During the development of Faster Than Light, Matthew Davis, half of the Subset Games team, didn't want to leave his cave.
"I was happy to just live in my apartment and program," he said. But ultimately, in-person competitions became one of the biggest drivers of success for the project.
When the duo entered the game into IGF China, “it was perhaps the most exciting part of the entire development,” he said. "We had these judges tell us that it was fun, and that was really important in telling us it was something we should continue.”
“IGF also led ultimately to our first public exposure, which was PC gamer,” Davis added. “They loved the game and they put us in the magazine, which was a surreal experience.”
The team then submitted the game to Indiecade, Fantastic Arcade, the main IGF, and other events, which "provided a huge benefit to our game,” Davis said, adding that “the constant deadlines were huge.”
“The deadline of people wanting to play this game, and ultimately judge this game, was the motivation to get this into something playable,” he said. “These deadlines would come up every 3-4 months, reminding you that it has to be a balanced, functioning game that people can play. That was important for us because we don't have marketers or publishers telling us we have to do anything.”
“The publicity came even if you weren't nominated," he said. "Most of these have 300 judges playing the game. And even if we weren't nominated, we'd have people mail us and say 'Hey, I played that game and I'd like to talk to you about it.'” This is how all the pre-release buzz and word of mouth about FTL spread.
Ultimately, while he doesn't think developers should rely on competitions for revenue or recognition, they can be incredibly useful in terms of getting your game out in front of people, and also keeping your project on target.
For developers who are often very head-down in their own project, competitions "get you out of your cave, assuming you do go," he says. "And getting out and seeing people play [your game] is something that needs to be done.”