Commercial Comp?

According to IFDB, there have only been a few dozen commercial IF games developed since the year 2000.

IFComp rules explicitly forbid commercial products. So, I’m thinking there should maybe be a competition specifically for IF that is not available for free. (Or maybe just an XYZZY category?)

Is this a foolish idea?

Two issues:

Archiveability: free games are much easier to archive. I wonder if some sort of commercial IF vault could be made, where commercial works could be deposited, and if they ever stop being sold would be made freely available again.

Public voting: most of the comps allow free public voting. If a commercial game was made available to all voters for free, perhaps using a coupon code, then I wouldn’t see any reason why it couldn’t be entered in the comps (or any reason why the rules shouldn’t be changed to allow that.) After the comp the coupon code could be disabled.

Are you thinking about running one?

I think that a commercial-oriented IF event would have to be a sufficiently different beast from the IF Comp that thinking about it in IF Comp terms would not be very helpful. To be fair, it’s hard to generalise without knowing how the thing would actually work - selected voting panel? open voting but you still have to buy the games individually? bundle-style purchase as prereq for voting? But regardless, I don’t think it’d have a similar dynamic or effects.

Perhaps a number of judges would be selected and each given a free copy of the games?

I’m “thinking about” running one, in the sense that I’m testing the waters. If there’s little/no interest, or the problems you guys raise are insurmountable, then I’ll skip it.

Re: voting, my favorite answers are either to use a panel of judges, or a bundle-style purchase as a prerequisite for voting.

Re: archiveability, putting the games in a vault sounds fine.

This touches on my motivation for raising it as a separate competition.

IFComp rules state:

Spring Thing rules were recently updated to use different (more commercial-friendly) language:

I think the IFComp rules could/should change to agree with the Spring Thing rules, if only because the IFComp rules are too vague. (What could be vaguer than “etc.”?)

But I think a “Commercial” competition should not require making the competition version free for all players for eternity. I support the rules as written for IFComp/Spring Thing (for archival purposes), but the result of the rules are that non-free games don’t really have a venue. Not all games should be free, and while I like encouraging people to write free games, I also want to encourage people to write non-free games.

But maybe all that’s needed is a “Best Commercial Game” category in the XYZZYs?

Why do commercial games deserve an XYZZY award category? They can be voted for in every category already.

I’m very strongly opposed to having XYZZY categories that split games up by genre, style or platform. You’re not going to see Best Horror, Best Parser-Based, or Best Twine, because I think the Awards should be agnostic about whether those are inherently desirable things. I think the same kind of thing applies to commercial games. And the Awards should be about the work itself, not its production method or distribution model.

I’m happy with the XYZZYs holding up writing, innovation, strong characters and useful tools as straightforwardly laudable. I’m far less comfortable with doing so for commercial games (or freeware, for that matter) - about as comfortable as I would be with having a separate category for I7 games.

Fair enough. I do think that commercial games deserve encouragement (look at how few there are!) but this could be a historical anomaly due to the fact that all of the major competitions require that games be free.

I feel like the next hard problem is the vault. Who would maintain this vault? Who would enforce the rule that the vault would open only if the game were “not available for sale” elsewhere? How would they even know for sure? Maybe the solution here is a time-bomb license, where players would not be permitted to redistribute the games at all until some specific date N years in the future (10? 20?) at which point anyone could redistribute them freely.

So, here’s a proposal:

  • The competition would sell a pay-what-you-want bundle ($1 minimum), available only during the period of judging.
  • Voters would be required to buy the bundle.
  • Buyers would decide at payment time what portion of their money would go to the winner, and what portion would be evenly distributed between all entrants.
  • The games would not permitted for redistribution for 20 years, but then freely redistributable.

What do you think? Would anybody enter? Would anybody participate?

I think it’s a good idea, but it seems simpler (maybe easier?) to just use judges, like the IGF.

It will be a nuisance to arrange those payment terms for iOS apps. For an open-voting competition, I mean.

(For a small panel of judges, you can ask the authors to donate free copies.)

Also: I figure that nobody is going to create a game solely for this competition. (A commercial game is, by definition, aimed at some market.) So potential entrants will have some planned release date and platform. You’d have to think about what range to accept.

Perhaps rather than a competition, a commercial games award could be started (independent from the XYZZYs.) All commercial games in the past year would be accepted. Voting could be by panel or by $1 bundle.

I wonder if there’s any other vault out there, it wouldn’t need to be an IF specific one.

I neglected to nominate CoG’s Paradox Factor for the XYZZYs despite feeling (as I Tweeted) that its central puzzle was award-worthy, because I suspected that the number of voters who would go to the effort of purchasing a recommended game in order to check it out for voting on would be few to none.

This touches on something bigger: the IF community should fo shizzle maintain a black box crypt of commercial IF, into which contributions can be made without the public being able to access its contents. A volunteer custodian or team could maintain a list of last-known-owners of various commercial IF properties (and perhaps their interest in defending their IP: Activision, moderate; various ZX Spectrum companies, low) and check in every 5, 10, 20 years with the individuals, estates or next of kin regarding “liberating” or open-sourcing where possible (or at least re-issuing for sale through Desura, GOG, etc.) the historical titles. And in zarf’s recent words, am I going to volunteer to administer the effort?

I appreciate this asideclumsily attempts to engage a much bigger problem than just how to administer this hypothetical commercial-game competition.

Sounds reasonable.

If anybody wants to donate material to the IF Archive – not for public distribution, not to be announced or listed or discussed anywhere – please send me email. We’ll talk.

(I’m not volunteering for the part about talking to estates about open-sourcing stuff. But I hope somebody does! That would be terrific.)

(But this has gotten rather off the track of a commercial competition/award/whatever.)

My complaint with IGF-style judging panels is that they can be extremely clubby. Maybe we could have an IRV election for judges, but I’m afraid that an election like that would be very ugly.

How would you choose the panel?

Maybe the panel question is easier than I thought. We could just put out a call for judges; there will probably not be that many applicants. I bet I’d have to harangue people over email just to round up a solid panel of three judges.

At that point, I guess we’d run it like the IGF: within the submission period, anyone could submit their game released in the last year. They must submit free copies for the judges, but need not offer any discount to the general public. It would include an entry fee (let’s say $50?), and a cash prize, funded by the entry fees plus donations.

Does this sound appealing? Would anybody bother to submit games to such a competition?

I’m curious how you would define interactive fiction when announcing the comp?

I think there are enough commercial games published now (for tablet/mobile) that if you could convince those makers to enter you’d have more than enough entries for a respectable comp.

In this context, “narrative textual games” seems like a straightforward way to put it.

(I generally stick to a conservative – this-community-conservative – definition most of the time. But for what you’re talking about, point the spotlight where the commercial activity is, which includes Device 6 and so on.)

I have a feeling that without a Commerical category in the XYZZYs, we will never see a commercial game win in any category, regardless of its quality in that category, simply because it’s a popular vote. I mean, a percentage of people won’t play Horror games or Twine games either, but it’s nothing like the percentage that won’t pay for a particular game before casting their votes.

To take a real example that I’m a touch biased about, Shadow in the Cathedral was up for 5(?) noms the other year. I wonder how many people who voted for something else - and hence against it - had played it?