The Competition: The Story Behind The IGF’s Critics

By Brendan Caldwell on March 7th, 2012 at 11:47 am.


“There’s no plans to bring Fez out on any other platforms?” I ask Phil Fish, as he finishes off his sandwich. He chews and I mutter an inward prayer. Oh Gods, let him say PC. “We’re not even thinking about it right now,” he says. “I mean, ultimately, I would like to see it on everything. Why not? But we do have exclusivity with Microsoft, as you do – you find it’s really hard to not do that.”

The Gods are useless. Never pray.

After our interview, I walk down the building’s stairwell to rejoin the frivolities at this year’s GameCity Festival in Nottingham. Simon Parkin, of international games journalising renown, walks past me on his way to talk to the developer. We exchange a look.

He doesn’t recognise me. I can tell by his quizzical squint. But we’ll see. Parkin’s not the only one who can do industry-tumbling, gut-busting investigative reporting with stories that flow full circle. I’ll show you, Parkin. We humans are competitive beasts, and I’m no exception.


Fez, a novel puzzle-platformer in which you shift between 2D perspectives, may not be coming to PC any time soon but the game is significant in a wider sense. Significant because it has been nominated for two prizes at this year’s Independent Games Festival awards when a few vocal critics have argued it really shouldn’t have been.

The controversy is summarised thus: In 2008, Fez won in the Excellence in Visual Arts category at the IGF. It certainly is a lovely looking game, I can personally testify to that. In 2012 it remains unreleased and subsequently re-enters the IGF for that year (and is eventually nominated for both the Technical Excellence award and the Seamus McNally Grand Prize).

Noting that Fez has previously won an award and judging its re-entry to be unfair, a Twitter mob forms, led by developer and vocal IGF critic Anna Anthropy. Independent devs are mobilised and throw together a Pirate Kart – a collection of 300 games banged together at short notice and entered into the IGF at the last minute. Some see this as a digital protest against the competition’s unfit rules and high entry fees (it costs over $90 to enter a game). Some see it as a fun way to throw a bunch of games together, in the spirit of previous Pirate Kart. But whatever way they see it, nobody doesn’t see it.

“The Pirate Kart was a lot of things to a lot of different people,” says Anna Anthropy, months later. “But yeah, for me it was definitely a reaction to that [the controversy over Fez]. It was about putting all these games in the IGF that are valuable games.

“I mean, it raised a lot of awareness both of these games that would never have been so widely played if the Pirate Kart hadn’t existed. And also just [awareness] of the fact that the IGF is bullshit.”

I ask her what she means by that.

“The fact that Fez can have already won an IGF award and now it’s nominated for – what is it? – I think two awards, including the Grand Prize? I think it’s a really good reminder that the IGF is all about cliquey-ness, the scenesters that I yell about. The fact that it’s about the established – quote, unquote – indie scene. Not about what’s really exciting about DIY games, you know – the fact that anyone can make games.

Anthropy feels that outsiders, the people who really need access to an audience via these sorts of events, are being left out. They’re being left out, she argues, in favour of established names.
“Phil Fish – he’s already won,” she says. “He’s already got a contract. He’s already got money. Someone who is working out of their bedroom to who – whatever the prize is, like $5000 [the Grand Prize is actually a stunning $30,000] – would be something life-changing for them. This would be an opportunity to get more press than they’ve ever got in their lives but instead the press is regurgitated back to the people who already got the most of it and I think that’s really sad. And I think all that does is keep more people out, more of the people that I’d like to be in, that I’d like to be involved.

“All it says is that, ‘Oh, these people are indie. These people are superstars.’ They’re not.”


That said, Phil Fish re-entering the contest wasn’t against the rules per se. There was nothing that prevented previous winners from entering. Technically speaking, it was a legal move, although that’s changing. And, ultimately, the IGF is still a competition. Surely it isn’t beyond anyone’s imagination that a contender will come along and wipe the floor with Fez? A David to their Goliath?

“Well, frankly that’s not going to happen,” says Anna. “Certainly there are a handful of interesting, really interesting, small games that manage to squeak in every year but they sort of squeak into lesser positions.

“Like, the Nuovo Award exists now and that’s to allow those kinds of actually interesting, weird, experimental games [their own] tiny space in the IGF. No. All of the games that are really interesting fall through the cracks because the awards are structured in such a way to lead to these very particular kind of games.” Anthropy argues that the very category-based system of judging is not conducive to focusing attention on interesting oddities, and so the judges are pushed towards the familiar games. “So the IGF judging process is built to filter out – whether consciously or unconsciously – a lot of games that are really deserving of attention.”

But is that really the case? Is the judging process really so bad? This reporter wants to know. There’s only one way to find out if the judges agree with Anna’s diagnosis. Time to hit the streets. I mean the internet. Okay, Twitter.


This is how real reporters operate. The BBC. Simon Parkin. Those sort of people.

Anyway, the IGF works by assigning a big group of judges, picked from the industry by the organisers. This is a group of anywhere from 100-200 people who sit at home, possibly in their underwear, and play through assigned games making nominations as they go. Essentially, this under-dressed army of evaluating gamers work as a hive to create the shortlist of each category. From this point it’s up to a smaller panel of ‘jurors’ to decide which finalists win.

