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Why I probably won't take part in the IndieSpeedRun
by Matthias Zarzecki on 11/30/12 01:35:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

//UPDATE

The friendly guys from IndieSpeedRun clarify a few of the criticisms, down in the comments. I've taken the liberty of adding them to the article. Go check them out!

//ORIGINAL

The IndieSpeedRun is a gamejam that is already going on, up until January 6th. Unlike previous gamejams and competitions, this one changes a few things.

  • You have to pay to take part

  • The winners gets a cash-prize

  • It is voted on by Jury, instead of community

I am eager to see how this new approach will fare, and contemplated joining up. Then I studied the rules, and I have to say: No thanks.

Probably.

Here's why: 

The Entrance-Fee

This is a necessity of the format, I admit. You can't give out cash-prizes without the cash, and a small entry-fee that would help cover this would be incredibly useful.

After the discussions about the 100$ Greelight-Fee, and the continued irritations about the 90$ to have your game entered into the IGF, 25$ seems kind-of acceptable. 

Clarity of Prizes

What does "Take away 2500$ in cash" mean? Does the first place get 2500$? Do the next-ranked games get something? Is the 2500$ split up between a certain number of highest-ranked games? These are valid questions, yet they are nowhere adressed.

Now, several days into the event it is not clear who will get what in the end. I'd like the rules for such an investment to be a bit clearer about these things. In the state they are now, this is not reassuring.

Then it was announced that more prizes will be announced in the near future, yet this is all the message says. Which in practice means more confusion for the participants and the curious observer.

The Team-Size

The rules specify a team-size of "1-4" people. And here I am out. As previous jams and competitions have shown (Ludum Dare, Global Game Jam, Unity's Flash In a Flash), a team with a large amount of resources will invariably win. Maybe a few teams of 2-3 people will score well, maybe even a single-person game. But going up against 4 times the amount of work-time they can muster up, the larger, experienced teams with several games under their belt will probably make it.

And that kind-of undermines the idea of the "Indie". There is only little competition between these different levels of resources available. It's as if you were to race a F1-car with your bicycle.

The Time

IndieSpeedRun tries something new. Unlike other jams, which are strictly set to run over a certain time, this jam gives every team its own unique time-slot.

Until January 6th there is time to "start" the project. Once you have hit the "Go"-button, you get assigned a theme and have 48 hours time to come up with a game and complete it.

This has upsides, of course. You aren't hampered by ime-period starting at night due to being planned in another timezone. You can chose your own 2 days to use, which allows you a certain flexibility.

Yet the downsides remain. If you complete you game early, other teams can see it and will have an easier time besting it.

More importantly however, is that the "spirit" (for a lack of a better word) is gone. Take the classic Ludum Dare, for example, where ~1500 people work in parallel over 48 hours. At the Global Game Jam it is more than 10000, on hundreds of locations. This feeling is vitally important, and might easily be understated.

The combined excitement, news, reports, and shared deadline are a motivator not to be underestimated. It is what makes us stay awake until the last minute in the middle of the night. It is what keeps us motivated to keep going. It is what makes the event special.

With IndieSpeedRun, the “spirit” might as well not even manifest.

The Theme

Most previous jams have a set "theme", to which your game should adhere. It can be chosen by a single person, by a committee, or voted by the participants/everyone. The important thing is, once the jam begins, everybody has the Same Theme.

Adherence to the theme is not strictly necessary, but your game will invariably be scored lower if it barely contains or flat-out ignores it. The theme is important to a) make sure everybody starts on the same footing, and b) all games have an independent basis for comparison. That way it is even possible to have an objective comparison between a text-adventure and a 3d-shooter.

IndieSpeedRun will assign a random theme to each team. I highly question this.

While the "random theme jam" has been done before, it works better in jams and events on location without detailed rankings, where you have a bunch of people. In this case the jam becomes about hanging out with people as much as the actual creation of the games, if not more so, alleviating the need for a strict scoring-basis.

