Spring Thing '16 post-mortem

If you were to set up a competition as a formalization of releasing a game in 2016, it might be IntroComp! First round is the “Kickstarter round”, where you try to attract votes with a pitch and a first chapter…

I think you’re asking this question rhetorically, but, for the record, the IFComp rules for judges are clear on this.

In fact, in the case of IFComp, if you already spent your two hours playing the pre-update version, aren’t you explicitly forbidden by the two-hour rule from re-judging?

That’s a lot of should’ves, and a lot of things to test. With experience, I can tell you it’s often not as easy as that. You need to be quite sure your fixes work, and it’s hard to find testers, because they’re working on other games the comp. And test cycles are hard enough for a paid job with structure, test tools, and teams dedicated to features.

When it’s an unpaid job without a lot of structure in place, that’s even trickier. I liken it to saying, well, X meant to say this and they just missed it.

I’ve felt less helpless when I’ve had the chance to fix things. I don’t particularly care if people play the original version–I’m glad to accept that. It’s very hard to do a 180 and change a game enough.

Well, we don’t have to be completely fair, in the same sense that when you step into the voting booth, you can’t know everything about the candidates.

The review will still be relevant–by this reasoning, you could say, if someone reviews a game and the author makes a post-comp release, what’s to say the review will be relevant on December 1st? It would just say, well, don’t play the release version.

I don’t particularly worry, as a contestant, if someone else’s change might push them ahead of me. That feels like the crabs-in-a-bucket mentailty.

I like not feeling helpless about making changes. I mean, there’s bitbucket to log and fix bugs, but knowing I can fix the big ones that help the game be what it meant to be is a relief. Of course, there are ways to abuse things, but as others have said–the motivation to fix things is strongest in-comp, even if there’s some selfishness and competitiveness behind that. And we haven’t really seen abuse of it in 5 years.

There’s so much I’d just like to have seen people fix that I don’t worry about placings much. And I think authors who get stung by a bug have already paid the price. Software and game development are hard. Being able to make small changes (and recognizing the risk of big ones) has helped me immensely in improving my works. I hope it works anywhere near as well for others.

I’ve said this in other forms on other threads, but I think there should be a mechanism for people to update things. I think JMac may or may not have something like RSS for the 2016 IFComp. And speaking as an author that had to fix a pretty critical bug or two, I don’t mind if people find it in an original version and don’t play the update. I may’ve lost some valuable feedback, but I’ve done the best I could.

…yes? Virtually all games get patched and polished after release, and DLC is practically expected at this point. (Not that I think it should be MANDATORY, but it’s pretty standard.)

[snarky]That’s a good thing, is it?[/snarky]

More seriously now, that does represent a change in expectations and scale. Scale has grown immensely, and it’s not likely that all content can be bug-free, but that’s allright because people have swallowed the concept of DLC and are ready to download extra content later. This has also led to a mindset where it’s ok to release something before it’s over, or before all the content is it, because it can be DLCed later. At a cost, quite often. Products can even be shipped just in time for the rush, knowing that patches will follow soon.

There are many different cases, many exceptions, and I haven’t the authority to speak on it. It merely seems to my untrained eye that this shift in expectations is a very clear case on the way expectations shifted. Good thing or bad thing, it’s today’s world.

Yes, I know my last paragraph advocates for the inclusion of updates. I prefer the exchange of ideas over sticking to my guns and covering my eyes and ears.

What she said. It wouldn’t at all be fair if update capability weren’t extended to everyone.

And I don’t think anyone is arguing that authors should make updates that add significant content that wasn’t written before the deadline. If it takes ten hours to fix a significant bug and make what exists work, so be it. Rewriting the story mid-comp isn’t what anyone is advocating here.

