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  • Winning: A Guide to Finding Game Competitions for Independent Developers and Students

    - Lindsay Grace
  •  There are few things in the world of independent game development that catapult a game from obscurity to the imperative conscious of game players like winning a competition. Although the benefits vary widely, submitting a game to competitions and conferences has become an integral part of promoting independent games. Like the world of independent films, game contests and conferences offer access to distinct and diverse audiences. This article is designed to provide a topographical view of the universe of game competitions for anyone looking to put their independent game in front of a critical audience.

    Once upon a time there were just a few competitions -- coveted or not. The Sundance Film Festival of the game world, the Independent Games Festival (IGF), shines as the most notable competition. In its 12th incarnation IGF has launched the professional careers of some of its entrants and become the premier venue for the recognition of quality independent games. IGF is such an important competition that several major colleges have started structuring school sponsored initiatives to support student submissions. Just as a win at IGF can propel careers, the student competition can highlight video game programs at sponsoring institutions.

    Beyond becoming an IGF finalist, there are many notable international contests and festivals. Indiecade has carved a nice niche, offering the International Festival of Independent Video Games in Culver City, California. Indiecade games are also showcased at E3, Siggraph, and GameCity expositions. Indiecade finalists represent a range of independent games that include student work, artistic work, and generally novel game design.

    Unfortunately not all independent game festivals persist. Slamdance game festival, for example, has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. The disappearance of specific competitions highlights a few important questions. How does an independent developer find these competitions and what can you do to improve your chances of getting featured?

    Like any good design, it all starts with a few assumptions. Assume that any positive press is good press. Assume that in the right hands your independent game is a gem. Assume that garnering praise supports your goal of developing the next Braid, enriching the world, making piles of cash project, or whatever had you investing hours of development in your game.

    If these assumptions are true, then your goal should be simple. Submit, submit often, and submit well. It's simply logic -- games don't win competitions they never entered.

    The following guidelines should help any would-be entrant. They are based on observations of successful competition winners and the basic principles of promoting an independent game.

    Identify Fit

    The first rule of submission is that fit is imperative. Don't submit your classic first person shooter to a non-violent game festival and ask why it didn't win. It's any easy temptation to stretch your game into categories it really doesn't fit, but it's not going to help your case. Instead, find a match for your game. Finding fit is often a function of identifying the right niche.

    A wide variety of academic and professional conferences accept submissions every year. The Digital Games Research Association maintains a calendar of academic conferences on their site, These conferences often follow a specific theme and many offer game showcase opportunities in the form of presentations, poster sessions and exhibitions. The spirit of these venues is often less competitive and more collaborative. They are excellent places to gain academic feedback about a completed game. The Game Developer's Conference, for example, offers opportunities to demonstrate serious game designs to attendees as part of poster sessions.

    When these conferences offer competitions, a win becomes another bullet point on your game's curriculum vitae. Next time you are completing a submission form you can add that praise to your submission. However, you don't want to water down your submission by displaying it at every venue that will accept it. Some festivals want to premier new work, not work that has run the conference circuit for years.

    A few specialty conferences to consider are the Game for Change Festival and the Game for Health conference.


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