(For reference, you can find the current IFComp rules here: ifcomp.org/rules/ )
I would like to propose an experimental rules-change for the 2016 Annual Interactive Fiction Competition that would relax author rule #4 (a.k.a “the hush rule” or “the muzzle rule”). Even seen as an experiment, it still represents a significant enough change that I would like to invite comments and questions from the IF community prior to the organizers taking any official actions to this year’s rule-set.
This rule, which has been in place since the third IFComp in 1997, precludes contestants from almost all public discussion about the competition or any of its entries during the six-week judging period. It was instituted, and has since been maintained, in order to help provide a level playing field for all entrants. It encodes the principle of “let the work speak for itself” into an enforceable rule, reducing the impact of authors’ self-promotion abilities, for example, from their entries’ final scores.
However, the medium over which IFComp takes place has changed a great deal over the last two decades. The web has grown past its nineties-and-aughts infancy, and we now find ourselves on a public internet driven in large part by social media. Releasing artwork — which in IF’s case often takes months to build and represents a great deal of personal sacrifice — and then feeling obliged to stay silent about it for six weeks has always presented IFComp authors with a challenge. Today, however, it must seem to many creators as completely unnatural, totally anathema to how making and sharing art on the modern internet happens. I have felt great sympathy for the authors who have expressed great frustration about the rule during the 2014 and 2015 competitions, and have felt little joy myself in enforcing it during the last two years.
In a sense, the hush rule is one of IFComp’s defining features — I am not aware of any other contemporary amateur game jam or competition with a similar restriction. However, since no other game jam or competition is as successfully long-lived as IFComp, I do not desire to lightly treat the modification or deactivation of any of its core rules. My guiding principle as competition organizer is to balance the maintenance of an amazing annual event with the need to keep it fresh and relevant in a living and ever-evolving artistic community. As such, it seems most appropriate to float the idea past the larger community here, and invite thoughts on it.
Under the change I propose, rule #4 in 2016 would remove all the language forbidding all public discussion, replacing it with a specific admonition against authors publicly encouraging judges to bend or break the rules that apply to them. This has judge rule #7 in mind, which begins “Every rating asserts that the judge who submitted it made a good-faith effort to actually play that game as intended.” Thus, under the revised rule, an author could not instruct people to rate an entry as “10” regardless of their actual feelings about it (or whether they even bothered to play it). This would, in my mind, continue to address the notion of vote-canvassing, which author rule #4 has always forbidden.
The rewording would allow just about everything else, in terms of public author communication. During the judging period, authors could write or say in public pretty much anything they wish about their own games, others’ games, or the competition in general. I would consider adding some guidelines about technically legal actions which would likely only lead to regret during the judging period (e.g. publicly responding to negative criticism, or harshly criticizing the work of fellow contestants). Speech that goes over the line into harassment of other competition participants would violate the separate code-of-conduct rule, which will stay in place. But all else becomes fair game.
This would be a one-year experiment, with an option to make it permanent for future years if the IFComp organizers agree that its presence improved the 2016 competition. The amendment would hold for the entirety of this year’s judging period. Furthermore, we would continue to make available the private, entrants-only sub-forum here on intfiction.org.
I would very much appreciate all comments about this proposal through May 9, 2016, at which point the organizers will come to a final decision about it. Please feel free to share your thoughts on this forum thread, or communicate them to us privately at email@example.com.