Open Secret: Game competitions all judge on design

edited September 2006 in Play Advice
I'm going to paraphrase Shreyas, because it's the end of the day and I'm lazy: "Haven't game competitions always included design as an implicit criteria?"

Well, on the one hand, no. In fact, IGC has explicitly said in the rules that design was not a factor. But as the judging has become more populist, design has become more of a de facto factor. And I dunno about the Ronnies. And the Reversed Engineering competition, which was what raised the question doesn't list design as a judging factor. Ergo, it's not a factor.

Right. And democracy is fair.

Well, to be honest, I'm not a (graphic) designer. It's not where I've invested skill points. My layouts are, I hope, like my handwriting: legible, and clear. End of list. And for games I've started to develop a CSS to do quick layout and not worry about it. I don't think I'm alone in this. I know that when I get to publishing one of my little monsters, I'll need to recruit someone to do for-reals layout, or start developing a new skill.

Honestly, I don't think it makes sense to call for a change, though. People are going to react to a good looking layout in a way that's very difficult to examine and control for. I'll just continue to make my layouts legible and clear, and put that much more effort into the games. Goodness knows, they can always use it.

Comments

  • Judson,

    I think that the Reverse Engineering competition is largely about design.

    The character sheets are all about asthetics: a mix of white space and ink. different ways of organizing information. different graphic solutions.

    Imagine what the competition would have been like if everyone used Notepad and the same font to do their sheets.

    We are supposed to embrace the sheet we were given.
    The terms. The implied mechanics. The links.
    The design. The asthetics.

    I think that graphic design is a HUGE part of this competition. But maybe that's just my perception.
  • I put an aweful lot of points into graphic design. Its my stock and trade when the market is good (when it's not i dig ditches, seriously). And of course design is a major factor in the sheet portion of Reversed Engineer. In the game design, yeah i think game documents that marry themselves to the sheets will score better, and i think those will likely be more successful games. That doesn't mean that easy to read clean documents will make bad games, just they won't have as flashy a commercial.

    This is turning into a designers medium, it moves books. I think your last statement about unconscious influence is very true. Game Chef isn't exactly fair, it skews towards the designed games (and i don't think thats purposful, and i don't think it can be changed). I have some ideas for how to correct this in future contests that i have planned (thats right, rev engine won't be the last).

    Graphic design influences customers. Our contests reflect that relationship. (just replace the word customer with "judge")
  • Wow - I read the title and took it to be making the exact opposite point: Competitions judge on how well a game is designed, not on how it looks or reads.

    Design - all things to all people.
  • Posted By: judsonAnd I dunno about the Ronnies.
    Krasnoarmeets won a low Ronny, and it's nothing but text. Oh, it has a cover illustration, I guess. Sort of. But otherwise it looks like a high school essay.
  • It feels somewhat dishonest and wrong to judge a game designed for a contest, during the contest based on its graphic design; its looks. It specifically excludes anyone (who, like me) would needs to hire an outside entity to perform graphic design on his products. Judging the sheet based on its looks, maybe - the sheet design part of the contest did involve graphic design as a major element. But that's part of why we had "design only" people.

    The idea that the judgment of the contest will be consciously influenced by graphic design also suggests that you should not have accepted any "Design only" people, because at least some of the "design only" people specifically went that route because we are not graphic designers and so didn't have any way to comfortably do the sheet part of the contest. To tell me now, only after I've been in the contest and designing for a week, that all of a sudden, the skill I specifically don't have, and avoided before, is going to be a significant part of the judging of my final product, and feels like you're pulling the rug out from under me.

    Reading this thread, I feel like I was promised one thing (that my game would be judged on its merits) and am now being told another (that my game will be judged on its looks).
  • This is really only the tip of the iceburg. Biases exist all over the place, not just on graphic design. But if you have an inkling of your audience you can figure out what your design criteria should be to enhance your chances of winning. This includes graphic design, edgy mechanics or ideas, and basic web marketing. Of course, that's assuming you do these things to win them. You could also do them to produce a solid, publishable game or to challenge yourself in any number of ways. Sure there is overlap, but as a designer and competitor you should choose what you want out of the competition. You might get them all, but frankly you shouldn't expect it. But if you focus your design efforts, then you are more likely to get the one you wanted.

    - Mendel S.
  • So, let's be clear. This is exactly what I said:

    Haven't the games contests always included layout as an implicit part of the judging, to the extent anyway that they have not historically restricted the format of submissions? (I am thinking of Iron and Ronny here.)

    This is, well, an unavoidable psychological effect. If a game is sufficiently pretty and you are a visual person, it will make you smile. I personally make a specific effort (aided by Andy's helpful judging criteria!) to not swing my vote based on this effect - it helps to be aware that it's there.

  • Only Ron can really answer for his criteria on judging the Ronnies, after all he is the sole judge.

    But it's worth looking at the Ronnies winners and the other entries in the competition.

    Fr'ex, neither Keith Senkowski's beautiful cover for it, nor Matt Snyder's writing, got Red Rain a Ronny; but the other boxing game that month "Contenders" by Joe Prince did.