I spoke to three of these judges and the consensus among them is that the process was mostly fair but also that there are areas which could be improved. The judges I spoke to asked to remain anonymous. Which is exactly what happens when you do real, ball-busting investigative reporting. Everyone is afraid. The internet has EARS. “Personally I would’ve liked to see more categories,” said one of the judges I spoke to. “There’s not one for writing for instance which I think is a shame, especially since so many games would’ve fit the criteria. The Nuovo award feels a bit like a catch-all for any games that have that special something but not necessarily because of any of the categorised reasons.”

Unfinished games being entered is another conundrum that faces judges, as prototypes and works-in-progress have always been allowed to enter the IGF.

“I found it a bit difficult when unfinished games came up. I can deal with content-locked, unfinished builds, but in one instance I was given a game to judge which was nothing but the opening cutscene and first unfinished screen. What are people meant to say about that, really?

“Then again, those kinds of games don’t get nominated because, well, they pretty much can’t be, so that’s more down to the discretion of the developer rather than a flaw in the IGF setup. I think maybe having a category for unfinished games would be better, if it had its own award.”


You can probably see why unfinished games are permitted – to allow games in alpha or beta stages to get the money and publicity they need to continue development. But no other medium would allow an unfinished work to enter a competition. Could an unfinished movie be nominated at Cannes? No. So why does the IGF allow it, and is this a good thing or a bad thing? “When it comes to comparing, say, unfinished prototypes from solo developers with finished $100k projects from large teams, I can see why some people would see this as suspicious or unfair,” said another judge.

“But I didn’t find this a problem at all… You can get a sense of how far into development the game is, whether the artwork is placeholder, the prior experience of the developers, the budget. If you have experience of what alpha versions of games are generally like, then it’s surprisingly easy to spot one and judge it against a finished project.”

The judging process has come under rather more intense pressure this year, however, with one developer claiming that judges were not even playing their game.

Kale in Dinoland, an iOS port of a Gameboy title from 1992, was only played by five out of eight of its judges. And only one of those played for longer than a few minutes. In response to this complaint by the developer of this game, IGF chairman Brandon Boyer replied:

“All of our judges and jurists are professionals who very generously volunteer their time, year after year, to look at an ever-increasing number of entrants, for no reward other than a genuine desire to help foster and grow and reward achievements in the independent game development community.

“Some have or make more time to devote to this than others … The IGF, contrary to the most creative of the conspiracy theories, is not a shadowy elite who conspire to promote their own, it is very simply a few hundred game developers, academics and journalists of every stripe, all of whom volunteer for this job solely because they are enthusiastic about independent games, but all of whom also must have to deal with new babies, and crunch-times, and fall ill and can be forgetful and distracted.”

The difficulty of organising a remote taskforce of volunteers certainly shouldn’t be underestimated, but this response didn’t convince everyone. It certainly didn’t seem to convince Mike Meyers, the lead organiser of the Pirate Kart, who replied:

“It must be nearly unavoidable that problems like these will happen. But when it happens, don’t make excuses about how hard it is, or how busy your judges are and especially don’t blame the entrants or the way their games work. It IS hard and judges ARE busy, but that isn’t the entrants’ problem! They paid the $95 under the clear understanding that their game would get seriously looked at by judges and have a fair shot in the contest. If that doesn’t happen, whatever the reason, then the IGF failed to do it’s job [sic]. The proper response is to own up to that, apologize, and continue to try and prevent it from happening again.”

I sit down in the ‘Fez room’ at GameCity Festival but I have made a grievous error. I have chosen a terrible chair. It lurches dramatically in response to every tiny shift of weight, completely untameable. I pretend to watch Fez on the big screen as someone jumps around from platform to platform but really I am eavesdropping on a conversation behind me, as Phil Fish speaks to another journo about the IGF controversy. I lean back and almost fall as the seat wobbles unsteadily. Damn you, chair. I won’t have this humiliation. I am a prize-winning jockey and you are my stallion.

I overhear the words, “No, I get that it’s a dick move but…” Whoever it is, that journo had better not be after my story.

I play Fez for a bit and curse the Gods. Not on PC.


The truth is, the organisers of the IGF already know all these problems exist. A letter from IGF Chairman Brandon Boyer, posted on the festival’s website, details that changes will be made to existing rules. Among these, the organiser insists that they are “taking gradual steps to limit prior finalists from re-entering the same game.”

“One of my strongest beliefs is that none of us here at the IGF should act as gate-keepers, rejecting developers as they file in to enter their games, for any reason,” Brandon says. “That said, we would like to see the games coming into the festival being prepared for the festival, just as it operates in other creative fields… we’re making an official stance that finalists of IGF 2012 will be discouraged from re-entering their game in 2013.

“The idea is to leave those finalist slots (not to mention judge & jury assignments) open for new works.”

The letter goes on to explain that 2012 is a “transitional year.” Any entrants that have entered previously would not be discouraged this year, which explains Fez. Basically, the organisers appear to have agreed that re-entries are against the spirit of the competition and it looks like 2012 is the last year we’ll see this happen. But this letter was posted in June, before the contest got underway. Why the leeway? Why have a “transitional year” at all? Why not just change the rules and be done with it?

