Saturday, April 19, 2008

Growing The Awards: Chime In!

Today is a pretty light workload, between a reread of Spirit of the Season (in prepping to run it, admittedly well out of season) and some podcasts I need to listen to, so I thought I'd reflect a moment on what some discussions I've had about the ENnies has yielded.

Here's the thing: I think awards are fun! Folks get to be recognized for their hard work, there's the thrill of the competition, and hopefully folks get to turned on to some stuff they otherwise wouldn't have noticed or would have passed up. But the awards need to maintain meaning and relevancy.

Now, I'll be the first one to tell you that the ENnies aren't relevant to everyone, even in our hobby. But I think they're ultimately the sort of thing that's good for any hobby, as long as a few things are kept in mind and continuously improved upon:

Scope/Participation: We have more independent publishers than ever before, thanks in huge part to pdfs. Chances are, if there's a sort of gaming or game setting you're looking for, someone's at least taken a shot at it. We need to look at places like Indie Press Revolution and Your Games Now, stay in contact with those publishers, and through visible presence on the internet, assure them that their creative endeavors will be treated with the respect and consideration they deserve. Keep reaching out to as many publishers as possible! The more competition, the more impressive those nominations are! But to grow participation, outreach is only one part of the equation. Once contacted, these publishers need to have....

Trust In The Process & Judges: I've spoken with several publishers who simply felt that the workload judges had in previous years was not fair either to the respective products and/or judges. With the extended submission period this year, the workload's been quite manageable, but folks need to know that their products are getting a square look, a good read (and ideally re-read), and some actual play time whenever possible. I think judges need to be public (as far as the integrity of the nomination process will allow) with how things are going, their relative workload, and with being a part of the reassurance process. Every publisher needs to know that the judges should realize they are sending off six copies of their labors of love because they feel its worth the time and effort they put into it! Green Ronin, Wizards of the Coast, CRN Games, or some guy who just released his first pdf, the consideration needs to be there for every product. Working with the judges this year, I believe this to be the case, but there is enough hesitation out there that I think it needs to be restated: if you send in a product, as an ENnies judge, I will give that product the best, fairest, most thorough evaluation possible, regardless of history, personality, label, or any other factor. I take the charge seriously.

We also need to ensure the product evaluation process is continually refined to benefit the contestants, giving each product the maximum amount of evaluation time and notice, and ensuring accountability on the part of the judges. But, why should someone send their hard-earned, scarce money to send in a product? This is where we need to work on...

Award Impact: Fact of the matter is, if you go into a lot of brick-and-mortar stores, the name "ENnies" is met with a blank stare. I know this is being worked on by other folks in the ENnies, so I won't go into too much detail here, but the more sales, publicity, and name recognition this award carries, the more sense it'll make for folks to submit, entertainment and bragging rights aside.

So, I'd like to hear suggestions! What else would you do to have the ENnies healthy, active, and a fun boon to the hobby going forward?

10 comments:

Graham said...

Personally, I'd like to get rid of the requirement that judges must have no connections with publishers.

Because most people involved with indie games have playtested a game/published something/know a publisher personally, it stops them being judges.

Having said that, I'm quite happy for the Ennie Awards not to grow, really.

clash bowley said...

Hi Zachary!

I think - in addition to your first point, more judges need to be selected in categories, so that each group only judges a certain set of categories. If publishers want to enter a game in more than one category, they can send more copies. This would ensure that the judges are not swamped, and that the games get the attention they deserve - a point I hadn't thought of 'til you brought it up!

-clash

Zachary The First said...

Hi graham! Thanks for posting! Interesting thought on the connections criteria. It is, indeed, a pretty incestuous hobby. :)

As far as being happy with the ENnie Awards not growing, which do you mean? You're ok with the current participation among publishers, you'd actively NOT like to see them grow, or just don't care that much?

Thanks again!

Zachary The First said...

Interesting, clash! I'm not sure if I'd be on board with different judges for each category, but an interesting thought.

The drawback, I'd see, is that adding ANY judges would increase the cost of submission for publishers (more copies to send in). If we're trying to get as many folks in as we can, its important to weigh that in. But an interesting idea! I'm not necessarily opposed, just think it would take some working. Thanks for the thoughts! :)

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more brick n' mortar participation--really make it an "event". I know some folks want to write off those sort of shops as irrelavant, but there's a ton of gamers out there who really don't care about events happening primarily in cyberspace. Ballots at FLGSs, perhaps? (I know this introduces its own huge slew of issues, but I'm throwing it out there).

-Royce

Jonathan Walton said...

Hey Zachary,

You post is awesome, but here's some of the biases I sometimes sense in the ENies, which makes it harder for some small press publishers to feel like they can compete. Many of these are not unique to the ENies, of course, but happen all over the place, even sometimes in the Indie RPG Awards, but it's more obvious when small press games compete with mainstream roleplaying products.

1. Books with more pages often seem to be considered to be better or more complete products. How can my hypothetical 20-page booklet compete?

2. Full-color books with lots of art and elaborate graphic design often seem to be considered to be better products, even in the non-artistic categories. How can a B&W product with simple, functional layout and no pictures compete?

Some folks, like the judges of the current ongoing Game Chef 2008 contest, have tried to get around the bias that creeps in when dealing with a physical product when you're trying to judge a game on its own merits, but I don't know that anyone really has a good solution.