The games are not merely games that are being released; they’re also entries in a competition with a deadline. My contention is that “entry in a competition” trumps “releasing a game” when talking about whether the games should be updated during the judging period. It seems like people want the promotional benefit of participating in a competition without having to be bound by the usual rules of fairness that prevail in a competition. A contestant on a cooking show gets to be on tv, but, if they don’t finish cooking their meal properly before the timer goes off, they don’t get to keep cooking it after the deadline, nor do they get to serve up an extra side dish (“DLC”) after the judges have started tasting their meal and providing feedback.

If you allow someone to spend ten hours fixing bugs (improving their game) after the deadline, but you don’t allow someone else who doesn’t have evident bugs to spend ten hours rewriting the story (improving their game) after the deadline, then you’re unfairly penalizing the person without bugs. Since it’s not a good idea to allow people to rewrite the story after the deadline, and we don’t want to penalize authors who focus on stability over extra content prior to the deadline, we ought not to allow people to fix bugs after the deadline.

The rules of fairness are these: There are rules for the competition. Those rules are announced in advance and apply equally to everyone.

This is kind of like if Bill Gates comes to your town and declares that he will pay for the first $10,000 of everyone’s medical care for the next year, and you say “If you give a sick person $10,000 to pay for medical care, and you don’t give a healthy person $10,000 to spend on their education, then you’re unfairly penalizing the healthy person.” The healthy person is already better off because they’re not sick. It’s better to be healthy and not have to use that free $10,000 worth of medical care.

Similarly, someone who submits a buggy game to the comp and upgrades it later is going to get downgraded heavily, by people who play the original version. They’re in a bad place. Letting them update their game later puts them in a better place than they were, but they’re still not in as good a place as the person whose game had no bugs in it (not to mention that that person gets to not spend time during the competition worrying about fixing bugs).

Also, going back to your point earlier about how a no-update rule would improve game quality by encouraging people to test before the comp submission deadline; I started playing IFComp a couple years before the no-update rule came in, and the comps before the no-update rule weren’t uniformly bug-free. (Though some of the bugs I encountered came from early versions of Parchment rather than from the games themselves.) To the extent that one year someone entered a deliberately simplistic game accompanied by a rant against all the buggy/non-spellchecked games he’d seen. I would say that the level of technical polish in parser games (to keep it apples-to-apples) has gone up considerably since then, though I’d hesitate to draw any causal connection.

If a competition really wants to encourage testing, I’d suggest something like the midi-comps I’ve entered (ShuffleComp and ParserComp): have a dedicated testing period, with authors obliged to upload a version of their game sometime before the official release date of the competition, and another version just before release, with (presumably) the time in between spent testing. That seems like it’d be a more constructive way of encouraging testing.

(Also, the current organizer of IFComp has talked about how his own experience of entering IFComp was harmed by his inability to update his game in the comp, so it’s probably pretty futile to argue against the update rule in IFComp in particular.)

Heh, in that very post he says this:

For the record, I am fine with updates in both IFComp and SpringThing. I think the no-updates rule turns out not to be necessary for a functioning comp. But, I think 2010-Jason made an important meta-point that I still agree with: a comp is not just for the benefit of its authors, and just because a rule might not work out so well for some authors doesn’t necessarily mean that the rule isn’t good for the comp as a whole.

You’re comparing charity with a competition. If Bill Gates comes into a month-long physical fitness competition and spends $10k each on personal trainers for the weakest 50% of contestants, I can imagine that some of the other contestants would rightly view his interference as unfair, whether or not they were better off. The whole point of competition is to determine whose skills are better at the time of the competition, without outside assistance. (The meta-purpose is to motivate people to improve their skills.)

You’re also comparing a person’s health, which is at least partially determined by chance, with whether or not they have bugs in their game, which, interpreter bugs notwithstanding, is wholly determined by their actions. If they’re worse off, it’s because they lack some of the skills that the competition is testing. Mitigating the impact of this defeats the purpose.

You are free to organize a competition that fulfills your personal vision of what a competition should be, but the organizers of other competitions aren’t obliged to implement your vision.

