IFComp entry length advice

So, I wrote a game, intending to enter it into IFComp. I have only one issue - it’s way too long! I hadn’t realized how long it was until somebody who wasn’t me read it; either I read fast or I was subconsciously skimming it in my own playthroughs because I wrote it myself. So now I’m tasked with the grueling prospect of finding out how to cut an entire third of my game out, or just shrugging and going “Yep, it’s gonna be way over that two hour limit.”

So, how bad is going over the limit, anyways? Has anybody been in a similar position, or judged games that went over the limit, and how did that influence you? My game is a choice-based narrative game, with a beginning, middle, and end, so I feel more gunshy about letting it run over than I would with, say, a puzzle parser game. I mean who’d want to read half a story?

For some context, my game is a narrative choice game using ChoiceScript, based off of a medieval poem and following its general beats very closely. On average, according to a script I cooked up, a playthrough is about ~39k words. Given an average reading speed of ~250 words/minute and a ~10% thinking time discount, I estimated this at ~3 hours-ish, which is way too long! That also lines up with feedback I got. So, I think I have a few kinds of options here:

  1. Change the major beats and compress the story. I am not enthusiastic about this because the whole point of the game is to be close to the poem, but it depends on how “bad” going over the limit is.
  2. Go through an editing pass and cut/change individual words or passages. This has some difficulties - first, it might (will) change the tone of the writing - and second, it’s very time-consuming. On the other hand editing is good and there’s probably some stuff here I can do - but it’s almost certainly going to be insufficient.
  3. Slap a warning on the front and tell the judges “Hey, average play through is ~40k words! If you have an average reading speed you’ll probably get 2/3 of the way through.” I think this might have, uh, bad effects on the willingness of people to judge it?
  4. Just let it run long and whoever judges it, judges it wherever they end up. Reading speed is really variable anyways - though I’m sure more experienced/professional writers have rules of thumb here.
  5. Make a short version and a long version, and put that right up front as an option?

Why are you making the game?
Unless you really really want to win IFComp, I’d probably favor doing what makes the game as good as possible, not what makes it as likely as possible to win the comp.

So I guess I’m in favor of option 4.

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I agree.

Give it another editing pass for the sake of concision and clarity (always worthwhile), but don’t hack it about just for the sake of making it playable in two hours.

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Oh, yeah, good question. Because I thought it’d be fun. My specific goal for IFComp is to be in the middle 1/3 of entries.

Also, if I do cut anything for IFComp, I’m going to release a separate, “long” version afterwards, though that’d be more for my self-satisfaction than anything else.

3 or 4 is acceptable. I speed read, anyway. If people don’t finish by 2 hour mark, then they’ll judge by what they’ve seen so far.

I have entered multiple games that took a lot longer than 2 hours to play, and others have as well.

2 hours is the recommended maximum length, but you can choose a play length of “longer than 2 hours” when you enter the game. You’ll get a basic “hey are you sure?” message that it’s not recommended to enter a long game, but long games are not prohibited. (For goodness sake, do not lie about the length of your game in hopes people will play it anyway.)

I would also strongly advise not to “slap a warning on”. If you’re entering the game, don’t pre-apologize for any inherent or imagined faults. Set the game length for “longer than two hours” and don’t suggest that there’s any kind of problem in the blurb or the readme or the game itself. The worst kind of blurb is "This is my first game sorry it’s got problems!"

Be aware that one of the voting rules is if a judge hits the 2-hour mark while playing they must record their IFComp rating vote at that time. They can continue to play, but the rules state that all votes cast are specifically based on the first two hours of play or less.

This may not be a big deal; if your game starts strong, it may garner positive scores without the players seeing an ending.

Be aware some players will specifically avoid entries that are long, or save them to play last or “if they get around to them”. You may need to be patient for your reviews, and you may not get as many as the quicker, shorter games. There is definitely a “bowl of peanuts” phenomenon at work here: since the number of entries has gotten larger (between 80-100 in recent years) it’s nigh-impossible for all but the most dedicated reviewers to seriously play every game. If you’ve got an entire bowl of peanuts and one is difficult to open, you’re going to throw it aside and get a new one. That can happen to a lot of games if they don’t have a good initial hook that grabs the player, or have major bugs or typos early in - there’s always the next one to grab that’s easier to play.

It’s rare that a game gets scored lower explicitly because it’s longer than two hours - voters usually won’t assess any kind of penalty for not finishing the game so long as you don’t deceptively purport the game only takes 30 minutes. The scores might naturally suffer if the best content in your game only kicks in after the two-hour mark, so you’ll need to decide what your goal is.

If your goal is high placement, you probably want lots of scores and probably don’t want to enter an enormous game. If your goal is general visibility in the Comp and reviews, you will get them.

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Thanks all for your suggestions. Thinking about it more, I guess the really relevant questions I could have asked were “Is it considered rude to submit longer games” and “Do people penalize longer games?” and the answer seems to be “No but longer games might get less plays.”

Oh, I was thinking something more like adding a line that said “An average playthrough of this game is around 40k words, which at normal reading speed is about three hours.”

My goal is to have entered the comp and done at least passably, mostly so I can said that I did it once.

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Or people rate your game without having seen the kick-ass ending.