“We tweak and mod and tune bits of everything every year,” ansers Boyer. “But it won’t be until after GDC that we pull the team together to figure out how best to guide 2013, and I don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver anything by anticipating what those changes will be at this point.

“Certainly what constructive feedback we get from developers and judges themselves will be taken into account, and I’ve always got no shortage of ‘big ideas’ for how I’d like the festival to operate more smoothly.”

But even when this rule does change it will be far from straightforward, as RPS’ own Bargains and Bins Correspondent, Lewie Proctor (who was a judge this year and is not afraid of the internet’s ears) points out.


“Obviously that’s not going to be entirely simple to police,” he says. “Is a game with a few new bits added and a ‘2’ after the name a new game? What about a game with the same name that has been totally rewritten and all content redone?” Not exactly unprecedented.

Overall, the judges seem to be mostly happy with their role in the competition. But the judging process isn’t the only thing under fire. Concerns have also been raised about the credibility of the Audience Award, which asked the public to vote on a game to win out of all the finalists. The complaint being that many of the games included in the shortlist can’t even be played yet. Johann Sebastian Joust, Botanicula, Fez, Antichamber, Faraway, Gunpoint, Mirage and Storyteller were all choices in the public vote despite being unreleased and having no publicly available demo. Waking Mars and Proteus have since been released, in full and beta form respectively, but were also not publicly available by the time voting had closed.

On the audience award, the IGF submission rules state:

“Public voters will download demonstrations of the games and vote for their favorite – the game with the most votes will win the award. Entered Games must have a playable public demo when asked by the Nominating Committee (likely to be around January 2011) to be considered for this category, but do not need to submit a public demo with initial entry.”

But later the IGF Chairman Brandon Boyer said this rule would no longer apply.

“We’re allowing voting for any game chosen as a finalist in the festival, as opposed to just those with public PC demos,” he said, when public voting was opened this year. “This is because many of the titles have been playable at other indie game events – or have Beta and other OS versions that many indie game fans may have checked out.”

In a way, he’s right. Many of the entrants actually do have playable builds of these games, which have been showcased at events. Proteus was demoed at A Bit of Alright (among other places) and Johann Sebastian Joust has been doing the rounds at a number of events. And of course, Fez was shown off at GameCity.

But these games are not available to the public at large. You can’t go online and buy them or try them out anywhere, which challenges the validity of an openly public category in which absolutely anyone with an internet connection can vote. You have to have been at one of these events to have played the games.

I asked Boyer if the IGF plans to change the way the Audience Award works but he declined to comment.


I discover myself sitting in a vegan cafe in Nottingham town centre, surrounded by pescatarians and other undesirables. I put my headphones in and listen over the interview. Again, here he was: the source of the controversy.

“No, I totally get that it’s a bit of a dick move,” Fish says. “But it’s my job to promote this game the best I can. There was so much reaction like, ‘Oh, don’t enter it again, you don’t need the attention, you have enough attention right now.’ But the game isn’t out yet. It’s not a success, I’m not Minecraft at this point, like, I haven’t made a single dollar in five years. I have only accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt that I need to pay back. There’s not going to be a point before release where I’m like, ‘All right, that’s enough hype. I’m just gonna sit down and wait for the game to come out.’ We are systematically entering every contest, every festival, everything that we can enter.”

But will the judges allow it? Will Fez be tainted by the controversy?

“I hope that the judges judge the game on its merit and don’t have a bias based on, like, ‘Oh, you won before so I’m not going to give you a good score.’ I think that would be… that would be really shitty of them. Like, that’s their job.”

Fish knew that re-entering Fez would be controversial even before he did it and admits that he was conflicted about the decision himself. But after asking Brandon Boyer about it and being told the game had changed enough to allow a re-entry, his concerns dissipated. At that point, he says, he knew what the IGF wanted.

“The IGF wants the biggest, best games to enter the competition. They want their competition to be fierce. They don’t want the best game developers to sit it out and be like, ‘Oh, we’re too good and this is the kid’s table.’ They really hate that kind of conception that the IGF is a scholarship. It kind of used to be. It kind of was for us – it got us started, it got us the attention of publishers and it got us the Microsoft deal and all that – but that’s just a bonus, that’s just a positive side effect.

Fish argues that the IGF just want their ceremony to matter to be people, and he points to how Monaco took the grand prize despite being totally unfinished at the time. (And it is totally awesome, too – RPS.)

“My favourite kind of reaction we’re getting so far from the IGF is… people feel like it’s not fair. That we’ve had five years to enter this game and we’re entering it. But it’s like, it wasn’t easy, we had to work hard for that. It wasn’t like we won the IGF and that just ‘made’ the game. No, we won the IGF and we had to work our asses off for five years.

“It’s like, ‘Well, if you can’t compete with us, then you can’t compete with us.’ It’s a competition, I’m not going to hold anything back.”


The subsequent Pirate Kart was seen by some as a direct protest against Fez’ re-entry. Does Fish see it that way?