I’m not claiming that they are. However, they asked for opinions (in both this thread and the author hush rule thread), and I’m giving mine and making an effort to support it. Other posters are doing the same. It’s up to the competition organizers and other readers to make up their own minds after hearing what everyone has to say. While organizers have the final say over their comps, they rely on support from authors, judges and reviewers in order to sustain them, and so they reasonably tend to seek community input.

Given that this has been explicitly phrased as not a competition for over a year, I would point out your opinion on what competitions should be is kind of beside the point to begin with.

Furthermore, statements like “The whole point of competition is to determine whose skills are better at the time of the competition, without outside assistance.” aren’t even true of IF events that are still phrased as competitions, like the IFComp. Historically events like that have for a long time at least been seen as and explicitly phrased as ways of incentivising production and distribution of IF, and they always have had multiple overlaping and sometimes competing priorities. If you’re interested in events solely dedicated to figuring out who is the very best, I am sure there are Pokémon tournaments in your town.

Aside from the last sentence which I’ve omitted, this basically expresses why I’m objecting to your (Vince’s) view here. You’ve moved from expressing what you want out of a competition to making categorical statements about the nature of competition, and you’re treating those as reasons for your argument rather than providing reasons for them yourself. If you and I have fundamental disagreements about the nature and purpose of a competition, then there’s just not going to be one competition that will give us both what we want. The solution would be to have more than one competition, and saying that the other competition doesn’t respect the nature of a competition isn’t going to be productive.

If it’s not a competition, why does it have ribbons, prizes and voting? Why does the description of the Back Garden say that it “provides a space for authors who […] don’t want to compete with other games”? That description strongly implies that the Main Festival is a competition, regardless of how it’s described, and so I offer opinions on what rules would make it a fair one.

If Spring Thing truly weren’t a comp, Back Garden rules would be applied to all entries, and there would be no prizes, or ribbons, or voting. Of course, there would also be no urgency to play the games before a voting deadline.

I can understand fundamental disagreements about the purpose of competition, but if you disagree that the nature of a formal competition (an organized event or contest like an IF comp, as opposed to, say, animals competing for food) is that it’s a test of one’s abilities against competitors within a framework of rules, then I’m curious what you think the word denotes.


Yes, and they do that by harnessing the competitive nature of humans, our desire to prove ourselves, to do more and better than has been done before. To quote emshort’s old “Why Write IF?” article:

Oh hey there no. I totally and completely disagree with your argument, I do not support the underlying values, and I don’t think what I wrote even some years ago supports them either.

In particular, I disagree with “The whole point of competition is to determine whose skills are better at the time of the competition.”

My disagreement is threefold:

  1. “whose skills are better at the time of the competition” is not meaningful.
  2. To the extent the thing under determination is meaningful, determining it is not possible with the current mechanisms (or possibly at all).
  3. To the extent it’s possible, it is not desirable.

On 1: While I definitely think one can be more or less competent in this arena, there is not a simple absolute set of skills pertinent to the writing of IF. This is true in a lot of fields, but especially in a creative one. I’m not a good illustrator, and a lot of other people are, and they make illustrated IF, whose illustrations are part of the goodness of that work. You could say that means I’m worse at IF writing than they are, but I might simultaneously be a better coder, or a worse coder but a better writer, and so on.

You could say “okay, so there are multiple skills we could be measuring”, or you could say “no, Socrates, the skill of writing IF first concerns choosing a good design, and part of what constitutes ‘goodness’ is the fitness of that design to the skills of its author; so that, if you are a bad artist, it befits you to select a design of IF that does not test your art abilities.” But then I would say, hang on, what if I have come up with an IF design that’s a great fit for my own skills and interests, but it’s on esoteric subject matter; is that what we’re looking for? Is that what wins the comp? You could further say, “no, Socrates, another aspect of IF skill concerns selecting the best design for the audience at hand.”

