10 Indie, Student Game Competitions: A Shortlist for Your Submissions

By Alistair Wallis [12.27.07]


Now entering its 10th year, the Independent Games Festival, or IGF, is arguably the most prominent and visible of the indie games competitions. The IGF was a coming of age party for a few runaway successes, including Narbacular Drop, which later became Portal, Everyday Shooter, Gish, and Darwinia.

The competition is divided into four sections: main competition, mod competition, student showcase, and new to 2008, the mobile awards.

Awards for the main IGF competition are given out in seven categories:

Mod awards are given to the best single player FPS, multiplayer FPS, RPG, best "other" mod, as well as an award for the best overall entry.

The student showcase provides travel stipends to 12 of the best entrants

When: The awards are announced during a ceremony held during the Game Developers Conference. (The 2008 GDC is set for February 18 through 22.)

Submission guidelines, in brief: Submissions for the IGF generally open in June and close in October. Entry for the main competition is open to anyone over the age of 13 developing games independently, with an entry fee of $95. The student competition has no entry fee and is open to developers over the age of 13, provided they can prove that they're either attending college or high school.

Judges for the IGF are pulled from various sources, ranging from game journalists to former winners and industry veterans. Winners are rarely predictable due to the makeup of the judges panel -- there's no specific kind of game that necessarily appeals to the IGF jurors.

The 2008 contest will feature 178 games in the main event and 125 student entries. This number is increasing with each successive year as the IGF gains in prominence with the community and makes for an intensely competitive event.


The Slamdance competition has only been around for three years, but already stands as one of the most prominent contests around, though the reasons for its prominence might be the cause of some concern. Earlier this year, the competition was noted more for the controversy surrounding Danny Ledonne's Super Columbine Massacre RPG than anything else. Slamdance founder Pete Baxter dropped the game from the competition and subsequently, almost half the other finalists dropped out, leaving the competition without a winner after jurors withdrew Official Jury Selection for all finalists.

When: Previously, the event was held concurrently with the Slamdance film festival in Park City, Utah, generally from mid-January until the end of the month. The 2008 event, however, has been separated and will take place toward the middle of the year in Los Angeles.

Submission guidelines, in brief: Entry is open to anyone producing "interactive and electronic" games independently. Submissions for the 2008 competition are not yet being accepted, though the web site notes this will take place either in the coming weeks or early in 2008.


The Independent Game Developers Showcase is sponsored and run by ECD Systems, an anti-piracy and content protection company. The contest has been running for two years, and while it has yet to reach the prominence of competitions like the IGF, it has nonetheless seen an impressive selection of titles entered. Last year's general category winner was Naked Sky Entertainment's Roboblitz, with Grubby Games' Fizzball taking honors in the inaugural casual competition.

Finalists are selected by web site visitors, with winners selected by a panel of judges from the 10 most popular titles within each category.

When: For last year's contest, entries were accepted from the time of the Game Developers Conference (March 2007), and the winners were announced during the Austin Games Conference in September 2007.

Submission guidelines, in brief: Entry is open to any independent developer, as well as student developers; in fact, the first runner up in the 2007 competition was Synaesthete, produced by DigiPen students. Details on the 2008 contest are to be announced in early 2008.


Intel's Game Demo Contest focuses, as one would expect, more on how the title interacts with the processor more than anything else. There are two categories in the event: Best Threaded Game and Best Game on the Go. Best Threaded Game asks entrants to make use of multi-core processing in an obvious and inventive way, while Best Game on the Go aims to show advances in laptop gaming.
Additionally, other awards were offered in the 2007 event, including one for best use of GarageGames' Torque engine.

When: Similar to the Developers Showcase, entry opened in March and winners were announced at the Austin Game Developers Conference. Details are yet to be announced, but it does appear that the company is working toward a 2008 contest as well.

Submission guidelines, in brief: The contest is not exclusively independent and is open to any individual or company not currently possessing an "existing technology enabling account" with Intel. Nonetheless, winners have included DigiPen students and numerous one-person efforts, with the main prize in 2007 in the Threaded Game competition taken by Bottomless Pit Games' online multiplayer shooter Harmotion.


The Imagine Cup, run by Mircosoft, is a student competition comprising nine categories, not all of which apply to game development:

The cup is always a themed event. The 2008 Imagine Cup's theme is environmentalism, and entrants must "imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment."

The game development contest focuses on the use of Microsoft's XNA framework -- in particular, the Game Studio Express. If that sounds restrictive, then maybe the prizes will make it seem more worthwhile. In addition to cash prizes for winners and a flight to Paris for the finalists to compete in the finals, Microsoft will give game winners a booth at the PAX Penny Arcade Expo, the largest gaming expo in the U.S.

When: Registration initially opened in August 2007 for the 2008 competition. Deadlines for submission vary by category, and entries go through a series of judging. In the first submission phase, students entering the game development category send in a short demo of the game; the deadline for this is in February 1, 2008. Only 20 teams will progress to the next round from there, with just six going to the finals. Winners will be announced at the finals in Paris in July 2008.

