Which comp and why?

I’m currently working on a text adventure that I’d like to release sometime next year. I figure it would probably be advisable to wait on releasing it until some comp is happening, because otherwise the game might go un-played and un-reviewed. Having a deadline is helpful, too. This has got me wondering if I should wrap it up in time for Spring Thing (which I’ve entered before) or sit on it and polish away until next year’s IFComp (which I’ve never participated in).

What are the pros and cons of entering a game in either comp? Are certain types of game more or less appropriate for one comp versus the other? Any other thoughts on choosing an appropriate comp?

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I’ve taken part in both, and I think it depends more on the game and the feedback you want. When I finish my next thing, here’s what I’ll consider.

  • Is my intention to receive criticism and become a better writer or gamemaker (as opposed to simply sharing my work with an audience)?
    * subquestion: if the content is sensitive to me personally, will I be able to separate artistic vs. personal criticism?
  • Am I proud of the thing I’ve made, and do I believe it compares favorable to other games by talented authors? Is it something I’m comfortable standing behind?
  • Is my game complete & polished to within an inch of its life?

If I can answer in the affirmative to all these criteria, the game would be a good fit for IFComp. Otherwise, another release strategy might be best. Of course, these things don’t apply (and shouldn’t apply) to every author, but I think it comes down to how you want people to approach the game: as a fun offering, or an entrant in a competition.

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If it’s a parser-based game, then definitely ParserComp.

If it’s got a horror theme, then ECTOCOMP.

If it’s got a tutorial and aimed at beginners to text adventures, then the Text Adventure Literacy Jam.

If you just want the recognition and/or exposure, then IFComp.

If you want the recognition and/or exposure and it’s likely to take longer than two hours to play, then Spring Thing.

There are others, of course, but these are the main ones.

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I would be inclined to first check the criteria for all the competitions that look interesting, so you can rule out any for which your game won’t fit the criteria. Use Garry Francis’ guide to help you but also use your own judgement. Definitely take into account the part of the game you’ve already coded - I would advise against removing anything just to be eligible to enter a competition. (Note that the Back Garden of Spring Thing formally accepts demos, but the main competition needs to be a complete game. IFComp technically allows demos, but actually entering one is a Very Bad Idea on a par with entering something with game-breaking bugs).

Then figure out the minimally-viable product - the smallest amount of game that would be compatible with the competition. While for most competitions, you will require a completed game, that does not mean you need every single feature you are considering in the game.

Then polish that minimally-viable product to an inch of its life. If this process goes well, you will find you can join an earlier competition. If it takes a long time, then you were better off doing that than rushing the process.

Now, schedule to enter the next competition that met your criteria in Step 1. Use the remaining time to add features and polish.

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Alternately: enter the one you find the most enjoyable as a player. Or the one that resonates most with you philosophically. Most comps have some sort of underlying ethos or vibe. You’ll have a better chance of getting feedback from like-minded people.

Just leave a lot of time for testing

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All excellent advice above.

Of course, if financial gain is your primary motivation (and whose isn’t, in the cutthroat world of interactive fiction?) then you’d want to enter the ruthlessly commercial-minded shark tank that is IFComp, as I understand they pay out actual hard cash to entrants! Until the cash runs out.

If you’re above such worldly considerations, then the well-wishes and priceless but valueless trinkets given out by other competitions (including my own, ParserComp) might well be enough.

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If that’s a concern, it might help to keep an eye on itch.io jams that accept submissions at the time or immediately after whichever Comp you choose closes. Most Jams understandably want unique work written specifically for that Jam, but entry rules vary very wildly, and I guarantee you can find at least a half dozen Jams that have no such barriers and will gladly take your submission. This gets more eyeballs (and hopefully fingers) on your game.

(To be super clear, submit your game to the Comp first and foremost; don’t disqualify yourself, lol. The Jams are just the gravy on top.)

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… of (American) biscuits. Mmm.

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Never mix jam with gravy. Ugh.

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I was looking for a photo of jam and gravy mixed together, but google was no help. I briefly considered doing it myself, but it’s wasteful and I’m not committed enough to the bit. ¯\ (ツ)

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Redcurrant jelly, tho

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Maybe in the UK. I’ll admit at Thanksgiving here in the US, cranberry sauce and brown gravy do go together.

