The only down side to the IF Comp is that the level of critique is really intense. (That’s also an up side, of course.)
When I entered “Scarlet Sails” (2015) it was the third IF piece I’d written (so I’d already had some positive feedback on itch.io - its game jams are a GREAT place to start, plus I’d had a mix of mostly-positive and some-negative reviews for a longer Hosted Games story, “Attack of the Clockwork Army”. I’d also written literally hundreds of non-interactive stories (more than ten of them rejected novels). I’d won or placed in thirty or so writing contests and had been given plenty of professional and not-so-professional feedback. The very first review I had for “Attack of the Clockwork Army” (which is novel length) was “Worst one I’ve ever played” and the reviewer had felt so strongly that they’d placed the same review in several locations. Even at the time I found that very funny (although I would have been discouraged if more than half the reviews were negative, especially if they all pointed to the same flaws).
IF Comp reviews are SO GOOD for learning and growing as a writer. I think I had maybe one or two that were truly positive, and twenty that were quite even-handed in saying the story’s strengths and weaknesses. (“Scarlet Sails” placed in the top ten, and I believe it played an important part in changing my career to IF.) To put that in context, my most recent IF story is “Choices That Matter: And Their Souls Were Eaten” which is a professional game released by Tin Man Games that readers have to pay for. The overwhelming number of reviews are glowingly positive. Amusingly, quite a few people have said it’s the best game they’ve ever played. It’s only the sixth (ish) IF story I’ve written (but of course my previous writing practice is well over 10,000 hours of “training”).
So, the IF Comp is a harsher reviewer than the paying public. By a lot. If there are flaws in your story, they will be shouted from the rooftops and preserved forever. But you will also know exactly what flaws you need to overcome, and for free. And some reviewers will tear down and mock your story just for fun, too. They’re very entertaining reviews to read, but not so entertaining for the writer. You need to be able to keep your mouth shut, even when reviewers get stuff wrong (they’re only human, after all). Not just because of the comp, but because of YOUR professional reputation. This is a small community, and if you are whiny or lazy (bugs? typos?) everyone will know. (Also a forgiving & inclusive community, in case that wasn’t obvious.)
The private author’s forum is an incredibly awesome place to commiserate, vent, and just get to know the other entrants. My life is richer for getting to know people in the IF Comp (and I watch their lives and games with interest). I definitely feel like I knew people “before they were famous”. The IF Comp also drew paid work towards the writers (which is so extraordinary!)
You can kinda tell from the length of this response that I’m both a novelist and a teacher.
A superlong game isn’t technically ideal, but fundamentally if your game is good it will do fine.