The 2016 Spring Thing Festival of Interactive Fiction closed on May 7th. This was the second year of Spring Thing with the new format (details of the change here), and as organizer it seemed to be a successful one. Almost all the forward-facing aspects of the festival worked the same as last year: most of my improvements were on the back end, such as better systems to automate making game listings and handle author submissions.
First, some statistics: there were 17 entries this year, compared to 9 in 2015 and 9 in 2014 (the first year I was organizer, and last with the old format). It’s hard to say whether the uptick this year is a delayed reaction to the new format, coincidence, or some other factor. I did not do extra promotion this year compared to last (although in general in each of the last three years I have put some amount of work into announcing/promoting the event in various places). My logs show 2,864 unique visitors to springthing.net during the month of April (up about 60% over last year).
Most games were accessed between 250 and 500 times: usually around 90% of this was though the “Play Online” link. (The “all games” download on itch.io was downloaded 54 times.) Interestingly, traffic was pretty consistent across the full month (with an expected spike in the first few days): the site only dropped below 100 visitors per day three times while the festival was open, all on days during the final week. The top 5 referrers, in order, were the IFDB, PC Gamer’s “Free Games of the Week”, Facebook, Twitter, and the intfiction.org forum, meaning promotion is still mostly within the community and via word of mouth.
Here are some specific issues on my plate to think about before next year. I’d welcome responses to these, or to any other thoughts you have about the Thing, either here or to aaron at spring thing dot net.
** We had a non-digital game entered this year, “Standoff.” The story behind this is a little complicated: Matthew is someone I know IRL, and when he mentioned he was working on a new game, I invited him to submit. I didn’t realize it was a non-digital game, and when he submitted, I realized the site’s banner text says Spring Thing is for “celebrating new text-based computer games”. As a compromise, I asked if he’d be okay putting it in the Back Garden instead of the Main Festival: he graciously agreed, and besides a few raised eyebrows in reviews, I wasn’t aware of anyone having a big problem with this. While a little rule-bendy, it seemed in spirit with a different part of the site saying that the definition of interactive fiction is “a subjective judgment, and it’s one we’d like to leave up to authors whenever possible.” And in general, I’d like the Thing to be a place where we can encourage experimental games and a wider variety of games in general to co-exist: IF folks and tabletop storygame folks getting exposed to each others’ creations more is, I think, a win for both.
Going forward, however, I’m unsure how the Thing should handle submissions like this. I could broaden the scope to be “new text-based games” of any kind, but that might risk diluting the focus. (Would a riddle be a valid main festival entry? What about a text-heavy board game like Tales of the Arabian Nights?) Part of me thinks it would be delightful to promote works like these alongside more traditional IF, but I’m also worried this seems like too drastic a change. Another approach would be to allow these kinds of games only in the Back Garden; another would be to firmly state that the dominion of Spring Thing is digital text games, although this is still problematic (why should a Twine implementation of a CYOA be acceptable, but not a PDF of the same?) Another option is sticking with allowing authors to decide whether their game “counts”. Thoughts?
** The Alumni’s Choice ribbon. This hasn’t happened yet, but with the relatively low number of alumni, there’s a risk next year we might get, say, four nominations for four different games, and I’m not sure how I’d handle that. There’s also the chance (like last year) of both ribbons going to the same game, which is not a problem unless it tends to happen more often than not, in which case the value of having two ribbons is diluted. I really like this ribbon in theory, but I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts on its future.
** More pro-active outreach. The site says Spring Thing “welcomes all kinds of games by all kinds of people,” but the second part of that, especially, would benefit from more active effort. In particular, I would love to encourage more submissions from women and people of color. I have some preliminary thoughts, like announcing the festival in more places and making the site language more explicitly welcoming, but would love to hear more ideas on how Spring Thing can be a Thing that more folks from these and other underrepresented groups can discover and benefit from.
Some smaller points:
** Estimated playtimes. A few people have rightly pointed out that it’s strange to have games that can be played in two minutes next to longform games, with nothing in the description to indicate the difference. While this is true of many other IF / game events, I’m thinking of adding a second default tag (along with the game’s system) denoting the length. Something like:
- Micro: Playtime around 5-10 minutes or less
- Short: Playtime between 10 minutes and 2 hours (IF-Comp length)
- Long: > 2 hours.
Concerns: that people might dismiss certain games out of hand they might otherwise have discovered and enjoyed, i.e. “I don’t have time for a long game”; that the audience won’t understand what these labels mean; that not all authors would want their games labeled like this or even know which one their game should be. Part of this might also be explicitly stating that games that can be exhausted in less than five minutes are probably too short for at least the Main Festival.
** Changes to rules on author speech. Right now there are none, just a guideline to be respectful. There was some concern from authors over whether it would be appropriate to review or comment on other games during the festival: the advantage of a rule is it makes this more clear, with the disadvantage being enforcement is difficult and problematic (hence IF Comp’s experimental relaxation of the author discussion rule). Not to mention whether the answer to that question should be yes or no…
** In-comp updates. These are allowed, and in general I think it’s a big win for authors to be able to improve their game based on feedback during the festival. The archivist in me is a little worried about reviews for games not being matched to specific versions, especially since several games went through significant revisions during the run of the festival. Right now I’m just replacing the build on the site and only archiving the most recent version: one idea would require authors to version their updates (which is not built-in to, for instance, Twine) and maintain a changelog of dates for each update which is saved along with the game. Should each prior version be archived/available on the Spring Thing site? Submitted to the IF Archive? This becomes tricky for larger games especially. Am I overthinking this? Does anyone care?
Thanks in advance for your feedback. [emote]:)[/emote]