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In an attempt to rerail the thread a bit, why don’t @JTN and @rileypb organize RedcurrantJelly&BrownGravyJam somewhere in 2023. A comp where authors mix-n-match the most far-out IF-tropes to see which makes for the weirdest bestest deliciousest combo.

Golden Cup of jam&gravy guaranteed for @Cody_Gaisser , since his OP inspired all this.

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I just enter the next comp after I’m done, because I can’t sit on a game. It burns a hole in my psychological pocket.

In any comp, you’ll get some initial attention and play and reviews, but unless the game is really good, it’ll just languish anyway. And even some really good games languish-- looking back at games that placed really highly in the last 5 years of the IFcomp, a lot of them didn’t get a lot of ratings on IFDB. For whatever reason, they didn’t get the kind of staying power that only a few games enjoy.

All this is to say that if you’re happy with some feedback, just enter it in the next appropriate comp after you’ve polished it to a high sheen. Not a lot of people played or reviewed my ParserComp game, but the quality of feedback I got there was amazing, I think because it wasn’t drowning in a sea of 70-80 games. People emailed me out of the blue about that game. So in many ways that was a happier comp experience than Spring Thing or IFComp, despite getting less press. I don’t think it’s realistic to dream of being the next Counterfeit Monkey in terms of popularity, no matter what comp you enter.

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I usually just pick the competitions with a vibe (perhaps ethos is the more appropriate way to phrase it) that resonates with me.

I like the friendliness of Spring Thing- the low stakes, the openness of genre and content, the inclusivity, the personalized touch of audience awarded ribbons- the prizes are nice, but those little crumbs of feedback are the best! Plus, there’s a healthy amount of reviewing that floats around the games.

Ectocomp appealed to me because I love festive scary shenanigans, and the rankings were a nice baby step out of Spring Things exhibition to a gentle competition, which felt a more feasible escalation than diving into the no holds barred bar brawl of IFComp.

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Oh, I have no delusions that my game will become beloved and universally praised. I’m just now getting to the point where I’m making a text adventure that I think, with a lot more work and polish, I could be proud of. Still, if I do get it to the point where I’m proud of it, I would like to get it in front of as many players as possible who might either like the game or else give me constructive criticism on how to make my projects more enjoyable.

I still consider myself a noob, and my previously released games have largely been coding exercises in which I struggled to learn the basics of making something that could conceivably be called a finished product.

The Locked Door “series” was obviously just an iterative exercise where I built up the simplest possible text adventure into a longer chain of puzzles (with no narrative in sight). Very few players stuck around for enough iterations to see the most complete version of it.

Hinterlands: Marooned! was a simple gag where I tried to implement as many verbs as I could into a single situation in a coherent setting (with only the faintest whiff of narrative). The reaction seemed to be split between people who thought it was okay for what it was and people who absolutely hated it.

Nowheresville was a bit of a different situation as it was bashed out rather quickly for what the intended scope probably demanded, and the concept (and most of the writing) were that of a collaborator (Morpheus Kitami). It did manage to combine a puzzle chain with a narrative though, even if neither aspect was as polished as it could have (we seriously needed more time for beta-testing, but the Ectocomp deadline arrived). There was very little feedback at all, though we did learn that players probably weren’t seeing what we wanted them to see. Whoops.

This new project seems to be going in the right direction though, so I want to take the time to make sure it fulfills its potential. I don’t expect it to be anyone’s favorite text adventure, but I hope to at least make it fun and interesting to SOMEONE. And I’d like to get some feedback to help me make something even better.

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This sentence, with its carefully chosen words, leaves me no choice but to repeat the only criticism I had of Hinterlands: implement FART.
EDIT: Sorry! My mistake! I misremembered. I meant TICKLE. And now my comment has lost all comedic pointedness, with the “whiff” and the “fart” now blown away by this edit.

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I don’t know how I missed TICKLE! My brain was pretty numb from writing all those deaths though.

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But I envision it blown away by a mighty BURP, so never fear. It’s still funny.

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