Gorilla Hugs Kitten, Activision’s Indie Compo Winners

Next year, I imagine Activision will also host a best Call of Duty contest. Winner gets a contract. Everyone else gets sued.

No, for real! See? Amazing, right? Activision’s indie competition, I think, follows a similar pattern – except with slightly fewer kittens and tremendously less publicity. I mean, I hear about the winners (and their $175,000 prizes) and think “Wow, good on Activision for setting such a cool thing into motion.” Then I remember that, no, this isn’t new. And finally, I remember why I didn’t remember: because Activision does a horrific job of giving these things any promotion. I suppose, though, that some is better than none, and so let’s have a look at the winner’s podium, shall we?

In first place (aka, the one that gets you $175,000), there’s Iron Dragon by Christopher Hui. Apparently it’s an “action flight adventure optimized for touch-screen devices” – and that’s precisely all anyone knows about it. Meanwhile, second place (and a sum of $75,000 so paltry that it may as well be flung at random passersby, especially in the Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco) goes to Michael Stanton’s Planet Smashers. An enterprising young man, Mr Stanton even has one of those newfangled webscroll pages, which – once unfurled in all its flowing majesty – says things like this:

“Planet Smashers is a class-based multiplayer 2D shooter at its core. Using the Spork engine, it is not played on a traditional flat / platformer environment. Instead, players run around on the surface of moons. When available, players can use jumpjets, vehicles and launch platforms to move to nearby moons. In this way, we are able to add a new dimension to side-scrolling 2D game play without making it 3D.”

“Players will run around the surface of small moons firing at one another as they go. At a moments notice, they can lift off using jump jets and land on another moon, making progress towards the enemy base. Vehicles will allow some players to control the spaces in between, but prevent them from landing. Some weapons can only be fired in a short range, while some can fire between moons. While everything may be going poorly on one moon, a player can quickly hop to an adjacent moon controlled by their team and change the game up.”

There’s also an incredibly basic playable prototype and a semi-detailed blueprint of Planet Smashers’ core features (for instance, single-player featuring a System-Shock-ish twist) if you’re interested. Oh, and a rather encouraging pitch video, which you can view below.

Last year’s winners, Dstroyd and Rigonauts, still haven’t been released, but they’re making progress. Technically, Activision had first right to refusal for publishing rights to both, but it didn’t snap up either. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, that stipulation appears to have vanished from this year’s iteration. Here’s hoping the whole competition doesn’t do the same – though the general lack of promotion is, as ever, worrisome. But at least we know there will always be gorillas that love kittens. And in that, I take tremendous comfort.


  1. zeroskill says:

    I tried to say “Activision’s indie competition” out loud four times now and it still sounds like i’m saying something incredibly obscene.

  2. Hoaxfish says:

    Is this the competition where if you win, you basically sign over the rights to everything and anything to do with your entry?

    • LTK says:

      Surprisingly, no!

      • RobF says:

        They were very vague and handwavey around the first competition, second time round it was “right of first refusal”. Which is still a fairly hefty red flag given they can pull all sorts of stunts with that alone but better, infinitely better, than the recent Atari competition which was basically a contract to produce the game in a short space of time and very, very weighted against the entrants.

  3. Eclipse says:

    wow what a shitty looking stuff they got… that’s what you get with shady rules and allowing only prople from USA in I guess.

  4. Cryptoshrimp says:

    So, um, these games are sponsored by activison? How are they indie, then?

    • Shuck says:

      Because some individual developer unaffiliated with Activision does all the work and then doesn’t get published by Activision, apparently.

      • abandonhope says:

        I’m going to try to think of it as the MacActivision “Genius” Grant, otherwise it just seems like a somewhat pointless PR cash dump.

    • MistyMike says:

      I guess indie in relation to games means as much as in ‘indie music’ – it has to do with a certain aesthetic or style, not really with the authorship/money behind the product.

    • Xercies says:

      Because they are single/small team developers working on their original idea and then using that idea to get cash to make it int oa real game. I actually quite like the idea for this in essence it could have decent games with a big publisher on board giving them money and making there games a bit better then your average indie who might not have that funding.

      Its just a shame that an evil corp like Activision is doing it.

  5. Dances to Podcasts says:

    I remember saying when this first came up that this was just an unneeded unimaginative PR exercise. No news there, I guess.

  6. LTK says:

    What does “first right to refusal for publishing rights” mean, exactly?

    Alt text made me laugh, btw.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      If you want to publish it, you have to offer it to them first. If they like it, they will publish it… if they don’t like it, then you’re on your own and can take it to other publishers.

      The competition is a cheap way of gathering new IP(s), without risk of actually developing one yourself… and you don’t even have to commit to publish it, but you get first pick.

      • LTK says:

        Oh yeah, that makes sense. I was wondering why they don’t just call it “first right to publishing rights” but I guess the difference lies in that they aren’t obligated to publish it. “We’ll only take it if we like it” in legalese, right?

        • RobF says:

          Sort of, it also invariably means making it awkward to shop the game around because there’s little to nothing to stop the holder of the clause invoking it even if they have no intention of publishing it in the long term.

          It’s certainly a clause to be incredibly cautious of before signing (and one that hasn’t disappeared from this years competition, either)

          • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

            Voice of the Borg: You owe us first refusal to publish your game.
            Plucky developer: Okay, Activision, do you want to publish my game?
            Voice of the Borg: We’ll answer your question in August. August 2017, that is. Assuming everyone involved hasn’t been downsized or outsourced and nobody remembers about it, except for Legal who will flay you if you try to approach another publisher.

      • Shuck says:

        “The competition is a cheap way of gathering new IP(s), without risk of actually developing one yourself”
        That’s Activision’s new strategy for developing games, apparently. They have this new “indie” mobile game publishing strategy where developers bring them their mobile games, and Activision puts their brand on it, “publishes” it, and takes a cut. I’m not sure if Activision puts any money up, but either way I fail to see what’s in it for the developer, frankly.

  7. BathroomCitizen says:

    Ok then, I’ll be the first to actually comment about the game:

    looks good