“Well, the Pirate Kart was its own thing just before that. It was a ‘let’s-get-together’ thing and Anna Anthropy kind of made it… It’s kind of coming up as a big ‘Fuck You’ to the IGF.
“I dunno what’s going to happen with that because it’s kinda not a legal move that they’re doing. The whole idea was to bypass the fact that you have to pay a hundred bucks to get to the IGF. Now, they’ve got – what – two hundred and something games on there? [The final count was three hundred games.] If I was a judge at the IGF this year and I was assigned the Pirate Kart, I’d be like, ‘Nah. I’m not gonna play three hundred games, are you fucking crazy?’

It’s common practise for indie devs to rattle their glasses and make noise about the industry. To some, the Pirate Kart underscores a splintering within the community into different tiers – the supported, well-marketed indie and the very obscure, unsupported indie. But to Fish, the idea that there is a class system breaking out is nonsense.

“It really annoys me when people make that distinction because it’s not like I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and everything was easy. I had to make a really good game and work really hard to promote it to get where I am today, where it’s well-known even before it came out. I didn’t just start out with a hit on my hand.”

“There’s this whole mentality on TIGSource and places like that, that there’s this indie elite – that there’s like this secret society of friends that are manipulating everything behind the scenes… this secret elite behind the scenes and that we’re all friends and that we’re only helping each other. It’s such bullshit.”


I smile at the prospect of indie conspiracy theorists. Four of the people who have worked on Fez were jurors in the 2011 competition – Rich Vreeland, Paul Robertson, Renaud Bédard and Phil Fish himself. To some, they are members of a magic circle – the indie Illuminati. To Phil, they’re a group of friends. He laughs at the idea that there’s anyone somehow pulling the string of the indie scene.

“Yes, I’m good friends with Brandon Boyer and he’s running the IGF but I don’t think he’s gonna let that…you know, he’s not going to be biased towards us. The guy, he takes this very seriously. It’s just, yeah, we’re a bunch of friends but it’s not like because we’re a bunch of friends we’re all secretly helping each other out to trump the even littler – littlest – guys. There’s so many people on TIGSource that feel like they’re being fucked over by the indie elite. There’s no such thing! The fact that indie games has become a scene just pisses me off. Because now there’s all this scene drama and jealousy and enemies…”

As an outsider, it once seemed that indie games were an ideal world where everybody got along and knew each other. A diverse group of artists united in their dispossession. But it doesn’t seem to be that way. Why?

“Well, it just got too big,” says Fish. “It became a bigger thing… There was a certain sense of community that was tighter some time ago than now because the whole indie movement-idea-thing just blew up and now everybody wants a piece of that pie.”

But that sense of dispossession still exists, even among those deemed part of the ‘magic circle.’

“We don’t have many tools at our disposal to promote the game, we don’t have money for advertising or PR or anything. The best we can do is enter competitions and win awards and get people’s attention that way, so I’m not gonna stop that. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect me to just sit this one out, like, ‘No, Phil. You’ve had enough. Let the little guy have a shot at it.’ Hey, if the little guy has a game that is so good that it can beat out Fez – amazing.”

Fish expands on this: “That could happen. It could be a prototype that’s gonna beat out everything this year and be such an amazing idea that it’s gonna beat out completed, finished games. But if not, like –“

He pauses briefly, searching for the right words. The right gauntlet to throw.

“Make a better game than mine.”


At GameCity the sun sets and the Wild Rumpus begins. A pub filled with games and drunkenness. I ponder Fish’s words with the benefit of two pints of Midlands ale. The IGF may not be working quite as intended, but it seems its creators are aware of the bugs. The fact that unfinished things can enter make it an unorthodox competition , while the Audience Award seems like a misnomer at best. Meanwhile the judging process looks like one of the hard problems of game industry, with an oversubscription of games whose only flaw is that they are too unusual to be categorised, and a volunteer group of judges who might be too busy to actually do their job.

But are these buggy elements enough to label the competition unfair? Or broken? Or “bullshit”? The fact that it is being continuously reformed should give us a little faith. CMP’s bossman Simon Carless, one of the brains behind the IGF told me that “we’re continually fighting to improve quality and transparency.” That does seem to be true, despite recent troubles.

What should also give the organisers of the IGF faith is that they are important enough to come under criticisms like those I have listed here. This competition matters.

Back at GameCity I peer over the hairstyles to see a group of people playing Johann Sebastian Joust. Feeling a sudden merriment, I wander through the pub for a closer look. In Joust, you hold a PlayStation Move controller as still as possible while simultaneously trying to knock or shake the controllers of the opponents around you. I was once thrown into a loudspeaker and got a black eye playing Joust. It is a brutal game.

The crowd encircles the players, giving them space as they dance around each other cautiously. I look around. And there he is. Parkin. Of international games journalising renown. Slapping controllers left and right, knocking everyone out with swift, wide swipes, no longer a man but a bear. A great tall, jousting bear. Wearing skinny jeans.

Someone offers a controller and I’m in there like a timber wolf. I attach the controller firmly to my hand and stand across from Parkin in the makeshift arena, distant words of Tyler Durden resounding in my skull. I will end this man’s reign of terror. He recognises me this time (Twitter) and extends his hand in salutation.

“Good to meet you!” we probably said at each other as we shook hands.

