Panel at SXSW – AAA Game Design competition

In a few months time, I’ll be in Austin, TX, sitting on a panel at SXSW … judging people’s ideas for new computer games. I’m going to make an offer here, now, to help people entering future competitions (FYI: it’s too late for SXSW 2010).

This is the fourth time I’ve been a reviewer or judge for a game-design competition/panel/etc, and I’m noticing some recurring themes. This is interesting, since everything I’ve judged has been completely different (different countries, different audiences, different rules).

Recurring themes of game-design competitions

One theme in particular is that a large percentage (circa 30%) of entries are depressingly bad; it seems that many of the wannabe-game-designers in the world are just plain lazy.

Another theme is that when someone has a good idea, they often don’t realise how good it is. They end up spending one sentence (or, if you’re lucky, two sentences) talking about the interesting part, and the next 500 words spewing out meaningless drivel that applies to every game ever made.

e.g. “you will have different choices to make in this game, there will be puzzles, and when you finish a puzzle you will get a reward, rewards will be used to unlock more levels, and to finish the game you have to get to the last level, which will be harder than the earlier levels, and … ”

… and: STFU. You’re boring. Do you think that I’ve never played a computer game before? Or do you just think I’m so stupid that I can’t remember what they’re like?

Some tragic outcomes

NB: this is just one example of what goes wrong with competition entries; I could give you countless more…

Some of the judging I’ve done was at the start of a competition, where the teams then spent the next 3+ months full-time actually building their games. On those occasions where a team was let through because we saw something special in their core idea, despite them waffling about a million other things, the team tended to make the EXACT SAME MISTAKE during production. They would spend 10% of their time on the cool idea, and 1% on each of 90 irrelevant distractions. They never won (surprise!).

For the times when we just judge ideas, not actual games, my distinct impression is that a lot of “good” ideas get thrown out because they’re submerged in so much rubbish that the judges either don’t see them … or assume the above is going to happen, and so they want to give the attention to other, more focussed teams.


So, I’m offering anyone (anyone!) the chance to get some free feedback on their game idea, in the mindset of a competition judge. Maybe you’ll discover holes in your pitch, maybe you’ll discover ways to improve your core game … maybe it won’t help you at all :).

Details here: Got an idea for a new Game?