In a podcast, the HAWPcast, 1.5 years ago the creators of Super Meat Boy discussed many things but spent a great deal of time discussing their experience with the Independent Games Festival (IGF) (~6:00-41:00) as both entrants and judges. (Thanks to user fwahfwah at Reddit for bringing this to my attention). This was an interesting podcast that introduced a lot of interesting themes about the IGF and how/why certain games are selected over another. The interest in what the Super Meat Boy creators had to say spiraled into a general interest into the IGF. Following is an account evidencing just how poorly constructed/maintained the IGF’s systems are.
To begin, a quick summary and some quotes from Edward McMillen and Tommy Refenes will help to show how the IGF seems to function for judges. McMillen begins explaining that the IGF used to criticize many games for having a big budget – that having a decent amount of funding/exposure would act as almost a penalty before the competition even really began. He likened the IGF in the past to a scholarship system to give indie games good coverage/prize money because they lacked funds.
However, that changed and eventually big budgets and success didn’t seem to matter as much to where everything leveled out with games like Minecraft winning the grand prize in 2011. But recently much of that has changed, as that penalty mentioned before seems to be back in a big way.
This quote, for McMillen, sums up what he sees the issue to be at the IGF:
… nobody’s actually going by these rules that are set in place, they’re just going by their own personal rule set, where they think, you know, that… there’s arguments that are literally, ‘hey, this person needs help! And I think letting them win will help!’ They directly say, ‘this game is better than this other game but, this game needs some help. Let’s make them win.’
In this description, the IGF seems to be more of, like McMillen said, a poorly regulated, need-based scholarship system. It might not be a stretch to say that the judges treat the IGF like some kind of veiled funding group where part of the funding comes from massive exposure in addition to a cash prize.
Probably the most astounding thing that McMillen said was:
It pains me to have Phil Fish directly tell me that… he straight up just told us that ‘I was one of the many people that voted against Super Meat Boy because I knew you guys were going to be fine.’
This was not isolated either as Refenes relates another incident:
… right after we lost, Brian Crecente [former editor-in-chief at Kotaku, now a founder and news editor at Polygon] coming up to us and saying, ‘oh you guys didn’t really need it.’
So McMillen and Refenes’ fears have been confirmed to them. Though let us all remember that McMillen and Refenes have submitted many games to the IGF, and their most profile game, Super Meat Boy, did not win. To say a little resentment may still be there would not be unfounded. This is just a reminder that both may be a little biased – but this is not dismissing any of what they said.
While the takeaway for that particular IGF seems to be that there was a focus on giving the awards to games the judges believed needed help, rather than giving merit the most weight, this evidences something much more important. Much of what McMillen and Refenes talked about shows how the IGF is susceptible to the mood swings/change in views of the judges. That what the judges take into consideration each year is likely different. That particular year it focused on games that needed more financial success, maybe in the future it will be about giving the award to a game that the judges agree with politically.
Who the judges are doesn’t seem to matter (to an extent, more on that in a bit), as each year the IGF is going to be ruled by the ideology of the final judges. This also means the amount of corruption/negligence/lack of integrity will vary from year to year.
On the next page you will find further examples of the lack of consistency, poor management, and lack of integrity in the IGF.