The Role of IGF

The Independent Games Festival started in 1999 to bring light to independent development of games. It was one of a few avenues in which Indy games could get exposure, which at that time meant being picked up by a major publisher for distribution. Basically taking the film festival route in order to make the best indy project get the exposure they need. This is directly stated in the current about page:

We wanted to create a similar event to Sundance for independent game developers – and that’s just what we’ve succeeded in doing with the Independent Games Festival, which has awarded hundred of thousands of dollars in cash prizes (and brought major exposure and a much higher profile) to a multitude of indie and student game developers who enter.

Fast forward a decade later and the landscape of independent game development is vastly changed. While it’s by no means a small feat to create a game, it is also very possible to release a title on your own. Sure, not for all platforms, but there are many distribution models with a low bar of entry and numerous funding options as well. And if a title is good enough to be nomitated for an award, wouldn’t the attention brought to them give enough exposure to get titles sold?

So I ask: Do we really need exposure for publishers to pick up a title? Could IGF do better by focusing on bringing attention to completed titles for audiences to obtain/purchase? Where do indy developers get rewarded for completing and releasing a title?

This drives to the heart of my uncomfortable feelings towards the IGF lately. IGF should be a celebration of the work being done and I trust the organizers do have that in mind.

I did a bit of research with the nomination list for the 2012 awards for all categories EXCEPT audience and student. I defined released as available to the public in the platform submitted for. Splunky was released as PC in 2008, but was submitted this year as an unreleased XBLA title, thus it’s unreleased. Dear Ester was released before, but signifiant enough changes occurred for a new release.

  • Released in 2011:
    • 12 nominated titles
    • None won an award
  • Released in 2012 but before the ceremony on March 4, 2012:
    • 4 nominated titles
    • 2 of them won an award
  • Released after the ceremony:
    • 3 nominated titles
    • 2 of them won an award
  • Unreleased as of May 18, 2012:
    • 9 nominated titles
    • 3 of them won an award

I’m sorry I don’t have the time to look into the previous years, but by design it’s similar to that. But again I pose the question, what value does one have in an awards ceremony where your rewarded on not shipping before submissions are due? I think the Indy game ecosystem would do better to reward accomplishments, rather than a vehical for promotions.

I would like the IGF to be a celebration of independent developers whom after going though the trials of final release, still are able to preserve the high quality to warent a nomination or award.

To be clear, I’m not blaming the developers for the way things are. That’s the rules of the current game and I can’t blame them for it. What I’m asking for is to change the rules of the game. To that end, I would propose is a modist but significant change in the rules.

Currently there’s this line in the 2012 IGF Rules that state:

  • State of Development: All Entered Games must be in a “beta” state or better (i.e., Entered Games must be feature-complete). At least one (1) level of each Entered Game must be complete and fully playable.

I would propose changing this to something like:

  • State of Development: All Entered Games must be in a “released” state and publicly available by the end of the Entry Deadline period. Entered Game must be complete and fully playable.
  • Submission Limit: All Entered Games can be submitted only once, regardless of platform, and cannot be submitted in future Independent Game Festival submissions.

This way your submission must count and be available to the public. Thus the notoriety gained from the awards ceremony returns to renewed interest in the title, rather than a release marketing ploy. Or worse, the feedback loop of a title winning more than once as the rules don’t prohibit the practice outright. Yes, this is the case with Fez, but frankly I can’t blame a developer for doing that. There’s nothing in the rules against the practice. My problem is that it shouldn’t be that way in the first place.

The nature of Independent development has changed with less dependence on traditional publisher models, and for the better! I feel that the IGF needs to reflect these changes and make adjustments accordingly.

Showing my Work

  • Released before 2011 on different platform.
    • Spelunky [PC] (2008, Dec 21)
  • Released in calendar year 2011.
    • Frozen Synapse (2011, May 26)
    • Wonderputt (2011 ??)
    • Realm of the Mad God (2011, Jun 20)
    • Atom Zombie Smasher (2011, Mar 14)
    • English Country Tune (2011, Nov 25)
    • Pugs Luv Beats (2011, Dec 19)
    • To the Moon (2011, Nov 1)
    • ASYNC Corp. (2011, July)
    • At a Distance (2011 ??)
    • GIRP (2011, Mar)
    • WAY (2011, Oct (?), as ‘Alpha’)
    • Lume (2011, May 9)
  • Released before awards ceremony (Jan 1 2012 – March 3 2012)
    • Dear Esther (2012, Feb 14)
    • Prom Week (2012, Feb 14)
    • Beat Sneak Bandit (2012, Feb 16)
    • Fingle (2012, Jan 12)
  • Released AFTER awards ceremony (March 4 2012 – May 19 2012)
    • Fez (2012, April 13)
    • Botanicula (2012, May 7)
    • Waking Mars (2012, March)
  • Unreleased as of May 19, 2012
    • Johann Sebastian Joust
    • Spelunky [XBLA]
    • Mirage
    • Antichamber
    • Gunpoint
    • Faraway
    • Ridiculous Fishing
    • Proteus
    • Storyteller
  • Notes:
    • Dear Ester
      • Previously released on Windows, but significantly expanded for submission.
    • Spelunky
      • The IGF 2012 submission is for the XBLA version.
    • WAY
      • The developers have publicly stated their builds are ‘Alpha’, in direct contrast to the IGF rules.