And maybe there’s even something in that, but we’ve now neatly defined “IF skill” as “that combination of characteristics most suitable to winning a competition,” which means this same notional “skill” would still be “tested” by most types of competition we might plausibly construct. (Barring ones with blatantly prejudicial rules about the predetermined characteristics of judges, like “you cannot win this competition if your name starts with V” – I’m sure there are some competitions one could come up with that wouldn’t obey this rule. But for the spectrum of competition types we see and discuss here, I think this argument holds.)

On 2: For the sake of argument, let’s pretend there’s a semi-objective IF Skill that could in theory be ranked. That’s not what we’re measuring, though. What’s being measured in the competition is how much these particular games appealed to these particular judges. Note I don’t even say “how good the games are,” because that’s not an objective question either, and because there’s quite strong evidence that winners at least in IF Comp (where we have the most copious data) are the games that pleased the most people while annoying the fewest. There are many games from past competitions that placed low (or at least not first) despite being written by people of very evident skill, and/or despite subsequently going on to become part of the IF canon and praised for their depth. The Comp isn’t meaningless, precisely, but it isn’t measuring the absolute value even of the works entered in it, let alone anyone’s oeuvre.

On 3: This is where we cross over from “I disagree with you” to “I disagree with you and I think the disagreement has moral weight.” The thing about finding out whose skills are best frames the discussion as a comparison of persons rather than of works. I didn’t say, even in my somewhat more pugnacious past, that I wanted to prove my superiority to the Imps or Graham or zarf as people, not even on the limited axis of game design-related abilities. Thinking that the competition will and/or should achieve this kind of interpersonal ranking makes it (in my view) destructive to individuals and the community: to individuals because they’ll tend to over-read the meaning of a negative result; to the community because it fosters jealousy, non-cooperation, stratification of respect, and so on.

I know there are many many aspects of society and popular culture that do set up this idea of absolutely rank-able personhood based on attractiveness or intellect or how much money you make or your stats at a sport, but that doesn’t make the practice healthy or wise; and for that matter if you dig into most of those ranking systems with someone who knows much about them, you’ll soon find yourself hearing things like “oh, sure, Pierre Steelcalves came in third in the Tour de France but he’s arguably the best cyclist in the race because [abstruse list of reasons, references to colors of jersey].”

What motivates me, at least, is more the ambition to do what is difficult, and “can I make a work that stands out among the contenders” is a form of constructed difficulty to go alongside the innate difficulty of cracking a hard code or design problem. This can be fun, sometimes. But it’s important not to take it to mean something it doesn’t.

Anyway. Maybe I’m pouncing hard on a detail of your phrasing, but I do think there’s a really important difference between “judging the games” and “judging the people who wrote the games.” The latter is not something I want to be involved in at all.

I said “whose skills are better” and not “who is better”, and this was conscious. A footrace determines who is the fastest runner (at that time, under those conditions), not who is the best human being. More generally, competition exists to test a set of attributes of the competitors(*) and, in my view, to motivate people to strengthen those attributes in preparation for the competition. If the attributes being tested can’t be trained or improved (e.g., who’s the tallest?), then I view that competition as valueless. I see value in IF comps motivating people to become better writers, game designers, programmers, and storytellers, all of which are skills that can be improved through effort. What you call “stratification of respect”, I call having mentors and role models to admire and learn from.

  • You say that you would prefer that we view the competitors as the works themselves rather than the people who created them, and it’s probably a good mental model when receiving criticism, but it’s still the creators who have endowed them with the attributes being tested. I’m not sure that the difference would be meaningful to the “over-readers” about whom you’re concerned in your third point.

Hm, okay. Let’s come at this another way. If the Comp works as you say, how would you explain Chandler Groover’s two placements in the most recent IF Comp?

I just want to point out that this is completely outside the realm of why I join comps and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.