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Indie uproar as dev contest offers cash prizes

Indie uproar as dev contest offers cash prizes Exclusive

August 23, 2012 | By Mike Rose, John Polson

August 23, 2012 | By Mike Rose, John Polson
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

The indie dev community was torn this week following the news that Kongregate -- a subsidiary of game retail giant GameStop -- would be attaching monetary prizes to this weekend's Ludum Dare competition.

Ludum Dare is a 48 hour game jam run three times a year, which invites any and all developers to build games based around a particular theme. There are no "real" prizes for winning Ludum Dare, and yet over 1,400 people took part in the last contest in April. The next one is this weekend.

There are instead a number of different reasons why a developer may choose to participate. Some take part for the great community spirit that has built up around the event. Others hope that they can emulate the success fellow indies have had following the conclusion of Ludum Dare. Each has their own reason, but the majority do not appear to be driven by the promise of wealth and riches.

This, then, is why the injection of cash from Kongregate has divided opinion, even though competing for Kongregate's cash contest is optional (Ludum Dare participants submit their games to Kongregate after the jam to be considered for cash). Along with the blog post regarding the monetary move came hundreds of comments from past participants, with a good portion of those voicing concerns.

"The end of Ludum Dare? I'm angry, disgusted, disappointed, depressed... we can't prevent them from giving cash prizes for games but we should do everything we can to prevent it being linked to Ludum Dare," commented one dev.

"This amount of money is going to encourage cheating and diminish the spirit of whimsical experimentation and well-if-you-have-to general rule bendery," said another.

The cash amounts in question? $1,250 for first place, $750 for second and $400 for third. Those are relatively modest prizes, but it's enough to taint the contest, many believe.

Turning of the tides

Ludum Dare organizer Mike Kasprzak today attempted to quell the roaring indie fires by clarifying certain key points of the Kongregate partnership. "Our stance has always been that Ludum Dare itself will never offer prizes," he said. "For us it's about the community, and the amazing part is we've reached such a critical mass now that this is a thing."

The Kongregate prizes, he reasoned, are an external force, and are unrelated to the Ludum Dare overall results and voting. Kongregate will simply give away prizes to the winners outside of Ludum Dare's reach -- technically speaking, the prizes have nothing to do with the LD organizers. "It's not sponsorship. We aren't getting a dime," he added.

Co-organizer Phil Hassey said Kongregate approached them a while back. Hassey responded, "We would be totally cool with you creating a post on telling the Flash devs that 'Hey, put your Ludum Dare game on Kongregate, and we'll do a community competition' or whatever. While we don't offer prizes as part of Ludum Dare, we have no problem with encouraging people to seek out prizes as part of separate but related competitions."

While Ludum Dare itself does not have many rules besides making a themed game within the set time frame, the Kongregate part of the competition does have rather more strict guidelines, such as requiring Kongregate's Statistics API.

Numerous developers still aren't 100 percent happy about the move. Tumbledrop's Hayden Scott-Baron, for example, worries that "profit goals discourage experimentation and risk taking," while "greedy people are already preparing to design a game for Kongregate rather than for the theme."

ludum dare.jpgHowever, others have jumped to the aid of Ludum Dare and Kongregate. Sos Sosowski, whose McPixel ranked number one in humor for Ludum Dare 21 and went on to release commercially, noted, "LD's tagline was 'Your game is your prize.' And some people got concerned that monetary incentive will decrease game quality because people won't take risk. I see that issue but the Kongregate [competition] is not related to that."

"People realized Ludum Dare is a good way to kickstart a game meant for profit and they would have that incentive anyway. Also, I think that such prizes will provide an opportunity to the hobbyist that will enable them to 'go indie' in the future."

He believes that the reaction to the move has been blown completely out of proportion, and previous two-time Ludum Dare winner Chevy Ray Johnston agrees.

"It's great to see increasing outside interest in Ludum Dare," he told us. "It draws a new kind of attention to these mass game-making sprees, as there's always lots of awesome games to be found in them. As for the Kongregate specifications themselves, I dunno, [they're] kinda neat. [It] seems the popular will just take the prize, which is what usually happens anyway."

But will involving money in the competition taint the creative process, as suggested by Scott-Baron? "I kinda like the grassroots-ish process, so as long as it keeps separate from the main event, that's good," says Johnston. "As soon as Ludum Dare turns into a prize-winning money competition, it significantly changes the whole thing in a way I don't like. But it'd be funny to see multiple different portals doing this."

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