Updates during the competition, aka the elephant in the room

I believe this would be counter intuitive to one of the major perks of updating: differentiating for the judges which games have been updated since it was released, I am not going to go back and replay a game I just played if I believe it to be the same game…

Which brings me to a series of separate questions, which I have not experienced these scenarios yet, but am now wondering about:

The rules state:

That you must judge after no longer than 2 hours of play

-So I am assuming this does not limit the amount of times you play, just so long as the combined experience does not exceed 2 hours? One 2 hour playthrough, or twenty-four 5 minute
playthroughs maximum?

That you can judge the originally entered version, or the updated version.

-So if the game takes 30 minutes to play, you played it for 30 minutes, score it, it gets updated, you play the updated version for 30 minutes, liked that version better, you can now change your
score if you want it to reflect the updated game? And if you didn’t like the updated game in this scenario, you could go back and lower the score since you can choose which version to judge?

And my biggest question is:

-What if you spent the full 2 hours playing a game, you then judged it, then it got updated, could you then replay it for another 2 hours, and change your score to reflect the most recent 2
hours you played? This would seem disproportionately unfair to longer games if this is not allowed due to the 2 hour time allowance.

Right. Real life exists; sometimes you have to go walk the dog in the middle of a play session. That doesn’t count against the game.

I don’t think this has been addressed. I’d say it’s two hours for the game overall, regardless of updates. (Otherwise authors could push out small updates to gain “free” judge attention, which is not the intent of the update rule.)

Judges are not required to download the updates. The original published zip has the games as they were October first. It’s quite easy to judge all the games as they originally appeared without even bothering with the updates if that is what a judge wants.

If judges are worried about how the other judges scored—based on an update or whatever—I don’t know what to say, except start a new “NoUpdateComp”.

Seconded, or thirded, or so. There are definitely some people who are against the update rule, but only a couple of people seem to have come close to expressing blame for the author. There are other people who won’t play updated versions if they can help it, or who just want to download the zip at the beginning and be done with it, but that’s clearly within their right according to the IFComp rules. Personally I’m with Emily Short; I actively want to see updates if they improve the experience of the game.

(It does seem clear that one or two people over on that thread really dislike this forum. Oh well.)

[rant=basically irrelevant]Someone made a reference to a comment I once made about giving a game an auto-1 because of something bad happening to a cat, so I wanted to be perfectly clear: 1: that was a joke about my attitude toward cats (which I was explicit about the time); 2: I’d played the game, didn’t merely hear about it; 3: I didn’t even rate the comp that year (but if I had, would not have given that game a 1).[/rant]

OK. So I’m going to weigh in here. I don’t think it’s against the comp rules to do so.

Deep breath.

So. I’m a software professional. This is what I do for a living. I manage the release of commercial software.

I just want to help the ‘no update’ crowd understand why their stance is not helpful. It’s difficult, if you’re not heavily engaged in this world, to appreciate.

For any software release, you go through several stages of testing. Proof of concept. Alpha. Beta. It takes a long time. It costs a lot of money. You feel you are ready. And then you release your software into the wild. And everything goes to shit. Always.

The instant your software is released, users start doing strange things. Almost immediately they find bugs that, even though you have tested as much as you possibly can, you never anticipated. So, a week after going live, you release a patch. Then another one. Then another. And another. And this never, ever, stops.

Who, reading this, after purchasing a $50 game has not, the next time they loaded it up, been presented with the ‘download patch’ screen, to fix all the bugs from first release? Be honest.

Now, consider the IFcomp. The authors have spent six months developing their game. For no money. They have asked friends and the community to contribute by testing as and when they can. And they have reached a point where the feel that they have done as much as they can with the resources they have available. So they enter the IFcomp. And, like every other piece of software, ever, the instant they release it into the wild, players will find bugs.

To suggest that an author release their game, for the first time, into the IFcomp, and be unable to fix bugs that arise from general player interaction is ridiculous. There has been no piece of software EVER that has gone into the wild without issues. Ever. If the games released into the competition were commercial, then it might be defensible - but they are not. They are FREE games that authors have spent months developing for FREE, with the help of their friends.

I sincerely want anyone who has issues with the updates rule to read and understand this. We so need our community to be inclusive and welcoming. I can speak from experience here. There is nothing more distressing, as an author, than to see a bug in your game and be unable to do anything about it. To have it presented to a group of people you respect and admire and it be less than it could be.

If I am a first time author, you guys are more experienced than me. You will find bugs that I hadn’t even considered. Please don’t stop me from ensuring my work is as good as I can possibly make it.


The first edition of Ulysses contained over two thousand errors. After your game exceeds that number of errors, I will deduct 1 point.