Submission guidelines, in brief: Submission guidelines vary by category. Entrants must be enrolled in either high school or a college, and must be at least 16 years old. Game submissions need to be appropriate for an ESRB rating of T or lower, and should be less than 200MB in size.


Held as part of the Toronto Future Play conference, the Arcademy Games Awards is divided into three categories: a general indie event, a serious games competition, and a student contest, with a People's Choice award spanning all three. The conference, held in November, has been going for a number of years, though the 2007 event was the first to actually host the awards ceremony as well.

The competition is judged by numerous industry professionals, as well as video game academics. In the 2007 contest, first prize in the indie category was given to Cultivation, a social interaction-based gardening game; ResponseReady, an emergency simulator, took the serious games category; and drink driving awareness title Booze Cruise won the student competition.

When: No announcements have been made regarding a second competition in 2008, though the enthusiastic response reported by the event's organizers would suggest it likely. For the 2007 contest, the first round of submissions occurred in mid March; submissions closed August 1; and winners were announced September 1. Winners were invited to attend and show their games at the Future Play conference in November.

Submission guidelines, in brief: The requirements for this competition were derived from the Independent Games Festival requirements and are thus nearly identical. Only full-time college or high school students may have worked on the game, and student developers must have been enrolled in school at least through the Spring 2007. Professional game developers may not have assisted with the entry; teachers and professors are an exception unless they are a professional developer.


This competition, sponsored by casual online game publisher Outspark, strives to find a new multiplayer game for the English-speaking market.

When: Submission are being accepted until January 28, 2008, with the winner announced at the end of February.

Submission guidelines, in brief: Outspark makes games that draw their profits through microtransactions, so an important factor in the winning entry is a level of commercialization within the design. The game also should appeal to a casual audience and feature detailed server and database infrastructure in the initial design document.
That might seem somewhat restrictive, but the fact that the game would be awarded funding and a publishing contract makes it all a little easier to take.


The Norwegian Game Awards aim to show that "it is possible to create games" in Norway.There are two categories in the competition: PC-based games and web-based games, with an award for the best overall design as well. Mods are currently not accepted.

When: The date for the concept document, which is needed to compete in the category best concept, is February 1, 2008. The date for the second delivery; finalized concept document, game trailer and demo, is April 30, 2008.

Submission guidelines, in brief: The Norwegian Game Awards are also stringently independent and student-focused. Development teams must be at least 50 percent students, which includes elementary school students through masters level students or similar. PhD students do not count. Games entered must not have been published or marketed actively prior to the competition. Having entered other competitions, being mentioned by media, or having a project web site is allowed.


GamerIdol is a new developers' competition for Flash games. Sponsored and run by Flash gaming site Playzi, the contest focuses on games created in that format by students. The goal of GamerIdol is to "demonstrate what students can do, unassisted by professionals."

When: Submissions are now closed for this inaugural contest, with voting taking place currently and winners to be announced January 5, 2008. If the contest repeats next year with a similar schedule, applicants should look for open registration in early October, submission deadline of late November, and voting beginning in December.

Submission guidelines, in brief: Games need to be 10MB in size or smaller, and must be in beta stage by the time of submission, with one fully playable level included. Games are judged by Playzi members via the company's web site. Developers must full- or part-time students in either high school or college.


Now in its third year, the Canadian-focused Vortex contest provides a competitive arm to the McLuhan International Festival of the Future (MIFF), a non-profit event founded by Bill Marshall, who also founded the Toronto International Film Festival. Because it's nonprofit, there's no entry fee. Vortex has a stated goal of helping developers learn business skills and get their games to market.

The contest is broken into four game categories: PC, console, internet, and mobile, though developers don't actually build a game. Instead, applicants submit a treatment for a game, and 48 were selected from that pool (in the 2007 contest at least) to give a 20-minute pitch to a panel of industry experts, trying to convince them their games are ready to move into the commercialization process. Each day a platform winner was selected, who then entered the mentorship process to work with various experts and refine his or her business plan. Finally, four winners from the previous rounds presented their pitches to a jury, who chose the $2,500CDN grand prize winner.

When: Vortex is generally held in June. Submissions are yet to open for the 2008 contest, but with the event growing in success each year (2007 was its third incarnation), it seems a certainty that this will be announced soon into the new year.

Submission guidelines, in brief: The contest is for students studying game design, graduates trying to break into the field, developers in the field, and budding entrepreneurs18 years of age or older. Applicants turn in a one-page high concept treatment for a game and a one-page CV before the 48 competitors are chosen.

* Disclaimer: All information contained in this article was factual as of December 2007, according to the contests' or organizers' web sites and press releases for the most recently available incarnation of the event. "Submission guidelines, in brief" are not comprehensive rules and regulations for the contests. Please check with the event organizers for complete information

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