The game begins. Out of nowhere I get a hard open palm to the back. I’ve been knocked out after just two seconds. A complete stranger in the crowd raises his fist revealing the controller he had been hiding all along. Secreting your controller is not against the rules of Joust per se. But I can’t help feeling a little hard-done-by. The offender shrugs his shoulders and smiles. In my mind, I hear him say: “I get that it’s a dick move but…”

Parkin goes on to win the round. I offer my controller to someone in the crowd and they snatch it ravenously.

We humans are competitive beasts.

And the IGF was always a competition.

[Jim's footnote: I'll eat my fuckin' trousers if Fez doesn't come out on PC as soon as the MS exclusive is up.]

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87 Comments »

  1. Patches the Hyena says:

    Is it true that Simon Parkin is John Mayer in disguise?

    • Hoaxfish says:

      yea, I read about that too… it does not come across nicely

    • Delusibeta says:

      Considering Fish’s excuse for a lack of a PC version is (and I quote) “It’s made to be played with a controller, on a couch, on a Saturday morning. To me, that matters; that’s part of the medium.”

      As anyone who worked at Remedy would tell you, that’s blatant bollocks. The real reason is that Microsoft has paid him lots and lots of bucks for exclusivity.

      (Source: http://www.nowgamer.com/features/950149/fez_interview_polytrons_phil_fish.html )

    • Kadayi says:

      Game looks cute, but yeah he comes across as a bit of an egotistical asshole (especially given he hasn’t even shipped yet). Regardless of that though, given he’s won before albeit it’s not outside the rules to submit again it’s kind of bad form, especially given he’s now got funding for the project. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

    • DK says:

      He’s a hypocrite is what he is.
      “Oh no, I have so much debt and no PR and no Marketing, I’m so poor.”
      Then what did Microsoft give you for the exclusivity deal?
      “I haven’t made any money off Fez yet”
      Well guess what you moron, you would have made money already had you not signed over your soul to Microsoft.

    • Vagrant says:

      I beg to differ! If he signed away his soul (IE publishing rights) he would be seeing plenty of money. Instead I would guess he signed an agreement to make an XBOX version in exchange for PR.

      Also, PC = Windows = Microsoft, so there’s a possibility that it’s not exclusive to XBOX, just to MS products. It’s happened before, I think. He may just not be pushing hard enough for a PC release.

    • Chaz says:

      I don’t see why this guy is such a big deal considering his game isn’t even out yet.

    • mckertis says:

      “There was so much reaction like, ‘Oh, don’t enter it again, you don’t need the attention, you have enough attention right now”

      The dick sure got his attention, all right.

      “Make better game than mine.”

      Uhh…okay. People are known to do that almost every day.

    • wu wei says:

      This bit was especially offensive:

      They really hate that kind of conception that the IGF is a scholarship. It kind of used to be. It kind of was for us – it got us started, it got us the attention of publishers and it got us the Microsoft deal and all that – but that’s just a bonus, that’s just a positive side effect.

      It got him attention when he was an unknown, but now fuck that, it’s all about the big boys.

      I guess the only important independent game developers are the ones who started 3+ years ago.

  2. RobF says:

    There’s something mildly amusing about a forum that was born out of anger with the established order of indie now being seen as somewhere that created/creates/promotes a new established order of indie.

    So it goes, I guess. Until the next order. And the one after that.

    KILL THE KING.

  3. marcusfell says:

    Be careful about the trousers thing. I’ve heard it doesn’t work as intended.

  4. Meat Circus says:

    Microsoft are an enemy of the Indie dev. Any dev who takes their shiny fucking shilling in exchange for exclusivity should be treated as a whore and pariah and cast into the IGF outer darkness.

    • vivlo says:

      problem is, those guys, like the ones at thatgamecompany, do sometimes wonderful thing. They may not be commercially wise enough to see how their status could help them were they not to sign an exclusivity contract, but it doesn’t prevent them from doing sometimes great things.

  5. felisc says:

    ! Nice long article.

  6. Meat Circus says:

    ““The IGF wants the biggest, best games to enter the competition. They want their competition to be fierce. They don’t want the best game developers to sit it out and be like, ‘Oh, we’re too good and this is the kid’s table.’ They really hate that kind of conception that the IGF is a scholarship. It kind of used to be. It kind of was for us – it got us started, it got us the attention of publishers and it got us the Microsoft deal and all that – but that’s just a bonus, that’s just a positive side effect.”

    So, let me get this straight: the IGF hate that their festival is too… Indie?

    Cocks.

    • Nevard says:

      I think you’re conflating “Indie” and “Bad”
      Fish is an independent developer, and he said that IGF want to see Independent Developers entering their games without having to think “am I too good for this?”

      Whether you are “indie” or not depends on who’s employing you and where your budget is coming from, not how good you are at making games

    • BooDooPerson says:

      Taking on an exclusive distribution deal that ties your game to the will of a publisher/platform is a partial forfeiture of your independence as a developer. Having a 5 year dev cycle is a sign that you will never be able to make it from one game to the next without outside support.

      If Polytron is the model for indie companies then everyone needs to start getting government grants, movie deals, and friends at festivals with 5-digit prize values.

