March 29, 2004

IGF Awards Controversy

by Andrew Stern · , 12:21 pm

Here’s an impassioned article on GameTunnel about this year’s Independent Games Festival at GDC. The article is titled, “A Dark Day in Indie Gaming”.

Several of us have thoughts to share on this — will write some later tonight, in the comments…

Update: read more thoughts on it at WCG, antimodal, USC, GameZone… And a discussion on Slashdot Games, including a response from a developer of the IGF grand prize winner, Savage.

16 Responses to “IGF Awards Controversy”

  1. noah Says:

    It strikes me that, in creating the Open and Web/Downloadable categories, the IGF may have thought it was creating something like the distinction between Feature and Short that is used for independent film. But file size is a strange way to make this distinction. It’s going to have to be revised every year, it doesn’t tell you anything about the type of participant experience (which, say, Short and Feature certainly do), and it doesn’t get at the core issues of indie gaming — size of team and budget.

  2. William Says:

    The observation that the “Audience Choice” winner was one of the least frequented of the exhibited games is consistent with my impression.

    The judging really did baffle me. Even bypassing our local favorite here, the choices struck me as almost random.

  3. Ian Bogost Says:

    I’ve posted a long meditation on my impressions over at WCG. I tried to unpack what I could about the release dates and the rules, but as I say in my post, what we really need to do is use this as a lesson for how to refine the competition in the future.

  4. Ian Bogost Says:

    William, about the judging. First, the audience choice award is a problem. It’s only based on one day of floor visits, and it’s practically impossible for the average conference attendee to play all the games and consider them carefully for voting. So, I imagine most people vote based on chrome rather than content.

    As for the other awards, as a judge this year I can tell you that the voting process is pretty well set-up. Alex Dunne did a great job managing the process, and we have to assume that all the judges did their best to play all the games as much as possible.

  5. Walter Says:

    I think that the kiosk setup unfortunately does injustice to at least a few of the games on display. Not that I think it should have won more awards or anything (the article linked raises some very good issues), but I didn’t even realize Savage was a combined RTS/action game. Acmipark also suffers because one of the unique things about it is that it’s installed in the very place it models. The experience of that can hardly be conveyed at the GDC, and to any casual observer it will look like just another FPS.

  6. Russell Carroll Says:

    I have yet to write my piece on the judging (my overall impression article should be done in a couple of days), but after talking to the judges, I think the way the games are judged and finalists are chosen is a much bigger issue than the article pointed out about the awards.

    Consider the following quote:

    “Based on the ratings from the jury pools and the desire to showcase games that excel in the various categories of audio, art, game design and programming, the Chairman selects the games for the Final Round. ”

    It comes verbatim from

    My first impression based on that statement is that the process needs serious refinement. That is about as nicely as I can put it.

  7. Ian Bogost Says:

    Wow! I was a judge and I didn’t even know that! Holy cow!

    Still, rather than jump to conclusions, my advice would be to ask Alex Dunne about it. He really is interested in the fate of the indies and I’m sure once he comes up for air he’ll be able to offer some insights.

  8. andrew Says:

    Obviously it’s hard for me and Michael to be objective about it, since our project was in the IGF, but I’ll throw in my 2 cents…

    Awards are weird in general. I always take award winners with a grain of salt, no matter what the competition, especially when the competitors are strong but different.

    The truth is it felt like an award to be a finalist in the first place — to get the opportunity to have a high-profile playable demo of our project at such a big conference. Facade got great exposure to lots of game developers and gamers, many of whom told us they really appreciated our risk-taking and hard work. (Some called us crazy too, but we take that as a compliment.) For us competing in the IGF was an awesome and hard-to-come-by opportunity. So actually winning an award would have just been gravy. Really really tasty gravy. Plus money. But only a nice to have.

    All that said, taking a step back, I admit it does seem a little out of whack to pit relatively big-budget projects against low- or no-budget projects. (Actually, if we had won, which I think we had a real shot at, that disparity would have made the award all that much sweeter. ;-) In the case of Savage, which by the way looked impressive and by all means award-worthy, it won all 3 of the particular awards I had speculated beforehand that Facade had a chance at winning one or more of — the technical award, the audience award and the grand prize. (I didn’t think we were in the running for game design, since some of the other projects such as Bontago seemed to have tighter and more cohesive designs; Facade’s overall game design is still unpolished and IMO has more than a few problems.) Now, it would have been better to do the audience vote at the end of day 3 instead of at the end of day 1…

    But overall, perhaps what would be best is for there to be a festival for high-budget-yet-independent games, as well as a festival for low- / no-budget independent games. The IGF seems to be trying to be both.

    Actually the more I think about that last paragraph I wrote, the more I don’t think it’s true. I think it’s fine to pit low-budget against high(er)-budget. I’m going to give the judges the benefit of the doubt, that they had good reasons to pick the winners they did. Sure, it’s probably true that low budget projects may end up being simpler and less polished that bigger budget ones, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be stronger. sex lies and videotape is probably my favorite film.

    Noah, I took the distinction between Open and Web/Downloadable as a distinction in form, not in budget. I could have imagined a large scale MMORPG competing in that category.

  9. noah Says:

    Andrew, I believe both the IGF home page and awards page define Web/Downloadable via file size — setting the bar at 15mb.

    For example, on the awards page, it says the Web/Downloadable category is “for all games played in web browsers, and downloadable games distributed as single, self-extracting executable files under 15MB in size.”

    I’m not sure how things should be divided, but I’m pretty sure that file size will prove to be an untenable approach. For example, it’s theoretically possible that better sound compression would have made Facade change categories. Does that make sense?

  10. andrew Says:

    I agree filesize seems like the wrong way to delineate it; the spirit of that category to me seems to be web-oriented, which downloadable things kinda sorta fit in. But web projects could still have big budgets — if a big MMOG only required a small initial less-than 15MB download, and the rest got downloaded to you in bits in real-time (which seems possible), then it should be able to compete in that category… That is, I wonder if a game can be bigger than 15MB as long as the additional data gets fed to you in real-time.

    So I’ll try to stick to my guess that Open vs. Web/D is supposed to be distinctions in form (non-web vs. web), not budget.

  11. andrew Says:

    On winning awards — the NYTimes reports that Edward Jones just won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel, The Known World:

    Reached at his home Monday in Arlington, Va., Jones said the Pulitzer was welcome news on an otherwise dreary day. “I’ve been feeling sick and I’m in the middle of having to move, because the upstairs neighbors are so noisy,” he said. “This should give me strength to finish up tomorrow.”

  12. andrew Says:

    A recent Gamasutra article reviews The Indie Game Development Survival Guide, a new book by David Michael.

    An interesting quote from the article:

    It’s a sign of the times when a visit to Game Developers Conference in San Jose means that one can meet just as many lone wolf or independent developers as there are employees of the large development studios and publishing houses. There’s no better time to be considering going independent, either as a break-in or break-away.

  13. Water Cooler Games Says:
    IGF Award Controversy
    Game Tunnel published an article on the IGF Awards Controversy. For those of you who don’t know, the game Savage: The Battle for Newerth won the Technical Excellence, Audience, and Seamus McNally Grand Prize awards, a total of $17,000 in…

  14. www antimodal com Says:
    Andrew@GTxA promises to write more about the controversy surrounding the Independent Games Festival last week. While the concept of /independent games/ seems relatively straightforward, I’m having a hard time finding something to compare it to. Indepen…

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