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Activision And The Indies: How Does This Contest Work?

August 18, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

How has the response been to the competition so far? How many entries have you seen? Are there any notable indie names that have entered?

LM: We're really not giving out where we are on the entry stuff and actually, with the way we're running the contest, most of this will be transparent to us until the final phase, so that it remains independent -- so people's submissions don't come through Activision.

They'll go through the judging panel, and only the finalists will come through us; [the judges] recommend a final group, from which the winners will be selected. That protects people's ideas, so if they don't win the prize, they can do whatever they want with it, and all that stuff remains their property.

On the response overall, when I've talked to independent game makers at E3 and things like that, people have been very positive, and very surprised by it, to be honest. Going back to your original question, they ask, "Why is Activision doing this?" and I tell them, "It's to support the community." The response has been very positive with the people I've talked directly to.

Who makes up the judging pool?

LM: The judging panel is a small panel that consists of people from the press, independent game makers -- there's nobody from Activision on the panel -- and probably people in the game education industry as well, so that we'll have a broad sense.

The criteria for getting through the phases is the [game's] general idea. Is a big portion of the game being seen as a good idea, for the concept that's submitted? Is it an artistic game? Design, innovation -- how does that feel? Is it a copycat of another game or does it feel like something new and fresh?

And then, two pieces around the presentation. A small piece -- how well do they present their ideas? And is there an execution plan? Is there a team behind this? Did someone think, "Well, I'm going to need an animator, because this is an animation-heavy game"? We wanted to get a sample from the judges that would be able to look at those different criteria.

Do the people from different professions collectively have the final word on the finalists and winners of this? Or is it an Activision corporate decision?

LM: [The judges] submit the finalist list to us, we're still figuring out exactly how many that is, probably a small, small number, and then we'll pick the grand prize winner and the runner-up winner. Activision will pick from the finalists, with a small group that I will be part of, with a few other people here who are passionate about this.

It's also just for the U.S., at least for this year.

LM: Yeah, for this round. There are a lot of different laws around competitions and things like that, so we launched it just in the United States, and you must be at least 18 years old at the time of entry. Those are the rules we had to abide by to open this to the whole country.

And we announced the total prize money, which we decided to break into two phases, so people would have adequate time to put together their ideas. We'll look at the rule set at the second phase that will follow, and will announce that when this phase is done.

As a disclaimer, I was content director on IGF last year, which is associated with Gamasutra, so I have some insight about what some indie developers' concerns are about Activision. We'll see if we can address just a couple of those.

These guys have a mindset -- they're cautious of big corporations and associating themselves with them.

LM: Yeah, so am I!

What would you have to say to those guys who have reservations, and doubt Activision's motives for running this contest?

LM: Yeah, I think there's been some confusion about this, and I've personally answered some questions about it when I was hanging out at the indie games area at E3 and talking to some students.

Regarding the ownership of the ideas, everything that is submitted is owned by the person who submitted it, and we take no final ownership of the ideas, the concept, even if they win. The only time ownership comes into question is if we decide to publish the game, and there's no requirement that anyone make a game that we would publish.

Someone might make something for a platform that we don't participate on, and they may win the contest -- because they had a really great idea, it's really well-presented, well-thought through, and we may say, "Here's your prize money, good luck, and we look forward to playing it when you're done."

In other cases, it might be like, "Oh, this is a fantastic idea. We'd like to make a publishing deal with you." At that point, there is a separate negotiation regarding ownership, and that just becomes a standard developer and publisher interaction.

So there really is no downside to submitting. If you don't win, we probably haven't even seen your submission, so you don't have to worry about that, and if you do win, well, you'll get to talk to us, and maybe we'll publish the game.

We do have the first right to publish the game, so if we don't make a deal but someone else comes along and you say, "Hey, I have a deal with publisher X," we have a chance to say, "Well, we can match those terms," and we do get to publish. Again, that's all subject to negotiations after the contest; nothing is built into the contest about that.

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