  7. googoogjoob says:

    holy shit

    “It really annoys me when people make that distinction because it’s not like I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and everything was easy. I had to make a really good game and work really hard to promote it to get where I am today, where it’s well-known even before it came out. I didn’t just start out with a hit on my hand.”

    i can’t read this as anything but “i had to work hard to get all this hype for a game that nobody’s played so nobody knows if it’s good or not”

    i don’t doubt that fish worked hard on his game and on promoting it, but that doesn’t mean that he deserves his fame particularly any more than any number of other indie devs who have worked just as hard or harder on their own games and promotion- he just happened to get lucky and come up with a game that was especially marketable and interesting to microsoft

    anyway the fact that he uses this argument against the existence of an indie “class system” is merely indicative of the existence of that same class system- it’s the same argument rich people use to justify their own success over other people

    also: i basically agree with meat circus’s previous comment that got posted while i was typing mine

    the igf isn’t about either rewarding particular quality in games or about providing exposure to obscure but great games, it’s like all big award ceremonies: a giant opportunity for the people at the top to slap each other on the back and feel good about their success

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      That’s exactly how it came across to me as well.

    • Meat Circus says:

      Yeah, me too, Whatever Brendan’s intention, this article reads like conformation of Brandon Boyer and Phil Fish are guilty of that most mundane kind of petty corruption.

      “There is no cabal!” cries friend of cabal leader.

    • Phantoon says:

      Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking, just in more words.

      Also, I find it hard to disagree with Auntie Pixelante, because I generally agree with her.

    • Craig Stern says:

      The analogy doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, but yeah, those remarks did make me think of this a bit: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-things-rich-people-need-to-stop-saying/

    • Vagrant says:

      But in the end he was right, just make a better game. Nobody cared who he was the first time he won the IGF Award, they just saw Fez and were amazed.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      “i had to work hard to get all this hype for a game that nobody’s played so nobody knows if it’s good or not”
      That’s wrong though. IGF judges have played it, a lot of the public has played it. Heck, even I’ve played it.
      It wasn’t hard to get a chance to do so either, Fish was around for several hours every day of the GameCity event giving people a chance to play.
      And let me just say, from what I saw and played of the game it is good. Really fucking good.
      The next Cave Story? I don’t know (it feels more like a Seiklus to me). But I can assure you it will come close. How much of that is due to Fish and not Bernard and Disasterpeace I can’t say though.

      I kinda agree with the rest of your post though.

    • googoogjoob says:

      i know that quite a few people have played fez, but the vast majority of people interested in indie gaming haven’t (and since it’s currently xbox-exclusive, even fewer will be able to when it does come out)

      anyway, the quality of fez isn’t really relevant- what’s important is that most of the people who care about it haven’t gotten a chance to play it, and not everyone lives near or can readily travel to a centralized “indie” gathering to play it

      i’ll stop bitching now i don’t really have anything else to say

    • psysal says:

      @Memphis-Ahn It’s not “bernard” it’s “bedard” Renaud Bédard.

      … But I admit to copy and pasting the accented é so please don’t consider me astute.

  8. AmateurScience says:

    Great read, very interesting subject. What I think is surprising is that Fish (and presumably not just him) seem to view IGF etc as only a promotional thing (or at least that’s how they come across in the piece). Of course it is, but I think the organisers would rather focus on the prestige bit.

    Most of the problems seem to stem from the unique (and wonderful) fact that games are rarely truly ‘finished’, certainly compared to a book or film. So limiting the awards to finished games only would be difficult because it’s very difficult to determine when one actually…is. On the other hand limiting entries to once per game is problematic as Lewie says, games can completely change over the course of one year finished or not.

    It might be time for a bit of restructuring, or perhaps the Pirate Kart folks should organise and even more indie IGF (the IIGF! you heard it here first).

    ALSO

    There’s going to be a veritable fete de pantalons if Psychonauts 2 comes out and Fez doesn’t make it to PC. I look forward to it with relish (it goes well with trouser see?)

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      Of course, it would be easier if, instead of restructuring, people like Fish and the incompletionists would behave more like self-aware adults.

    • AmateurScience says:

      Well yes, but unfortunately you can’t make that a criteria for entry…

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      “Rule #68b: Really, guys? C’moooon.”

    • Pattom says:

      @AmateurScience: But games do have a reasonable standard for “finished,” in that you can at some point pay money in exchange for a playable build. Plenty of indie teams do this with their betas; you accept that the product you have is going to evolve significantly as a consequence of showing faith in the developers. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to stipulate that people outside the competition should be able to play the entries without having to travel to events like GameCity.

  9. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    “Kale in Dinoland, an iOS port of a Gameboy title from 1992″

    That’s their marketing line. It’s not actually a port of an old game.

    Unless you mean Kirby’s Dream Land 2.

  10. sneetch says:

    “I mean, ultimately, I would like to see it on everything. Why not? But we do have exclusivity with Microsoft, as you do – you find it’s really hard to not do that.”

    So… we’ll see it in about a year then, when the exclusivity contract runs out? Feck it, I’ll get it on my box of Xs.

  11. KaL_YoshiKa says:

    So let me get this straight. You hand them $95, then they might not even bother to play your game, then they say it’s not their fault they didn’t, then they let their buddy enter twice (for cash prizes) which you know I just assume they found plenty of time to play his entry and then finally they say it’s not their private little club. But it’s okay they’ll change the rules after their friends had a chance at the money.

    That aside between this and the “ALL JAPANESE GAMES SUCK” comment I really don’t want to support Fez at this stage. And the IGF isn’t looking to flash any more either.