Well, if I’ve already touched the peanut, I’m probably going persist in doing the work to open it. None of this casual throwing it aside for me! I would instead be situating my strategy in the “pre-touch visual assessment of each peanut” area, vis a vis its difficulty-to-open factor.

My personal foibles aside, it used to be that authors would traditionally enter longer entries in Spring Thing instead of IFComp, which encouraged longer entries and got far fewer entries overall. That was a much better fit for games longer than two hours.

During IFComp 2020 talk, I saw a number of authors of long entries saying they specifically didn’t want to go in Spring Thing. Some didn’t like the fact it no longer had an emphasis on competition, and wasn’t drowning in cash prizes. I mean cash prizes are wonderful, but probably (and paradoxically) they’re more wonderful psychologically than practically, because the ratio of cash won versus energy and time investment to create your game is tiny.

I’m one of those people who feels it’s kind of an imposition to be given a game known to be significantly longer than two hours in IFComp, and most of the time I find it practically and philosophically too difficult to rate games I haven’t finished. I know I could slap a number on there, it’s totally in the rules, but I don’t wanna. So I’m now one of those people who won’t play your game during IFComp if it’s over two hours. But if a game like that turns up in Spring Thing, I prioritise it for play.

I think that Right Now, it is true that if you put a game in IFComp, you maximise the number of people who encounter it in the first place, versus Spring Thing. This was another argument given by authors who preferred to go with IFComp even with a long game. But your game is new only once. If the real effect comes from its full duration, do you want to risk it being seen by more people of whom a greater percentage may rush through it or past it, or stop playing before the end, and not come back due to time? Some of these people might have carried on had the game not been in the rushfest of IFComp. Then again, if your game is really good, it can suck people past that barrier.

I have no hard stats about all these conversion rates. All I can say is – you’ve clearly thought a lot about how to present your game initially, so consider Spring Thing as well. It is a venue where nobody will abandon your game – or not engage with it in the first place – due to time limits and the presence of 100 other games. But I gotta say, empirically, and regardless of what I think, long entries did pretty well in IFComp last year. I just didn’t play them myself.

Edit PS:

If you really think you’re only go do this once, I’m not going to stop you :slight_smile: But IFComp is addictive! Once you’ve been in once, you’ll have a hard time not returning.

-Wade

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Personally, I prefer long games. So even with the restriction that I enter my vote after the first two hours of play, I’d probably pick your game in my batch of 5-10 games out of the comp that I’m definitely going to play.

This question has come up before actually. I’ve seen responses covering the whole spectrum.
-Most players don’t seem to mind, some of those will remind you that allthough there is no obligatory game limit, there is a play-and-vote limit of two hours.
-Some players (like me) actually prefer longer games. Since I would still have to enter my vote after two hours, I would have to base it on what I have already seen, and maybe how excited I am at that cut-off point to see the rest. If I’m predicting another two hours of wandering around a sterile environment solving mediocre puzzles, meh. If my imagination is running wild with possibilities, I’ll vote higher, despite not having seen how it turns out.
-Some long games have done exceedingly well in IFComp and have gone on to become classics in their own right, despite being longer than two hours.
-Some players vehemently object to surpassing the two-hour playtime, pointing to the original purpose of IFComp as a venue for shorter, easier-to-pick-up IF and referring the author to SpringThing instead.

That last category might penalize a game for being too long. Question is: would you care?

I vote for option 4.

PS:

Hah! I laughed.

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Option 4. Write what you want.

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Oh yeah. Information about the game is always cool. The wording should be neutral. Any actual warnings about a game in most cases should be limited to a content alert if that applies.

Well, different strokes! I was illustrating a metaphor, and everyone has their own peanut-consumption standards! :smiley:

Which is good now that entries have a length-of-play field for authors to fill in now so it’s more obvious which games will require a time commitment. They just added this either last year or the year before.

A game whose average speed is 3 hours makes sense to put in IFComp (assuming it’s not using timed events to get there), since reading speed varies wildly - some fast readers who aren’t interrupted by developer-written interruptions are likely to finish a “3-hour game” in two hours.

I would be confused if a game of more than, say, 5 hours was in IFComp, unless it had a shortcut that enabled getting to the end within 2 hours that happened to require a particularly clever/uncommonly-chosen method of reaching it.

Your situation seems closer to scenario #1 than scenario #2. so I’d be in favour of submitting to IFComp, with honesty about the expected word length of the game (to enable an informed choice by players).

I have played some games till the end in last comps.
Then I have played several titles for about six to ten hours. I have to mention that it’s obvious that I loved playing these games.
Even more, I don’t known how to say in an objective way the time that will take a game to play to me. A simple example: First time I betatest a game gameplay may take several hours but second try may take half the time. Next gameplays shorten slightly gameplay time.

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I prefer longer works, and when I’ve played through IFComps I’ve prioritized works that are longer. Some people will be the opposite, but that’s to be expected. A wide variety of people play IFComp games, and they will all react differently to whatever you make. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s healthy to take the competition part of IFComp too literally, it’s mostly just a fun context in which to provide a platform for new IF works to be broadcast. Don’t worry about what place you’ll get or what percentage of people will enjoy your work, just focus on creating something that you find valuable and expressive, because that’s what really matters. The reception your work gets is fleeting, whereas the fulfillment of having created art that speaks your soul is what lasts.

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