I've been wanting to get some ideas on competitions out there to get people's brains thinking about the competitions, so that's what I'm doing in this post.
This post is kind of long, and probably kind of a lot of rambling. But it's mostly me just brainstorming. Hopefully some of the ideas in here get you thinking about it too.
I think I mostly want our competition retrospective on Saturday to in fact be a brainstorm session on what we could do with the competitions. We've been doing them a specific way for so many years now, but I'm hoping we can take a step back and think about what we would do if we could change them anyway we want. Because indeed, we can change them any way we want. (Don't get me wrong; there's a lot I like about the current comps. I just don't want us to be shackled by trying to keep them the same as they've been in the past.)
My Purposes for the Competitions
1. A vehicle by which people can figure out how to make game development integrate into their busy lives. This is one of the reasons I pushed for a 30 day competition instead of a weekend-long one. With just a weekend, it's easy to put the rest of your life on hold. With a month-long competition, you can't do that. You have to figure out how to make game dev a priority. How to build a process that works for you that allows for forward motion in game development.
2. It needs to be practical. It needs to be real. It should be about making real progress, not nibbling around the edges or just reading some tutorials. Those things are OK to do among the real progress, but the goal should be about attempting to make something real.
One thing that I suppose I might point out on this list is making a complete game. We've structured the comps around "make a complete game in a month." While I feel strongly that it can be done (but been personally proven wrong 9 times in these comps because of grand visions and scope creep) I really don't think that completing a game is necessarily the right focus.
If I were to hand the project of "make competitions work" to somebody else, I would only be OK with that if they did the following:
- Completing games is the nominal goal, but as long as serious participants come away feeling like they're much closer, then it's a success.
- Given enough competitions, a person would, in fact, have a complete game. It might be a lot more than one. But the goal of producing actual games needs to be a real target that can be hit.
- People come away with a better process for handling game development in their busy lives. Work, school, family commitments, social activities, exercise, resting, relaxation, other hobbies are all important. Game dev shouldn't trump all of that. It should be woven into people's lives. A strong process or pattern for doing game dev will eventually produce games.
- A sense of community among participants. You don't necessarily need others around you to make games, but it does help when you know you're not alone on the journey.
- A focus on sellable games. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with somebody making a Breakout clone for their first game. But there should be a sense that the ultimate plan is to make games that can actually be sold—both in the sense that you don't infringe on copyrights and patents, and also in the sense that you're making games that are meant to provide true entertainment/joy/value to people to the point where they're giving up coffee or a trip to the movie theater to buy your game instead.
The perfect vision of the future for me on these competitions would be if everybody who was a serious participant would come away with a functioning game that could be sold to actual customers, or maybe sold out to another game development shop. Everyone who participates in the competitions would be able to say, "I made a game!" Or better yet, "I shipped a game!" Or even better, "I made $X by selling a game I made!"
And I think just as importantly, people don't come out of the competitions feeling like they need to catch their breath or make up for lost time in "real" life. Game dev would simply find its place in people's lives, and neither be completely forgotten after a competition, nor take up too much of a person's life during the competition that they have to stop for a while. Obviously, things ebb and flow. You won't spend exactly the same amount of time on game dev every week. For some, summer (or winter) might be better suited for more game dev. All of that is expected. The key is that it becomes a natural part of life for those who want it to be.
Hopefully that all lays some groundwork for the competitions. At least I hope it helps define my perspective on it. Please, please feel free to add your own comments like the above if you feel so inclined.
But for now, I'm going to turn to some specific thoughts I've been having. These are brainstorming-style ideas. I don't mean for these to "become law" or anything like that. Just things to talk about. Maybe give you inspiration on a related idea or something.
1. I think the whole thing with themes has kind of fallen by the wayside, and I think that's because it hasn't been a valuable tool to people. Everybody seems to already have another idea on what they want to accomplish already, and the theme either fits it or it doesn't. I don't think we've really seen even a single occurrence of somebody picking a game based on the theme. And based on the above, I'm not sure it even is useful in driving the fundamental goals of the competitions forward anyway.
So I personally don't feel any need to even consider themes in future competitions.
Though I wonder if we can come up with a replacement for it that could be more useful.
2. I also no longer feel that encouraging "start a game from scratch and finish it in a month" is the best course of action. I feel (perhaps incorrectly) that a game can actually be made in a month (we do make "complete" games in a day during the collabs) but competitions shouldn't encourage abandoning previous games and starting over necessarily (though it can be a legitimate option if your old idea has grown stale) nor do I think it should be focused on completing a game in the time frame.
As a side note to that, I think that's been one of my problems in the past. The moment I realize I have way too much to complete by the deadline, I drop the project entirely. That happened with my Frost and Flame/Orbital Defense game, as well as my Plastic Space Battles game. In retrospect, I consider the move foolish. But I can't change the past.
3. The achievements are something I like. They add flavor and color. But they're not exactly easy to manage, and while I personally like them, I'm not sure what the group consensus is on them.
4. Some days, I think the thing that will actually make me make progress is to put money on the line. It's an idea we've stirred around in the past. And I could make this happen without inflicting it on anybody else, using stickk.com or something. But I wonder if there's other interest or related ideas to this in other people's heads.
5. We've talked about doing "sprint reviews" of sorts. I want to bring that idea back up again. The idea might be something to the effect of getting on Twitch (or Discord, if we can get the screen sharing feature added before the next comp) and doing a 5 minute demo for each project. It would be very casual, but would kind of force you to make some progress during the week so you have something to show.
6. I wonder if we shouldn't spend more time talking about the process, and less time talking about the goals. Discussing how we're making game development actually happen, rather than just deadlines for this and that.
I think I've got more rattling around in there… I might post some more thoughts later.
Again, if you aren't going to be around for our discussion on Saturday and have some thoughts, please post them here, or say something in the chat room. (I might be a little upset at you if you say, "I was hoping we'd do X with the competitions but I didn't say anything because…")