putting Lights Out together was to create a safe space for diverse and marginalized voices to tell their stories and to be heard. My original idea for Lights Out was to retell traditional ghost stories and urban legends, but in a personal way, to show people how the fear contained in these stories is often a normal part of every day life for so many people — particularly people with many intersecting identities, who don’t have the privilege of just ending the story and getting on with their lives. It had started out as just a solo project I did for a game jam, but the more time I spent with it, the more I realized the idea of it didn’t work on an individual level: it needed to be an anthology in order to effectively convey this idea of everyday fear.
The only hard and fast rule for participation I really had was borne out of this desire for the anthology to be as intersectional as possible (and to be written entirely by marginalized folks): please do not submit if you are a white, straight, cis, able-bodied man. I really wanted to use whatever small platform I had to help promote diverse voices because that’s what mattered to me about this project: that people get to share their stories in a safe way.
Other guidelines that I had put in place got shifted as was necessary. The original call for submissions mentioned that any submission should riff off of an existing, popular, well-told story, but as more would-be contributors spoke to me about wanting to share personal experiences, I eventually let that guideline slip and eventually just said: however you want to tell your story about fear, do it that way. And I found being open to that really worked out, because contributors felt more confident in what they were sharing, and were able to better talk about things that they otherwise had never, or didn’t know how to. And to that end, I also decided that if something was submitted, it was automatically a part of the anthology. Lights Out grew from my project to our project, a project that belongs to each of equally, and I’m so happy with how proud some contributors were with what they were able to produce and publish.
The biggest challenges honestly were just the organizational stuff (that as an editor in a publishing house I should have been more keen on foreshadowing hah), such as making sure everyone (including me!) kept to our deadlines (I was, in fact, the only one who didn’t meet the deadline), and making sure I had everyone’s info for payment, and all those sorts of things. The non-creative, but equally important aspects of putting together an anthology: organizing the layout and order of stories, getting cover art, contacting media outlets, etc.
But I think the thing to bear in mind when doing an anthology, particularly one like Lights Out, is making sure you don’t exploit the voices you want to promote or are featuring. I’m not saying I necessarily succeeded at this, I know I’ve failed as an ally at times, but just because it’s hard and just because you fail, just means that paying attention to the safety and comfort of your contributors is paramount. Even if your anthology isn’t particularly focused on intersectionality, just making sure your contributors feel valued and a part of the team is really the most important thing in the end. And it was getting to work with so many amazing people and writers that was the best part of doing Lights Out for me — and I just hope the contributors feel they were able to participate in something cool and safe, also.
Fear of Twine
What it is: on-line show for Twine pieces, which ran for a limited time only. While the show page is no longer available, many of the works can be found hosted elsewhere.
Organizer/spokesperson: Richard Goodness
I’d be happy to answer a couple questions about Fear of Twine. I’m actually going back and forth as to whether or not I want to have a second one–there isn’t enough time to have the same date of 2/14 this year, but I can always have it sometime in March or April. I think there’d be some interest in it, but I’ve got a couple of projects in the pipeline and I’m mostly just trying to figure out where to put my time.
There were a bunch of reasons why I wanted to hold it in the first place, and a lot of it had to do with how Twine was/is talked about in the IF community, particularly around the competition. You know as well as I do that it’s a somewhat controversial tool, and that there’s this weird parser vs. cyoa rift going on–well I generally find the whole, is a Twine a game, is Twine IF, that whole discussion to be fairly academic and fairly pointless. I wanted to collect a bunch of things made in Twine, and I didn’t care what they were–whether or not they were IF or games or stories or whatever, the only thing they had to have in common was they needed to be made in Twine. And I think in a lot of ways that encouraged some really nice things–stuff like “Debt” by Tony Perriello or “Drosophilia” by Pippin Barr would have done terribly in the IF Comp, they aren’t remotely what people think of when they think of IF, but they fit in perfectly in FoT.
