Does your game need to be in a contest to get attention?

Obligatory title hyperbole warning — of course it doesn’t need to be in a contest, but is it easier to get attention if it is?

I’ve noticed (or at least believe that I have noticed) for some time, that the games which appear to get the most discussion are those that are entered into contests. Not just the ones that win contests, but even the ones rated badly tend to get more ratings/responses than the ones that are just released as-is.

Do you think that’s true?

It wouldn’t surprise me if it was, of course. Part of the whole point of a contest is to create a structure where entries are widely distributed and in which comment and reaction are actively solicited. It’s very plausible that people play/review games entered in a contest that they are generally interested in that they would never look at otherwise. I wouldn’t blame people for focussing on the items essentially handed out for review. On the other hand, as someone who doesn’t enter things into contests, it’s also a little dispiriting if it’s true — because then my whole process of trying to spend a lot of time on a game and release something finished, is actually counter-productive. (Not that contest entries are necessarily rushed, but they often have a pretty tight deadline involved).

In a similar way, I have been told that a TTRPG that hasn’t had a kickstarter has a disadvantage on release, because everyone just looks at KS to see what’s coming out. Essentially that KS is now an advertising channel as much as a funding source. This makes me wonder if IF contests are much the same?

Another option is that I am factually and statistically wrong :slight_smile:


There are folks here that have been working on the same IFComp entry for 5 years. Focus on finishing your game. If you’re keen to enter it into a Comp, one will be up soon enough once you feel you’re ready.

Also, I suspect you might be right in general. Comp organisers promote the Competition, which indirectly promotes the games in it. An individual could do the same, but they’d have to put some work into promoting the game. In my experience, many non-comp games are not well promoted, often amounting to a single forum post.

If you want to take a look at someone who releases games outside of Comps and does a good job promoting them, take a look at @Afterward .


The honest truth is that most people don’t play that much IF, often just a few games per year, aside from a few diehard IF fans. And since it’s all independent authors doing their own thing, a lot of IF isn’t that fun to play. So competitions help out both sides. Players get higher quality games due to the competitive spirit, and they also get more selection of genres and types since many games are released at once. Authors get more people looking at their games. It’s a win/win.

During a competition, different people are sampling different random subsets of games so they can shout out to each other: ‘Hey, I found a game about tripping on LSD in a rave bathroom. I’m not into that kind of thing, but I know you are.’ ‘Oh, great, yeah, I love that stuff. You should try this really long TADS game about Cain and Abel.’

But games released outside of competitions don’t get that same chatter, since people aren’t all playing it at the same time. And people are less likely to try it out without feedback from others since they don’t know if it’ll be good or not.

You can look at Ryan Veeder, one of the better-known authors of recent years. His last big competition game was A Rope of Chalk, with 30 reviews, entered in IFComp while all of his other games (even really complex ones) have about 11-12 ratings or less. Interestingly, his Ectocomp games have similar ratings to non-ectocomp ones, so competitions might not be the only factor.

Compare that to the list of last year’s ifcomp games, at least 20 of which have 16 or more ratings. So even new authors got more ratings with comp games than an established, well-liked author without:

(Edit: saw Pinkunz posted about this earlier)

Most of the big IF competitions allow you to enter games you have been working on for a long time: IFComp, Spring Thing, Parser Comp, Ectocomp (in one of its divisions). There are some newer competitions that are ‘jams’ that ask you to do the game in a short time, but that’s not true of the others. (Edit: looks like Pinkunz posted this too, I agree with what he said!)


If you don’t like to enter a competition, you can still get some extra attention if you submit it to a “display window” like the Back Garden of Spring Thing.


I wouldn’t recommend rushing anything out for a comp (as your game is likely to suffer as a result), but I would recommend entering an appropriate comp once your game is done.
I worked on my latest game off and on for a year until I was confident that it was pretty much complete (save for some testing and bug fixing). Then I picked the most appropriate upcoming comp and entered it.