I don’t believe it was said either way on the IfComp website, but can you go back and change your scores on games that weren’t updated as long as it is based on less than your first two hours of playing it? It gives me the option to, but since this has not been stated anywhere that I can tell by an official, I am not sure if it was just implemented for when games do get updated and it states you can change scores then? Thank you. Also I am tired,

As far as I’m aware, you can change scores as often as you like. A lot of reviewers and voters do this after they’ve rated everything they plan to rate to smooth the curve, for instance awarding one 10. And it’s a fairly common occurrence to rate something, say, a 7, and then finish something else and think “no, this was the 7, the other one in retrospect I should have rated higher.”

Sorry about that, Matt! I should’ve made it perfectly clear I found it -very- funny. I wanted to highlight the context made it obvious. And while I do cringe at others who’ve said “I’ll be handing out a lot of 1’s this year,” well, that’s their right, and I think it really only adds randomness to the competition.

I write software for a living. I’m replying to this post, despite having already expressed my thoughts on the matter in the past, to dispel the attempted argument from authority that no one involved with software could possibly support the “no update” position.

When I was younger, this wasn’t possible, and yet people released games that, by and large, weren’t majorly broken. One of the things that I’ve worked on professionally is networking infrastructure for operating systems. If your networking code is broken, updating it over the network might be a problem (yes, there are workarounds like keeping an old system image around to load as a fallback). Sure, network update is a great boon for people releasing software, but I think that’s it’s lead to some laziness and a lowering of the software quality bar.

Unable to fix bugs for a short time while judging takes place. In my mind, to suggest that someone submit an entry into a competition with a deadline and then be permitted to alter their entry after the deadline and after receiving feedback from the judges is ridiculous. For years, here’s what happened: authors wrote games and tested them thoroughly (or didn’t), they submitted them to the comp, they began gathering bug reports and fixing bugs, the results were announced, and then many authors released post-comp bugfix versions of their games. There are pros and cons to this approach, but it was hardly unworkable.

See the old Spring Thing thread that Lucea linked for a lot more discussion on this topic.

You don’t see people (at least not yet) abusing the update system to allow for major story changes. It’s mostly just spelling errors and minor bugs that didn’t get caught during testing. Here’s the thing: as a judge (and I say this as an author in this year’s comp), you should obviously only vote on what was made available when you played the work. If you played the initial version of the game/downloaded it in the zip file bundle, you should obviously vote on that version of the game - that’s what was made available to you, that’s the last thing that was submitted by the author before the deadline, and so of course that’s what you should vote based on. Authors have to be accepting of that.

However, comparing small text works of people who largely have jobs, school, families, etc. and are only doing this in their spare time to shipping pivotal network code for software to clients (and I say this as a software engineer) is comparing apples to oranges. As well, just because updates weren’t available when you were younger doesn’t mean that having them available now isn’t inherently a good thing.

I think arguing at length about this right now is kind of useless until we have data after the competition period is over on how exactly authors were using their update privileges (ideally with a build available from each time the author updated post-deadline to compare how precisely these builds compare as the author updated, but this is probably not in the cards).

I’ve been against the updates rule since the day it was announced and I doubt my feelings regarding it will ever change. I’ve heard all the reasons why it’s a good idea and for me none of them really make a bit of difference. This is meant to be a “competition”. Updating features, fixing bugs, removing parts of the game people dislike during the voting period of a competition is never going to be a good idea in my opinion. If things need changing, then by all means change them – after the competition has concluded, or withdraw your game from the competition altogether and fix the game to your heart’s content based on the feedback you’ve received.

I’m sure someone out there is thinking, “Ah, David, but how would you feel if you’d entered a game in the IFComp and someone found a bug in it? Wouldn’t you want to be able to update it?”

Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. I’ve entered the IFComp quite a few times over the years and yes, I’ve entered with games that people have found bugs in. But that’s on me. I didn’t test them adequately enough beforehand, I didn’t leave long enough for checking / proof-reading / playing, etc, I didn’t get enough people to test it for me, and so on. My bad. It sure made me buck up my ideas in future.

Does the updates allow better games to be produced? Quite possibly. But that’s still not the point. It’s a competition. Better games could still be produced after the competition deadline or outside of the competition itself.

Let’s use an analogy, shall we? People like analogies.

Rob decides to host a short story competition with a one hour deadline. Most people are fine with this requirement as it challenges them to write a short story within a set timeframe. But Eric isn’t happy with it. Eric claims that if he could have three hours instead of one he could write a much better story. People argue that he’s missing the point because the competition is intended to have a timeframe of one hour, not three, but after much arguing from Eric’s camp, the competition is extended to three hours. But then Paul argues that he could write a better short story if he had ten hours and Brian believes if he had the services of a professional proof-reader and a few friends to exchange ideas with, he could write an even better short story. Brad thinks if he hired a team of writers to help him, and his short story went through a few dozen re-writes over the space of several months, he could write a much, much better story.