I was also at a point where I’d made a few Twines that got varying degrees of notice, I had met some people, I knew some people who I thought should know each other, and I basically wanted to throw a party or a gallery reception or something. I liked that part of things very much–there were submissions from people like Jonas Kyratzes whom I’ve been friendly with for a while, people like David T. Marchand whose work I was familiar with but but hadn’t talked to, and people like Coleoptera-Kinbote who just kind of randomly stumbled upon my call for submissions. I also met a bunch of people who wrote about the exhibition and who enjoyed it–I mean, that more than anything is why I want to do another one, because, I dunno, I think I threw a decent party and a lot of people had fun and I like that I was able to do that.
But this is the kind of thing that’s easier to do the first time than the second time, in a way–I just kind of blindly plunged ahead, really I thought I would have to cash in some favors to force a couple of friends to do and that no one would pay attention, and there was a lot of unforeseen stuff and a lot of things I’d want to do better next time. There were a few things I didn’t really think about–stuff like the design of the site and sending press type info out–and I did a lot of that in kind of a half assed way that Jonas and Joel Goodwin and a couple other friends kinda stepped in and fixed; there were a few things I misprioritized, you know, basically all of the common sense mistakes you make the first time you do a bigger project. So obviously the second time around, I’ll have worked out most of the kinks, and it will go one hundred percent smoothly without a single problem whatsoever.
I guess one thing I would want to talk about is why I didn’t do a game jam or a competition–doing a competition was kinda completely out of the question because, I mean, again from the start I didn’t expect there to be too many participants, and I both didn’t want to be the guy who judged his friends’ stories and I couldn’t be bothered to find someone else to do it. I did want to attract a slightly different crowd than goes for competitions–and we got a few peoples’ first Twines, or works that could afford to be a little more experimental or less crowd-pleasing than a competition-level work would have been, and I think that’s really important, at least for what i wanted to do.
But there’s something almost ephemeral about a game jam, and something a little more–I guess developer- and development-centered. Usually game jams focus on the process of creating the game–there’s often a very short window and a specific theme, with the intent for those participating to drop their creative inhibitions and just make something. And of course, plenty of people love game jam games, and many go on to become classics or get refined into full games afterwards, but the development, the *jamming* is the point. I’ve talked a bit about it as kind of a gallery exhibition, and that’s really what I wanted it to feel like–a bunch of works which were collected in a single place for a limited period of time, and which kind of took on grander connotations by being displayed together.
Interactive Fiction Fund
Organizer/spokesperson: Javy Gwaltney (of Terror Aboard the Speedwell)
As far as how the Patreon drive is doing, I think it’s going well so far! We’ve hit the first two goals, which means I can pay both a creator for a single IF a month and I can also pay for a guest editor to help me pick one creation each month. The ideal funding goal would be $150 a month (so about $58 more) in order to pay for two creations a month, but we’re in operation with the funding we have currently, so that’s good enough for right now. I also have five guest editors ready to help in the coming months, and we’ve already received some nice pitches for January, so that’s good.
As far as why I put the IFF together: as someone who has a love for both literature and games, interactive fiction is a nice middle ground for me. IF also allowed me to create a couple of works that folks seem to enjoy, so I’d love to help encourage and foster people who are on the verge of using Twine (or some other development tool, such as RPG Maker) to create projects and share them with an audience. I also hope it encourages IF creators to get comfortable with the notion of selling their creations on a marketplace like itch.io if they feel so inclined.
Videogames for Humans
What it is: a forthcoming book containing playthroughs of Twine games, coupled with commentary by critics. (I participated in this as a commentator on Anhedonia.)
Organizer/spokesperson: Merritt Kopas
What were your initial goals in putting this project together?