Yet a unique (random) theme for each theme brings conflict. As I have learned in a multitude of gamejams, a "bad" theme can break a game, a team even. Some themes are "easy". They allow many approaches, and can be easily slotted into existing concepts. Other themes sound good on paper ("Evolution", for example, which was a disaster of a theme during the last Ludum Dare), but are extremely difficult in execution.

The theme for the last Global Game Jam was "Ouroboros", a theme so convoluted, of the ~25 games of my location (GGJ Bremen) only one team actually made a game centered around it (my team).

Comparison goes out the window as games will probably vary wildly in scope and quality. The missing central theme will eradicate the single baseline to compare games against.

The Motivation

Gamejams have many motivations, the main ones being “having fun”. People experiment, do things that couldn't be done commercially, create wondrous and unique pieces of entertainment.

Not now. The unique aspect of this jam is “win cash”, and suddenly all experimentation goes out the window. Entering the jam requires more investment than others. You need to pay to enter, to show your motivation. You need people to be able to compete.

A game has a much higher chance of scoring well by adhering to an established genre and format (see the results of Ludum Dare). Artful experimentation appears contra-productive to this.

People will start planning the game before the actual 48h-period starts, and then may try to shoe-horn the theme into it. Actual, well-thought-out planning takes a lot of effort and time, which in the jam-period is thought to be better assigned to the “building” of things. It only appears prudent.

Will I compete?

Probably not. Although a chance remains.

The 25$-entry-fee is discouraging, yet acceptably low. Should I enter I feel I would have to use the possibility and compete with high-quality 4-person-teams. In order to have any chance in this I would have to highly compress my game, not allowing any deviation of “the plan”. I feel my creativity would be crippled, and the fun possibly sucked out.

Or I am wrong about this. Maybe IndieSpeedRun won't be bad at all. Maybe it will become a yearly fixture, growing in size every iteration. Maybe we can combine it with other jams (entering the highly-regulated Ludum-Dare-games is a popular idea). Who knows, maybe it's perfect for you.

Probably some interesting games will come out of it. Maybe a few of those will continue to become commercially succesful. That would be awesome.

Maybe calling IndieSpeedRun a "jam" is a misnomer. The organizers themselves state it is only "sort of" a jam, so we might end up arguing semantics. 

Perhaps this might help establish a new class of "higher profile"-jams, which we have already seen in the succesful attempts of 7DFPS and FuckThisJam. This I will grant it, as there are few of those, and more might be useful.

-Matthias

 

Originally posted on Matthew On Game Design


//UPDATE

Hey, Mike from Indie Speed Run here. Congrats on the featured post! Let me start by saying that you're completely entitled to your opinion, and that I'm not here to argue any of your opinions. I totally understand if we're not for you, but you have a few unfortunate factual errors in here that I wouldn't want misleading others.

 

1) "Is the 2500$ split up between a certain number of highest-ranked games? These are valid questions, yet they are nowhere adressed."

 

The $2,500 is mentioned as a grand prize, and it is. $2,500 goes to the winning team. Period. We have some additional prizes going out to winners of specific categories, but the main cash is going to one place.

 

2) " If you complete you game early, other teams can see it and will have an easier time besting it."

 

No games can be seen or played by others during the entry window. All games will be made public simultaneously.

 

3) "The unique aspect of this jam is “win cash”, and suddenly all experimentation goes out the window."

 

As you yourself have pointed out more than once through the course of this blog, there are many things that make us different: our judges, the way we handle the 48 hours, the way we handle themes, etc. We love, and I mean love Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, but they already exist. We're just trying to do something different for people who want something different. Yes, you can win cash, but in no way does that kill experimentation. Another unique aspect is that we have a robust panel of industry expert judges, and if you think they want to see another Mario, you're sadly incorrect. Innovation and experimentation are key.

 

4) "A game has a much higher chance of scoring well by adhering to an established genre and format."

 

Again, this is not only untrue, but in fact, the opposite of the way our judges view games and ISR entries.

