Letter From The Chairman: Explaining IGF's Changes For 2011
[Following the announcement of the 2011 Independent Games Festival competition, IGF Chairman Brandon Boyer goes in-depth on the changes made for this year's Festival, examining the ethos for the competition and the major shifts in policy and rules for this year's 13th annual IGF experience.]
The IGF's mandate has been, since its inception, to provide the best showcase of both the evolution and the revolution the indie development community has continually provided, year after year, since the festival's foundation in 1999. And while -- from my outsider's perspective -- it has succeeded at doing so, part of my own mandate as its new chairman is to help the festival itself undergo that same evolution as it grows in terms of both simply size and in importance to the wider game development community.
Over the past month, I've been in discussions with not only the IGF team itself, but with a wide variety of indie developers, to figure out what we can do to make this year's lucky-13th festival even more successful than it has been in the past. What follows, then, is the three main changes -- minor tweaks and major restructuring -- that hopefully will make the new IGF the most inclusive, responsive and fair festival we've put together yet.
And this first step's a doozy...
From here on out, mobile games will be a part of the main IGF.
There have been few recent shifts in the gaming industry as radical as the changing landscape of mobile gaming since the IGF Mobile competition first debuted in 2008. Major platform holders like Sony and Nintendo have opened their doors to indie developers with downloadable initiatives like DSiWare and PSP Minis.
Apple's unveiling of the iPhone & iPod Touch App Store provided a clean break from the wily world of mobile phone carrier decks and from the hair-tearing variety of specific device requirements, giving indies a (more or less) single target to sight in their effort to put their games directly into the hands of millions.
And so while the first few rounds of the IGF Mobile may have served to highlight achievements in a space unfair to compare to PC or console counterparts, the advances in mobile tech -- and in the artistry indie devs have been eking out of that tech -- means that the dividing line has been sufficiently blurred as to no longer exist.
Starting with IGF 2011, all games created for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, DS, PSP or any other device will be allowed entry into the main IGF Festival to compete in every category, and we'll be adding a specific Best Mobile Game category to the festival to highlight specific achievements in the space.
Doing so will necessarily boost the number of entries in the IGF, so we're also changing the way games are judged on their unique merits. Specifically:
IGF entrants will now undergo both a judge and jury process.
We tested this process starting in 2010 for the Nuovo Award category of the festival, and now we're expanding it across the board. Rather than grading games on a numerical scale to quantitatively determine the "best games", the wider body of judges will be asked instead to nominate the games allotted to them for any of the IGF's categories like design, visual art and audio.
The top-nominated games will be then passed to a smaller jury who will together determine the finalists and winner after rounds of debate and conversation. Our hope is that this will make the process more engaging for the jurists and more fair for developers, who will now be directly appraised by a jury of industry peers: visual artists for the visual art category, engineers for technical excellence and so on.
But the changes to the 2011 IGF aren't all quite so focused on the mechanics and organization of the festival itself, as we will also be modifying some of the thematics, as in:
IGF 2011 will include more finalists for the Nuovo Award.
Experimentation and innovation have always been a hallmark and keystone of indie game development, and the IGF's Nuovo category is meant to honor achievement in advancing games as a medium for artistic, auteur-driven and otherwise esoteric expression. This year, the IGF is expanding its spotlight on that by honoring a total of eight finalists in the Nuovo category, up from five in the previous year (counterbalanced by tuning the Student IGF finalists from ten to eight).
While it may be a minor modification, we hope an increased focus on Nuovo finalists (which have previously included games like Cactus' Tuning and Jason Rohrer's Between) helps draw wider attention from a mainstream audience to precisely what it is that makes indie gaming unique -- how the indies continue to defy and change expectations on what gaming can be, and how they set themselves apart from the more traditional games industry.
We hope you'll agree that the changes outlined here are a strong step toward continuing the IGF's mission in supporting and celebrating the wide breadth and diversity of the independent gaming community, and we hope you're more encouraged than ever to debut your game as a part of the festival.
In years past, we know that some developers -- especially those that have taken home prizes in previous years -- have been hesitant to enter their newer titles because they believe they don't necessarily "need" the recognition that comes with being an IGF finalist.
For those people, I'd simply like to add that part of my personal mission as new chair is to guide the IGF to a place where it can be as inclusive and all-encompassing as possible -- to bring together everyone from true beginners making their first foray into the medium, to seasoned veterans leaving the larger industry to express and create something more personal, to the underground rogues with zero commercial aspirations who simply want to test the boundaries of the medium.
One of the most heartening and entirely unique aspects I've taken away from indie gaming over the past many years is the spirit of sharing, support and community that permeates every level. You might argue that the IGF, simply by its structure of finalists and winners, might on the surface appear to run counter to that. But my belief is that it can be more rightly approached as a challenge for everyone involved to push each other into crafting better and more unexpected experiences for players, and to help each other prove to the wider world that you don't need a development team of several hundreds or a budget of several millions to create something truly beautiful.
As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns about the thoughts and changes outlined here by emailing me directly. Looking forward to seeing what each of you create!