  12. Mattressi says:

    Very good article. The way I see it, they should just make it that games can only be entered once. That way, an indie dev can enter an unfinished game if they think it’s decent and need the publicity and others can wait until it’s the final product for their one shot at the prize. I think it’s silly to allow games to be entered more than once – I don’t know any other “[medium] festival” that allows things to be entered in multiple years. Could Minecraft just be entered every single year? Even after it’s been ‘finished’ for ten years?

    Maybe it’s an issue that I see IGF as GoTY for indie games, but I just can’t understand why a competition would allow someone to enter an unfinished game year after year – especially after it’s won.

    Also, I’d love to see an exclusively PC version of IGF. I don’t like that most of the games entered I can’t currently play, nor will I ever likely be able to play. I especially think it’s wrong for games without demos to be allowed into the Audience Award.

    I think that’s all the pointless opinions I have on the matter.

    • cliffski says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head. I consider your opinions anything but pointless :D

    • Arvind says:

      I agree with Mattressi, these improvements would be very welcome.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I agree with you, except that I think entrants should be given a multiple but limited set of times, maybe three, to enter the same game if they don’t get notice or become a finalist. It’s a good way to encourage developers to try again.

    • SiHy_ says:

      I agree. If they’re getting entries where there’s basically nothing to judge yet and other entries that are re-entered again and again at different stages of completion, a one-time-only limit would surely get rid of those issues, forcing developers to choose the optimum time to enter.

      EDIT: I agree with Batman too. Guess I’m just in an agreeable mood today.

    • jonfitt says:

      Yup, one entry for one game. Call it finished whenever you like, but that year is its entry year.

      You’d have to come up with a rule for near-identical sequels or reworkings, but it could be simply solved with:
      The game previously entered and the ‘new’ game must be at some point individually available. I.e. Must be sold as a new product, or if free must be hosted as a new offering not replacing the original.

  13. caddyB says:

    Great article, thanks.

  14. Milky1985 says:

    For some reason it looks like the guy in the last picture is holding th others hostage or something

    “Put the move controllers down and no-one gets hurt”

  15. eclectocrat says:

    Good article. I have to say that I feel that the IGF is a clique, one that is attracted to very specific styles. Having heard the stories of several friends who’ve gone through art college and become full time artists, I can see many parallels between the flaky art crowd and the flaky indie game crowd.

    Whatevs. Not very invested in this nonsense, just makin’ games.

  16. SquidInABox says:

    The only awards ceremony that matters is the Golden Teabags.

    Because I won one. Yes I am biased but at least I’m honest about it.

  17. InternetBatman says:

    Three things:

    Yeah, Fish is in debt. Too bad. Better developers than him have gone under from debt. Part of making games is knowing how to schedule yourself and limit your content. If the game wins again, its fees will be stolen from the legitimate entrants that deserved a fair chance.

    Also, once he signs an exclusivity deal or really any kind of deal with Microsoft doesn’t that make his game no longer indie? Same with Bastion or Shank or any of those games. If it’s just about companies that aren’t owned by publishers then why not let New Vegas or Costume Quest come in and smash the shit out of the competition?

    Also, a hundred dollars wouldn’t be a huge entry fee if the contest was done correctly. These contests take time and money to set up, and then more money to give as a reward.

    • Phantoon says:

      Because New Vegas was buggy as hell!

      Haha!

      But no now it’d clearly wipe the floor with any competition if it were a new thing. Old World Blues was aces.

  18. RagingLion says:

    Fun article. Good so have some long-form.

  19. malkav11 says:

    I always “love” that exclusivity with Microsoft excludes their biggest platform. Gee, thanks, guys.

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      Windows is not as lock-in friendly, so that’s why they prefer XBLA. Win8 will be a step closer to them having a more appliance-y OS and the greater goal of having full control of all content on it.

  20. rustybroomhandle says:

    If your game is on XBLA and bound to it by an exclusivity contract with Microsoft, should it still be considered ‘indie’?

    • c-Row says:

      Depends on whether or not MS pumped money into development in my opinion.

    • Tuor says:

      Independent means you’re not dependent on someone/thing else. If you can’t release your game on a platform without approval from someone else, then you’re dependent on their permission, and thus cannot be considered independent, IMO.

  21. RobF says:

    Anna didn’t try and usurp the kart post event or anything daft like that. Given from inception to launch, everyone was so stupidly busy laughing and going “come on, let’s do this, let’s give *everyone* a voice” it was inevitable that individual personal reasons for entering wouldn’t come out until after the Kart was coming together or already out there.

    So she wrote about her reasons for entering, she wrote about how she saw the kart. I did the same too. Lots of us did and then some more of us contributed to recent Killscreen piece with our reasons too.

    Yet it’s only Anna’s voice that gets accused of trying to railroad the kart into being something it’s not. I don’t get how that’s supposed to work.

    I’d be more comfortable if people addressed her points rather than attempted to dismiss them in such an arbitrary manner as to say “pfft, she’s just trying to hijack the kart”. No. She’s not. She’s allowed her reasons.

  22. Jackablade says:

    So do we all hate Mr Fish now for being impertinent to the Japanese or do we not care? I don’t think I can be bothered with it myself.

