From Rock, Paper, Shotgun: Indieyeahosity: IGF 2010 Finalists Announced
In the comments, an interesting minor discussion on AI War, and how (to quote KG) "it’s not a very – er – IGF game." This is an interesting point, which I have to agree with in the main. IGF winners generally tend to be very short and have a clear and immediate hook. They might be hardcore-ish or casual-ish, but they're the sort of thing you could immediately pick up and play while walking around a convention hall. Can you imagine trying to pick up and play AI War at a convention hall, let alone really learn what makes it unique?
The judging, from what I can tell, is done on pretty much the same sort of system: a large panel of judges gets a large selection of games each to review, and they play each one for as long as they can to get their impressions. I had an email from one judge on the very last day of judging looking for a link to AI War, since it had temporarily been messed up. This is not meant to be a slight on that judge in any way (everyone has other things going on in their lives), but I think it is indicative of the mindset of the judging in general. If you can't pick it up and figure out whether a game is worthy in a spare hour or two, it's probably not worthy.
To be absolutely fair, that's typically more time than I'll give a demo of a game -- not that I'm a reviewer, mind. When I look at some other game that I'm considering buying, I spend however long it takes for it to convince me that I don't like it, and then uninstall it. Or, if I keep right on liking it, I'll most likely buy it (money permitting). Thankfully the AI War tutorials alone have captured a lot of players' attention and have converted them into AI War customers, but by and large these are people with an affinity for the genre. Strategy games are a uniquely niche genre in that they require a level of meta-knowledge about the game and the genre as a whole to enjoy; there are millions of strategy gamers out there, but to convert someone from outside the strategy genre is a real challenge for an hour or two of exposure. Imagine trying to teach Chess to someone in an hour, and then having them enjoy it on any meaningful level. When I was a little kid -- 7 or 8, maybe -- my dad tried to teach me Chess, but I concluded that it was pretty much just like Checkers but less interesting and more convoluted. I played Chess a bit off and on through my youth, but didn't really get hooked on it until high school, when I later joined the Chess club.
Anyway -- so, to say that AI War is not IGF-ish is pretty obvious to me. It doesn't have the immediacy that you need for a convention center or for everyone in the audience to be nodding along if it wins anything. It's also not so stunningly beautiful to behold that it will draw non-genre fans; I think that the mere fact that it is in space is probably a turnoff to some, despite the fact that it is a huge attractor for others. Taste varies, right?
The reasons why I entered AI War in the competition at all are twofold: first, I wanted to see how it would do, despite my misgivings about its fit for the contest. Second, given the revolutionary AI, I figured it had a shot in the Technical Excellence category. Of course, something so abstract as AI quality is really hard to judge if you aren't already good at the game the AI is in, as well as comparable games with AI opponents (so that you have some referent point), so once again it is not hard to see why this would be passed over. The judges would have to have had just the right sort of prior experience in order to choose AI War, and while that was possible it is unlikely given the composition and focus of the judging panel.
This doesn't make me bitter or particularly upset: it was a longshot in the first place, as far as I was concerned, and the fact that this game wasn't a fit for IGF doesn't mean I won't enter anything else in the future. Our two upcoming games for 2010, the puzzler and A Valley Without Wind, are both still quite deep in their gameplay, but are also vastly more immediately accessible. Either one of those is much more of an IGF-ish game than AI War, even though they won't be so short as many indie games (bite-sized content in games with brilliant mechanics really bugs me, but I digress). Anyway, as they say, there's always next year. In the meantime, AI War is doing well enough commercially to support fulltime myself, our composer/sound designer, and our artist. That's my first and only goal outside of making excellent games, really.