I do think, though, that there is a certain ideal that many people have in mind when they imagine a great roleplaying product: lots of fancy design, at least 100 pages, lots of artwork, distributed in book form rather than as a deck of cards or something else, etc. And that ideal sometimes interferes in the judging of products that aspire to do something different.

Has your experience been different? Is this bias less significant in the ENies than I have previously believed?

Jonathan

Zachary The First said...

Hi Johnathan,

Thank you so much for posting. I'll try to answer, with your original question in italics:

1. Books with more pages often seem to be considered to be better or more complete products. How can my hypothetical 20-page booklet compete?

Well I think it's important that judges look at the scope of a game, and what it's setting out to do. I think some folks DO expect a 200 page RPG product sometimes to be "more complete" than perhaps a 30 or 40-page product. Sometimes, its true. Sometimes, it isn't. I know I've gotten more play out of tiny Lacuna than many more larger games when I'm shooting for that weirdo paranoia vibe. Doesn't mean it'll be that way every time, but that we need judges who realize a product's value cannot necessarily be rigidly tied to the page count. Content doesn't equal length. I can tell you this: if your game is about urban fantasy, and it gives me what I need in 20 pages, and does it in a cleaner, more inspiring way over the 200-page urban fantasy book that meanders all over the place and leaves me flat, the 20-pager wins every time. I think this is important, and something I mentioned in my nominee write-up when I was running. Really, though, we need to make sure we have judges that get that--that's what it comes down to. And that's where voter education and Q&A comes into place. Judges (and nominees) need to open and accessible. Falls under confidence, I guess.

(BTW, for the curious, I did address some of the issues in the ENnies Judge nominee Q&A last year. Here's the direct pdf link to that, if you're interested:

http://www.ennieawards.com/08/ZH.pdf

2. Full-color books with lots of art and elaborate graphic design often seem to be considered to be better products, even in the non-artistic categories. How can a B&W product with simple, functional layout and no pictures compete?

Dude, I prefer "functional" over "busy" any day. Obviously, we're discussing the non-artistic categories here, but to me, it comes down to content, content, content. Hey, if the purty pictures inspire and get me in the mood for running, then that needs to be considered--in the proper categories. It should have nothing to do with Best Rules, for instance. Again, along with making sure we have judges who share these values in place, the criteria needs to be set specifically set forth and adhered to insofar as judging each category on those merits independent of any other goes.

I don't want to seem like I'm really just agreeing with you and not offering a concrete solution, but it really does fall under judge accountability and openness. These are really exactly the sort of suggestions/concerns I wanted mentioned, and I thank you.

I do think, though, that there is a certain ideal that many people have in mind when they imagine a great roleplaying product: lots of fancy design, at least 100 pages, lots of artwork, distributed in book form rather than as a deck of cards or something else, etc. And that ideal sometimes interferes in the judging of products that aspire to do something different.

Has your experience been different? Is this bias less significant in the ENies than I have previously believed?


As a new judge, I'd have to say...I'd sure hope so! I mean, to be honest with you, as much as we've discussed different products, we've still got nearly two months to go for submissions. RIGHT NOW, yeah, every product, podcast, whatever, regardless of it being Green Ronin or Evil Hat or Bob's PDF Game Company, they all get discussed. But no one has shown their hand yet, so to speak, because I don't think anyone has their nominee list complete yet! I can tell you this: my list, as it stands right now for this year, is pretty diverse (to my thinking). Now, what will the final list look like when all the judges have finished? Dunno, and I won't go out on a limb for something I can't be sure of. But I believe this has been a very strong year for small press and independent game companies, and I would be surprised if the nominee results didn't in some way reflect that.

I think there may have been some bias in that direction in the past (geez, I hope I'm not getting in trouble here), conscious or no. But I also think that over the past couple years with the ENnies, we've seen more and more of diversity in the sort of products nominated. Again, I think the more in-touch, open, and receptive the judges each year are, the more that will increase. In the end, after all, I can soapbox all day, but the best trust-builder is results.

Now, different forms of media, different designs--that's a good question. I guess all I can say is that, based on the criteria we have for each category, the actual content as defined by that category should be the only factor, whatever the chosen vessel/vehicle. If that doesn't happen, it needs to be brought to the proper attention. Hell, I'll help, and that's a promise. :)

Thank you so much for the questions! Please, if I need to go more in-depth or if I didn't answer the question (which I fear I didn't), let me know.

Paul said...

Great post, Zachary. :) I think the ENnies have been improving each year--I think we just need more judges like you. :) Really, though, like you said, people need to have faith in the process. That comes from folks willing to be direct and transparent.

Hey! Vote for Witch Hunter! :P

Jonathan Walton said...

Hey Zachary,

Thanks very much for your detailed response. It definitely makes me feel better about the future of the ENies. Hopefully the results of the awards, at least in the nominating stage, will gradually come to better reflect a more open view on what roleplaying has become. I think, as the Origins awards continue to fall in stature and importance, the ENies have a great opportunity to step and up really be the premier award of roleplaying, as long as they are willing to rise to the occasion.

Zachary The First said...

No, thank you for posting! I, too, am optimistic about this year's nods at this point. After that, of course, its in the hands of the gamer populace--and who knows where that will go. :)