  23. bitbot says:

    Not releasing Fez on Steam…? What, does he hate money or something?

  24. ucfalumknight says:

    All Indie Devs should be forced to attend Notch’s School of Etiquette for Indie Devs.

  25. noclip says:

    The audience award situation makes me really uncomfortable. People either vote for the only game they’ve been able to play, vote for a game totally sight unseen, or don’t vote at all. They should either fix it or rename it to the hype award, since that’s essentially what it is right now.

    • Skabooga says:

      I voted for Frozen Synapse based on its status of being finished and released. Such qualities put it in rare company among the rest of the entrants.

  26. JB says:

    @ Jim: Your fuckin’ trousers? You mean the crotchless, red PVC ones?

  27. Wedge says:

    The IGF has been dead to me ever since Blueberry Garden won anything. It cleared it’s status as an out of touch hipster ivory tower long ago.

  28. jonfitt says:

    The audience award consisting of games that were not playable by the public was just a joke.
    All you could possibly base your vote on is which games got the best sounding hype.

  29. rama says:

    If Phil Fish wants to atone himself he should drop out of IGF this year and allow another game to take his spot. His game is going to do well. He doesn’t need any awards.
    http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/36hi9f/

  30. Lacero says:

    After reading this article my uninformed opinion of the IGF as a home for lazy unfinished pixel art platformers has been revised to included the words “corrupt” and ” made by people I consider rude”

    So although I’m aware this is wrong on some level, I have even less reason to bother looking into it more to show that. Back to DF.

  31. BurningPet says:

    How fez is considered indie if he cant even choose the platform his game will run on?

  32. trjp says:

    I just wanted to say that I’m so glad I’m not the only person who considers the IGF a total load of old WANK.

    There’s a community developing within ‘indie’ gaming which is really more akin to art than gaming – in that it’s more about the bollocks talked about the game than the game itself.

    I realise games are striving to be seen as art – but I’m not sure I want to get involved with the ‘bullshit’ aspects of Art. The fact that I could chop a cow in half, drop it in vinegar and people would laugh (or call the RSPCA perhaps) but Damien Hirst does it, talks a lot of bollocks about WHY he did it and gets lots of cash and kudos (e.g. it’s not about the thing itself – it’s about the mythos/nonsense/bullshit you build around it).

    We don’t need that in gaming IMO and if not being considered ‘art’ is the flipside of not having it – well I’d be OK with that.

    p.s. also it would make sense to set a rule that you have to release your game (e.g. complete the thing) to be considered AND that you’ll only be considered in the year you released it – like EVERY OTHER competition I can think of does…

    • godwin says:

      You know, your analogy falls flat, because the work of Damien Hirst and others like him (I take it we qualify this likeness by the way work is made and its impersonal touch) really are more like Modern Warfare mega-budget, multi-series, blockbuster titles; or in stature like gigantic developer-publishers like EA or Ubisoft — no where close to what we would call “indie”; perhaps you’re thinking of art school scenesters, or hip insider cliques of global art cities, which are still gross generalisations on the possibilities and range of practices (and problems) which could fall under the term contemporary art. Don’t be hatin’ on a field you don’t understand, because I sense that your distaste is thoroughly irrational and misguided. You wouldn’t want anyone making the same kind of sweeping, presumptuous statements about your precious gaming, would you?

  33. The V Man says:

    Hrm. well Mr. Fish hasn’t come off too well here has he? I don’t generally make it my policy to comment on and criticize others publicly, but I do think he needs to be a bit more humble about it all.

    I think the golden rule that should be remembered is “Don’t be a dick” – which pretty easily extends into “Don’t make dick moves”.

    It strikes me as an indie, your greatest strength is not really your game – it’s being liked as a creator. If you’re seen to be an accessible, generally nice person, people will want to give you money. If you’re seen to be an arrogant egoist, people will often not.

    The other piece of this that’s stuck with me is the mention of debt.

    If you are in debt as a result of spending a very long time making your game, that’s no one’s fault or business but your own. Poor planning will lead you down a dark road. How many developers – indie or otherwise – carefully plan their finances to avoid ruining themselves this way? A great many is the answer.
    Now, if he went into this knowing and accepting he would go into debt, he has no licence to mention it at all. It’s simply part of the plan.

    And, as an indie, locking your title to one platform with limited reach is a very risky move. Yes you instantly gain a potential audience, and perhaps funding – but you also lose any other potential audience. Balancing the risk vs reward goes with the territory.

    My only comment on the IGF allowing re-entrants would be thus: Your re-entry score should be weighed against your original as a measure of progress made over time and polish added. The score should reflect that. I also feel that unfinished games should compete in unfinished categories. Also generally breaking the categories out by the size of the development team would be good as well. If one person made a game approaching AAA quality then they deserve the same praise (if not more) than the 15 man team that made something similar.

    So…TLDR:
    Don’t be a dick who makes dick moves.
    You have no one to blame but yourself for your choices.
    IGF could use categories that better represent the devs sizes and the games entered.

  34. FRS says:

    “But the game isn’t out yet. It’s not a success, I’m not Minecraft at this point, like, I haven’t made a single dollar in five years.”

    Just forget that I’ve won $60,000 for my concept during that time.

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