 

 

There are many roads to getting indie developers out there creating, and we're just one of them. If you choose to travel ours, then we'd love to have you. If not, we hope you're out there with events like Ludum and the GGJ instead. Thanks for your thoughts, Matthew, and I hope we can convince you to give us a shot, if not this year, then next!



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Comments


Robert Boyd
profile image
"And that kind-of undermines the idea of the "Indie"."

I agree that having widely variable team sizes doesn't necessarily lead to fair competition but are we really going to start labeling 4-man teams as not indie because of their "huge" team size?

Ian Richard
profile image
I think that he means independent in a competition sense. "Indie" as a word implies that I can enter and win solo... but realistically I can't compete without a team of 4 people.

I won't be entering because I know that I can't win without a team. I have 25% of the man-hours as other teams and zero art talent. Entering this would be throwing my money away.

BTW, I'm not against this competition or rules in any way. This is just my personal standpoint and why I won't be entering either.

Stephen Chin
profile image
@Boyd & Richard I agree on both ends, but I also have to wonder if this point doesn't also apply to any other Jam. More people, especially on such a small scale, will always get a more done - you can do two things in parallel instead of one.

Which in turn kind of makes it a silly point to call out just one jam about over it. Unless there are some jams that specifically prohibit/require a specific number.

It almost seems like a small scale comment on the difference between indie and non-indie studios. EG "Of course, Infinity Ward is going to make a game that's XYZ because they have the staff." Which to me, ignores the idea of indie in that indies are often touted as competiting on ideas and experimentation, not workload.

Perhaps this shift in thought process is because of the prize money and the more overt feeling of competition. There's actual judging going on with an actual loss condition as opposed to a more traditional jam that's more or less like a dev party where participation is really all that matters and probably the/a major draw to begin with. With all the talk of fairness, perhaps this is the actual reason that some may be upset on the matter.

Michael Kayatta
profile image
Hey, Mike from Indie Speed Run here. Congrats on the featured post! Let me start by saying that you're completely entitled to your opinion, and that I'm not here to argue any of your opinions. I totally understand if we're not for you, but you have a few unfortunate factual errors in here that I wouldn't want misleading others.

1) "Is the 2500$ split up between a certain number of highest-ranked games? These are valid questions, yet they are nowhere adressed."

The $2,500 is mentioned as a grand prize, and it is. $2,500 goes to the winning team. Period. We have some additional prizes going out to winners of specific categories, but the main cash is going to one place.

2) " If you complete you game early, other teams can see it and will have an easier time besting it."

No games can be seen or played by others during the entry window. All games will be made public simultaneously.

3) "The unique aspect of this jam is “win cash”, and suddenly all experimentation goes out the window."

As you yourself have pointed out more than once through the course of this blog, there are many things that make us different: our judges, the way we handle the 48 hours, the way we handle themes, etc. We love, and I mean love Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, but they already exist. We're just trying to do something different for people who want something different. Yes, you can win cash, but in no way does that kill experimentation. Another unique aspect is that we have a robust panel of industry expert judges, and if you think they want to see another Mario, you're sadly incorrect. Innovation and experimentation are key.

4) "A game has a much higher chance of scoring well by adhering to an established genre and format."

Again, this is not only untrue, but in fact, the opposite of the way our judges view games and ISR entries.


There are many roads to getting indie developers out there creating, and we're just one of them. If you choose to travel ours, then we'd love to have you. If not, we hope you're out there with events like Ludum and the GGJ instead. Thanks for your thoughts, Matthew, and I hope we can convince you to give us a shot, if not this year, then next!

Leonard Herndon
profile image
I really don't think that a 1 (wo)man team should be discouraged from jumping into the competition. I think that if they had the right plan, a 1 person entrant could create something totally worth playing. Where as you have more man hours in a 4 person team, you get a single direct focus from a single person. It is indie after all, taking on bigger teams to create great games is just part of the job description.

Lex Allen
profile image
I struggled with whether or not I would join, but I'm in. I wanted to compete in the last Lundum Dares, but "evolution" and "slaughter" were picked as the themes and I backed out because evolution was too much work for everything I could think of and I just wasn't interested in slaughter.


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