Our main goals were first, to create a platform for critical discussion within Twine communities that was less ephemeral than Twitter or blogs, and second, to bring the work being done in Twine into conversation with broader literary circles. By publishing an anthology — in book form — of work written in Twine with commentary written mostly by Twine authors, we wanted to try and show literary communities the exciting things that were happening in interactive fiction communities while also showcasing the existing, sophisticated networks of analysis and criticism that exist in those communities.
We really wanted the book to be a snapshot of the ecosystem of Twine. That is, we wanted the people writing about the works we included to mostly be Twine authors too, because we didn’t want to set up a dynamic where more traditional, established literary types would be commenting on these games. But as the project went on I thought it would be interesting to bring in some people from outside intfic circles whose work seemed to intersect with the themes covered by the games we’d selected. So for example, I asked Imogen Binnie — who wrote Nevada, a powerful, nontraditional novel about a trans woman — to write about SABBAT, a game that I read as dealing with a lot of the same topics, albeit in very different ways. I think we struck a good balance of bringing in these kinds of authors without making it feel like Twine work was up for judgement by some kind of literary establishment.
What were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
The question arose as to how we’d reproduce a playthrough of a game with the author’s commentary. We thought about putting commentary in the margins but decided, finally, on printing single-column, with comments following each passage. And kind of amusingly, we decided to indicate clicked links with the old parser convention of ‘>’. I think it reads really naturally, though. The important thing was that we decided not to worry about trying to reproduce the experience of playing these games — most of them are freely available online — but tried instead to produce a series of fruitful conversations between authors and the works that will hopefully give readers insight into the breadth and depth of purposes to which Twine’s been put.
Also: there’s going to be a book tour for the project, I’ll have dates soon but the launch party is going to be at Babycastles in NYC in April.
What it is: a 2015 competition designed to encourage the development of parser games specifically, given concerns about a dwindling rate of parser game production. Currently ongoing; rules and entry information here.
Organizer/spokesperson: Carolyn VanEseltine
I’m delighted by the ongoing success of non-parser IF, but old-school text adventures aren’t really sharing the limelight. I love the parser medium, and writing parser games is just the best fun. I wanted to create an event that would specifically celebrate parser games, something that would give more people opportunities to write them and play them.
Some specific goals:
I want this event to be accessible to first-time authors. I’m trying to accomplish this with a) the time-limited writing window window and b) only ranking a few games, instead of ranking the entire list. Everyone can improve, after all – unless they have such a lousy experience that they walk away and never come back. I don’t want ParserComp to be that experience for anyone.
I want everyone who submits a game to get feedback. I’m trying to accomplish this by requiring judges to provide feedback, because I don’t know if this competition will receive many reviews. There’s nothing worse than sending in your game and hearing crickets!
I want to reduce the incidence of spite voting as much as possible, because I’ve observed it in other competitions and it is completely unacceptable. I’m trying to accomplish this by requiring scores in multiple categories and a few lines of feedback from judges. Someone determined enough could still skew the system, but it would take significant effort.
Changes to date:
I originally wanted to start ParserComp on December 1 – but once I proposed the event, people wanted to get started right away! I shifted the start to November 1 to avoid quashing everyone’s enthusiasm and momentum.
aschultz suggested bringing back a ShuffleComp style testing pool, and Matt W suggested a dedicated testing period. Their suggestions were great and I built in the Feb 1 – Feb 14 testing period in response.
At this point, I haven’t hit any challenges quite yet, but I do have some potential concerns. My biggest worry is that the high requirements for judges (play at least half the games, give 6 scores and a few lines of feedback to each game) will reduce the judging pool to the point where I run around begging people to judge. My second worry is that there will be no games to judge! I’m trying to hit the sweet spot between reminding people on social media and annoying people on social media, but it’s a hard line to walk. Also, I haven’t properly settled on my distribution/voting infrastructure yet, so I’m wary of something going wrong in that regard.
Several categories of idea kept recurring in what people said to me:
Expected participants. Who was expected to contribute to the project? How many people, at what skill and experience level? How much infrastructure is required to wrangle their entries? If the project was pitched at novices, what if anything did the organizers do to make them feel more comfortable about participating? How was the competition promoted?