    I've always considered the Ronnies to be only about the game.
  • Seems to me that the best way for someone to investigate this issue, at least for the Ronnies, is to look over the various winners and other contestants and see what they think of how the contest worked.

    Regarding what I thought I based the awards on, I certainly expended enough bandwidth on every single eligible entry; it's not like anyone has to guess about that.

    However, what I thought isn't the issue. We're talking about bias, right? Perhaps I was unknowingly expressing my biases about presentation and layout, through my picks. If anyone's interested in evaluating that possibility, the exact documents I judged are available at 1KM1KT, so they have the data if they need it. I'd be interested in the conclusions.

    Best, Ron
  • Posted By: LxndrReading this thread, I feel like I was promised one thing (that my game would be judged on its merits) and am now being told another (that my game will be judged on its looks).
    And the mixed blessing is that no matter what the criteria are for the competition, graphic design and layout will always be an inescapable factor. I know one game designer whose first look at any new game is at the binding. Then the layout. Then the rules.

    Ultimately, I think us not-so-visual guys have an advantage. We aren't as prone to fiddle with the fonts and the image placement rather than writing text or designing the game. So if we have two weeks in a competition, the result is two weeks worth of game, rather than a week of game and a week of pretty. To be honest, I've been working on a set of style sheets, so when I write my games, I write them in bare html, and the styling is all decided ahead of time. Not the greatest looking output, but it's clear, and I think that pulls them over the first hurdle of graphic design: that your game not be painful to look at.

    For the curious: http://www.highwatergames.com/screen.css

    Note that it is designed with a complete indifference to the handicaps of Internet Explorer, in order that the markup be semantic and the style sheet do layout. Because I worship at the altar of Separation of Concerns, brothers and sisters.
    Posted By: Shreyas SampatThis is, well, an unavoidable psychological effect. If a game is sufficiently pretty and you are a visual person, it will make you smile. I personally make a specific effort (aided by Andy's helpful judging criteria!) to not swing my vote based on this effect - it helps to be aware that it's there.
    Agreed. I wasn't trying to suggest that you were in error of fact or ethics. In fact, I think it's probably better to acknowledge, one way or another, that we're visual creatures, and pretty games will make us happy. Andy's criteria were (and hopefully will continue to be) a good way to acknowledge that fact. Other alternatives would be a no-layout competition, where all entries have to be really bland - which would be needlessly unpleasant to judge, or (and I kinda dig this idea a lot) a team-design competition, with art and layout a decided factor.
  • I know one game designer whose first look at any new game is at the binding. Then the layout. Then the rules.

    You know two.

    Agreed. I wasn't trying to suggest that you were in error of fact or ethics.

    Cool. I was just realising that I had been elliptical, and wanted to be sure that I had said what I meant clearly and without miscommunication.

    or (and I kinda dig this idea a lot) a team-design competition, with art and layout a decided factor.

    Dude, this sounds really great. I volunteer to organise this one, after a few months (unless someone else really wants to do it). Until then I'll be assembling a team of judges and talking about criteria.

  • I'd completely volunteer to judge, on the grounds that it will keep me out of the trouble of entering.
  • Couldn't there be a contest that judged based on play?
  • edited September 2006
    Er, for what it's worth, when I ran IGC, all of the criteria had an implicit, if not explicit, statement that design was being judged. Like if I said, "Incorporations of Ingredients" I meant, "Incorporation of ingredients into the design."

    I also made layout explicitly unimportant, saying that I prefered games to be entred in the fora, and that it would not be judged at all.

    I don't know if I'm overestimating my own influence here, but I think that in all of my analyses being very much system oriented that I made IGC, at least, all about design.

    To be frank, I don't care much about things like layout, presentation, or even setting and color, other than the design is put together to support them well. So no surprise, really.

    In any case, if I'd allowed for how pretty a game was to affect who won, Shreyas would have won every time (OK, perhaps Harper would have given him a run)...

    Mike
  • edited September 2006
    This is an interesting thread in that there seems to be an assumption that design = pretty. Certainly there is an aesthetic component to design, but that's not what design is about. If indeed design is judged as part of a competition, the judges themselves should be sufficiently educated about the subject beyond simple preferences and biases. Otherwise, any judgements about the visual elements of the game should be disregarded.
  • Were it my contest, Reverse Engineering judges would score games for a number of factors, and graphic design would be among them. The graphic design scores wouldn't be factored in the calculation of the winner though. I'd require explicit scoring for graphic design as a way of protecting the other criteria from reflecting its influence.

    In my mind, the credibility of the indie design community rests heavily on our ability to recognize, independent of graphic design, games that deliver a superior play experience. Gameplay is our unique value proposition, individually, and collectively. The extent to which our enthusiasms and our contests are bought by graphic presentation is the extent to which we willfully enter into a commodity market.

    [And as an aside: I'd also ask each judge to rank difficulty for the sheets of the games they're assigned to judge prior to seeing the actual games, so I could crunch numbers at the end and determine if sheet difficulty played a factor in determining the leaderboard or not.]

    Paul
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