There’s certainly a trend to the replies, and it’s a very pro-contest trend :smiley:

To expand a little on my reluctance to enter contests, it’s not just based on time or theme constraints. I am a very competitive person, but I am also a very bad loser. Really bad. Enormously bad. I’ve generally put formally competitive things behind me because they hurt me. Practically physically. Losing things, or worse, not even getting much of a rating in things, is so emotionally painful to me that’s it’s just better for my mental health not to enter contests.

Which does make it a little dispiriting that the trend mentioned above does seem to agree with the idea that contests get all the attention.


Short answer: yes.

And it’s not any kind of insidious conspiracy; Comps are social events that get attention and are discussed widely so those games do get a bit more light on them as opposed to a one-off entry on IFDB that - unless you’re an IF luminary - will likely sink like a stone with few people noticing.

If you look at your TV listings and you have cable there are likely 100+ channels of stuff that escapes your attention on the daily. There might be something amazing in there, but you won’t stumble across it unless you’re either very lucky when channel surfing, or some notable venue reviews it or there’s a news story of some kind and you’re directed to it due to common interest.

The way IF gets consistent coverage and reviews is through competitions. You might think of a competition like the Olympics - there are five channels of events 24/7, but because there is national attention and a schedule of what’s happening, and news clips of winners and mishaps during the Olympic Games, a lot more eyes are on those events and you’ll get news stories and people excited about rarities like curling or luge that usually don’t get attention the rest of the year.

So you want attention on your game, but you don’t want negative attention on your game. :grimacing: If only we could all pick and choose like that! Even if you enter a game, you’re going to get negative feedback by laws of averages, even if your game is good, and even if you win or place highly. Even if you don’t enter a comp someone may have a bad day and unload vitriol on your game anyway, so you can’t be closed off to that. I entered IFComp for about 8 years in a row and my best placement ever was 6th. With an average of 75 entries per year, even if they’re all good, they can’t all be top 10.

Yeah, it’s a bummer to be a sore loser. We’ve had authors flame out by taking things too seriously. And there are other people who understand they aren’t going to win and that everyone can’t win but realize that being grouped with good and bad games shines that light on their work and they’re okay with it.

I’d recommend try entering the lower stakes competitions or jams that are not for placement or prizes. Introcomp lets you submit just the beginning of a game for feedback. Spring Thing is meant for exposure and there are different categories - Back Garden isn’t judged, and games get ribbons but no hard formal placement.


I’m not particular competitive, but I still get frustrated when I work hard on something and nobody seems to care. It could be that comps aren’t for you. But the reality is that new IF games aren’t very likely to be played by many people, with or without a comp, and comps do help get some attention for your game.

EDIT: Perhaps you can think of alternate ways to promote your games? I am bad at promotion, so I’m not going to have any good advice in this area.


That might be an option. I know little about Spring Thing. Thanks for the suggestion.

I don’t want to seem like a needy whiner, but this is a mental health issue. It’s not healthy for me to engage in competition, and I’m sorry if that comes over as excessively privileged. If people don’t like my games, that’s fine. If people don’t notice them because they aren’t in a contest, that’s also fine, I’ve made my choices. This thread was more about the general observation than my own circumstances.


It isn’t that you must do a Comp.

It’s that Comps have built-in promotion.

If you go it alone, you have to make up that promotion yourself.

I’d rather write my game than promote it personally, but the other path is just as valid.


Oh no, the candor is appreciated and it makes sense if you have a competitive switch that can’t turn off. I’d say start with one of the many casual Jams which are more about the spirit of creating something and less about whose game is better than the others.

Also, you can release your game on (which you can do for free) which has a huge (not just IF) audience browsing, and if you tag and categorize your game correctly it will show up in general search and people will see it. And, your engagement stats are freely available, unlike IFDB.



Welll… no. Not always.

My most popular game (by a v large margin) is one I have not entered in any contest, but pulls some numbers. Mainly because I’ve marketed it on Tumblr to the IF community there, which likes that kind of stuff.

Though, it’s probably more restricted to choice-based games.

