I’d definitely agree that running the awards earlier, and getting the word out more widely, would be really significant improvements to the XYZZY’s, but I’d be pretty wary of getting rid of the nominations phase – partially because I think your diagnosis of which games did well this year and why isn’t quite right.
To my eye, there isn’t much of an IFComp bias at all: of the 10 games that won awards, there were 5 from IF Comp (WHHGG, Sting, Libonotus Cup, 4x4 Archipelago, and Last Night of Alexisgrad), 4 from Spring Thing (Weight of a Soul, Excalibur, Lady Thalia, Fish and Dagger) and one from ParserComp (Grooverland), which given that there were almost 50% more IFComp entries than Spring Thing and ParserComp entries combined doesn’t seem like a strong Comp bias.
Plus, while the Spring Thing and ParserComp games are largely the top finishers, the pattern is different with the IFComp games – the top three IFComp finishers were completely shut out, with the XYZZY awardees taking 4th, 5th, 8th, 13th, and 20th, which again seems weird if the rubric for XYZZY success was “stuff that lots of people played as part of the Comp.” The most extreme case is Then You Come to a House…, which won the Comp and was nominated XYZZYs, plus had way more IFComp votes and IFDB ratings than any of the other Comp games, but won zero of them.
Instead, my sense is that the games that got XYZZYs were largely ones that folks on this board were familiar with and liked – many of the awardees, myself included, are pretty prolific posters, and many of the games that did well are ones that have seen positive word of mouth around here. This isn’t to say that the awards were a popularity contest or anything like that! But my suspicion is that partially due to the lateness of the awards, the people who were most likely to power through and make nominations and final votes were the folks on this board, where there was an active thread about the XYZZYs, that set of polls @mathbrush pulled together over the summer to help remind people of some of the '21 highlights, and a greater familiarity with and affection for a particular subset of all the stuff that came out in 2021.
So yeah, I definitely think there were some parts of the IF community that didn’t really show up for the awards – in particular, I don’t think a single Choice of Games game was even nominated this year, which given that their playerbase completely dwarfs everyone else and I doubt that they had an embarrassingly weak year or anything, probably reflects a lack of participation (I know the XYZZYs had the opposite issue in previous years, where the flood of enthusiastic CoG fans meant nobody else had a chance).
Anyway, if I’m right, I’d think that making it so that participating meant picking a winner from the entire list of all games released in a year would if anything make it even harder for voters to participate, as that full list is incredibly intimidating and even just a month or so on from the end of the year, nobody will have played a significant fraction of the games. Plus, with the field not winnowed at all, I think the number of voters will be pretty small relative to the number of contenders; like, the three-way tie for innovation suggests that there were not a ton of voters this time out, and it’d be pretty easy to see a scenario where in some categories the top finisher would only be getting a half-dozen votes given how split the field might be, which wouldn’t provide much confidence in the results.
I actually think the current approach is a good one to manage the complexity of the community; ideally folks who enjoy all the different strands of IF can nominate their favorites, and then folks can engage with a manageable list of nominees and be exposed to stuff that’s outside of their direct wheelhouse (this is more or less how most major awards work in other media, from my understanding). But that requires participation from a large number of people across all those different sub-communities, which I think didn’t materialize this year possibly because of the lateness, and probably also because outreach to all those somewhat-scattered folks is challenging.
I know @mathbrush has talked about some additional/alternative awards, and Sam Kabo Ashwell, the XYZZY organizer, has mentioned trying to streamline creating the list of all eligible games because apparently that’s quite labor intensive and a major factor in why things have been delayed in recent years. I think those are all good ideas, and I love Amanda’s thought of asking you, and other folks who are active on these boards but also have connections to some of the other parts of the IF Community, to flag stuff that you’re seeing that’s good but underappreciated here. And there are probably other good thoughts too! But yeah, ditching the nominations phase seems likely to be counterproductive to me.