In the end, you have a short story competition which no doubt produced many great works, but none that actually stuck to the spirit of the competition. At some point, someone looks at what came out of it and says, “Yeah, some good works but… wasn’t this supposed to be a one hour short story competition? That guy wrote a novel that took him six months.”

That’s my take on it. That’s what prompted me to consider 1-voting any entry that updated because, in my opinion, authors should only enter games that are 100% ready into competitions and not be able to update them later if people decide there are things about them they don’t like. The only time updates should be allowed is if a change to the authoring system happens which breaks an author’s game through no fault of their own (say a new version of Inform 7 comes out right in the middle of the comp which breaks several entries).

And… I’ve written way more there than I intended to but those are my feelings on the subject. For what it’s worth, I’m not intending to 1-vote any game that updates because a) it’d be a pretty shitty thing to do and b) if it’s in the comp rules, it’d be pretty awful of me to 1-vote someone’s game for doing what the comp organiser allows. I still hate the update rule, though, and I won’t have any involvement in the comp while it remains.

I think that it is a good thing if used responsibly (that is, if a software team doesn’t slack on testing because “oh, we can just update it later if there are problems”). I mentioned it to counter the idea that it’s just not possible to ship a high quality game without updates.

This is my take on it also. I can argue vehemently against a certain tax policy, but I’ll still take advantage of said policy as long as it’s in place if it’ll save me money. Similarly, I don’t think that the update rule should be in place, but I wouldn’t penalize authors for taking advantage of it, and I might very well take advantage of it myself in order to remain competitive.

Why not allow bug fixes but not content changes?

The line isn’t as distinct as all that. Is correcting a triple-negative sentence that accidentally said the opposite of what you want a content change or a bugfix? Is stopping a cutscene from happening twice a content change or a bugfix? Reversing the order two things happen in so that the causality makes sense? Editing an NPC’s dialogue because it wasn’t clear enough that they were hiding something?

If this actually becomes a problem, it might need addressing. For now it’s pretty clear that people are using updates for fixes rather than content adding, particularly in mind of the hostility to updates - because there are people who are liable to get annoyed if you do an update at all, it only feels worth doing an update if it will stop the game going screwy for at least that many people.

I think if adding new content after the deadline, or fixing bugs/mechanics after the deadline is considered abuse, I’ve definitely abused it as an author this year. I added an entire expansion to my game after the deadline LOL. I’ve added new items and dialogue options.

This is the first year I have participated in the comp. My goal was not necessarily to get 1st in the contest, but get people to play my game, and perhaps network with some other cool people.

As a software developer, I enjoy the ability to update my entry. There’s no way any amount of testers are going to catch everything in a fixed amount of time, and new users bring new feedback. New information begs for updates, and my goal is to provide the best experience possible, to as many people as possible. I will be relatively penalized, naturally because I’m sure judges have tried previous versions.

Not really sure if this is your goal, but maybe this community will grow faster and attract a wider variety of people if some of the veterans let go their dogma. There’s so much of it surrounding the concept of “right and wrong”, “fair and unfair”. Why not just appreciate someone who is willing to work their ass off before, during, AND after the competition to provide you with the best entertainment possible?

Do you want to enjoy your time playing games as a judge? Or do you see yourself as some mechanical judiciary agent that must uphold the perfect standard?

Stop taking yourself so seriously and just have fun.

Just to be clear, this is not an issue with veterans on one side and newcomers on the other.


Just to be clear, this is not an issue with veterans on one side and newcomers on the other.


How could it be any other way?

I found this competition a little earlier this year, read the rules at the time, which mention being able to update. If I as a newcomer didn’t like the way it was structured, why would I enter?

How could it be any other way?

I found this competition a little earlier this year, read the rules at the time, which mention being able to update. If I as a newcomer didn’t like the way it was structured, and had strong sentiments about it, why would I enter?

Jmac, the IFComp organizer who wrote the update rule, is an IFComp veteran. I am an IFComp veteran, and I think the rule is fine. Several of this year’s IFComp authors are veterans, and they’re updating freely.

Really, I think that if you’re looking at this situation from an author’s perspective, the number of judges who are hostile to updates – robinjohnson’s term above – is so small as to be irrelevant. What you are worrying about are the judges who are indifferent to updates: people who have no problem with the rule as written, but who play your game as originally posted and never download (or even see) the update.