Are the organizers simply awaiting entrants or are they actively going out and soliciting content from specific people? The latter tends to be especially important when one is trying to get content from a diverse set of authors; those who feel they don’t belong to the community in question often select against themselves instead of entering at all, so proactive solicitation is sometimes required to get a good balance. (Courtney Stanton on this effect in organizing a conference; here’s Nalo Hopkinson on a suggested approach that tries to avoid tokenism while accomplishing breadth.)
Intended audience. Who was supposed to play these games? Was the project directed primarily at the participants themselves (as Speed-IF often is), at an existing community, as an outreach project to get to new players, or as a commercial venture? What message did the project want to send to that audience? How did the project showcase its contents and make them accessible and appealing? (Web-playable site? ClubFloyd session to run through the games?) And how did the project set expectations about the content? One of the appealing things to me about entering Galatea in the IF Art Show back in the day was that the show context warned players not to expect a game focused on puzzles, so I felt that anyone who played anyway would be more likely to be receptive to the weird, experimental, puzzleless thing that it was.
I think there’s a lot more that could be done to anthologize material to make it accessible and attractive to particular user groups. Here is an old post I wrote about curation and branding in IF; it’s been a few years, but I still agree with a lot of it.
Creative constraints. What constraints did the project offer to authors in order to foster interesting new ideas? How well did those constraints succeed in generating participation and excitement? (To the best of my knowledge, LogicPuzzleComp is the only competition actually to require participants to use provided code, but there are many less restrictive variants on this idea.)
Practical constraints. Where the project is a game jam-type event, what restrictions (of time or resources) are imposed, and how do those relieve authors from concerns they might otherwise have about entering?
Commitment. How does the project encourage authors to follow through once they’ve agreed to participate? Entry fees, staged submissions, sign-ups? (For that matter, does it even matter whether people participate or drop out?) Structured anthologies tend to suffer more if there’s a drop-out, so commitment may become more of a concern.
Judging. If it’s a competition, who is making the decisions about winners? On what basis? Are they the general public, or selected individuals? How much time are they expected to put into judging? What safeguards are there to prevent against cheating, or more subtle forms of skew (such as a popular author mentioning their game on a forum of people who then all go vote for that author’s work, ignoring/downvoting the rest)?
Quality assurance. How, if at all, do comps help their authors produce material of good quality? Several recent minicomps have had a built-in beta phase where authors beta-test one another’s games; early iterations of Spring Thing had the organizer disqualify any games that were not playable to completion.
Rewards. How did the project reward authors for participating? Money or other prizes, visibility, feedback? Which of these rewards are guaranteed by the competition organizers and which are simply a result of the surrounding infrastructure? (For instance, IF Comp organizers do not do anything to guarantee reviews, but there is a strong community culture of reviewing IF Comp games.)
Expected social effects/community resources. Was the project intended to change something about the surrounding community or to generate a resource of some kind? Some early comps were explicitly designed with the intention of producing sample source code, for instance, which is rarely cited as a concern in more recent events. Both the Cover Art Drive and Cover Stories aimed to help match art resources with authors who might not have the necessary skills. PrologueComp and IntroComp were/are intended to help authors learn particular skills and gain early feedback on their work, with an eye to more polished future releases. BetaComp was designed to teach beta-testing skills (and wasn’t a competition for games themselves at all). Events such as ParserComp and Fear of Twine were designed to increase the visibility or production of particular types of game. The AGS board is constantly running competitions that focus on creating specific types of asset (music, sprites, backgrounds, etc.) rather than finished games.
Quite a few events were also designed to jumpstart interest in a particular new tool or system (Future Voices, World of the Season, the Seltani Age Jam) and these appear to have had varied success overall; new tools are (it turns out) nontrivial to get rolling.