As well, some NSFW games will do veeeerrrrryyyyyy well on itch without being in a contest or marketing it to people…


Manon’s point is an important caveat. To have your game noticed by the intfiction community, yes, it is usually necessary to submit to the various comps/jams/festivals. But intfiction is just one island of the archipelago. We are a particularly nerdy, formal, self-historicizing island, the kind that maintains a review database, so we give off an outsized semblance of engagement, but in terms of getting a large volume of attention, comps need not be your primary channel.


Yes. My NSFW games get the most hits and engagement, so if your game has any sort of niche appeal, make sure to use the appropriate tags for visibility!


I think Ectocomp just gets the short end of the stick here because it overlaps with IFComp and relatively few people have the bandwidth to vote on/review both, especially in recent years when IFComp has been huge. So it’s a bit of an outlier.


To the mouse-loving and/or plant-hating communities I go! :smiley:


And IntroComp is in there as well.


[Pointedly avoids eye contact with Winter TADS]



Yes, I think that’s true, at least for contemporary parser games. I’ve had many feelings about it over the past couple of years. I, too, am someone that doesn’t enter contests, and I, too, have to consider my mental health (when getting involved in, well, pretty much anything).

What competition means to the individual really depends on the kind of game they are making. There are tons of people into choice games that never come here and don’t really get involved in what I’ll call IFTF-adjacent activities. If you’re active in those communities, you don’t really need the contests we talk about so much here and at IFDB. That’s a whole different scene, and it’s larger and more talkative in my opinion (though there may be a ton of IF discourse going on in this forum’s chat that I don’t see).

I think the retro scene might be a bit different, too. There’s a lot more to it than we see here on this forum.

If someone is making a contemporary parser game, I actually don’t think it’s possible to get a lot of people to play their game outside of a competition/jam setting unless they are a very big fish. It isn’t, I don’t think, a matter of having to do one’s own promotion. I don’t think I could have gotten the kind of interest and engagement that I got with Spring Thing by promoting myself. That’s in spite of the fact that I have, depending on your measurements, a fairly active and visible blog about IF. That wouldn’t have been enough for my game. I really don’t think so. & talk about mental health, trying to get people interested in your work can feel pretty exhausting and alienating. At least for me.

As intense as competition might seem, it was, I’m sure, the least stressful option for me, a person that writes to be read.

Some people do seem to hurry to meet competition deadlines. The deadlines may help them; everybody’s different. I spent at least a thousand hours making my game. I was not going to get in a hurry about anything that you can only release once. I wouldn’t advise anyone to hurry, either, unless it brings them satisfaction or joy.

Besides, I’m not sure that we have a time in the year when there is not a comp or a looming shadow of a comp or a jam of any sort. So there is always something around the corner. I’m not saying that’s good or bad; it just is.


I have severe anxiety (generalised anxiety disorder, needing permanent daily medication to control) and was very anxious about entering IF competitions. But I also knew that I needed that encouragement to finally finish long standing games!

I found IFComp the most gruelling. There is a final ranking of games from top to bottom, and you get overall scores as well. I managed to cope with it really well, but it was by far the most stressful of the competitions I entered.

By contrast Spring Thing is more a celebratory festival of interactive fiction than a competition. Among the main entries two games are chosen by voters for best in show. Other games can be entered into the Back Garden and not put forward for that, if more experimental, or rougher etc. But every game is a winner, and it is a marvellously warm celebration. I think you would find the experience rewarding overall and not stressful.

As a player and reviewer of IF I can’t play all the games that come out every year. I don’t even manage to play all the competition games, sometimes even missing the winners. But if I am healthy enough at the time (with my severely disabling progressive neurological disease being the main factor) I make an effort to play, judge and review as many Spring Thing and IFComp games as possible. This is a major time commitment, but I am encouraged by others in the community then. I’m sorry but most games outside competitions do pass me by.

Of course you are also going to have to deal with people reviewing your game. Some will like the game, others not so much. People do generally try to be kind and constructive in their reviews, but there can be rough reviews. And if you release a game in public that’s something you have to be prepared for.

Personally I would always want to release a game now during a competition season, to give it the best chance of success. But for a much lower stakes and almost not competitive approach Spring Thing is the kindest route that way for me by far.

Good luck!