Stateside: It's time for mobile devs to kick the IGF to the curb

The indie scene should go independent

Stateside: It's time for mobile devs to kick the IGF to the curb
Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at, which was acquired by publisher Steel Media in 2012.

The submissions period for this year's Independent Games Festival has begun, which means we're one step closer to mobile games not getting the recognition they rightfully deserve. Again.

It's fair to say the IGF has been anything but a friendly place for mobile games over the years. While organisers have made attempts to integrate mobile into the main awards, the recognition for the industry's biggest titles has just not been there.

Indeed, the decision to move away from treating the mobile games scene as a separate entity actually appears to have done little to level the playing field.

Perhaps, then, it's time for mobile to throw in the towel? Perhaps, as an industry, we shouldn't worry about the IGF awards any more, instead shifting focus to a new mobile event.

Timeline of events

The funny thing about the IGFs in 2013 is that, years ago, the organisation paid more heed to mobile than it does not.

Cast your mind back: There used to be an entirely separate IGF Mobile Award for mobile from 2008-2010 that honoured both mobile and handheld games.

The category was eventually folded into a mobile-specific category within the main awards, before being discontinued altogether in 2012.

"Two years on [after establishing the mobile-specific category], those avenues and mobile devices are now so ubiquitous that we believe they no longer need to rely on special recognition," said Brandon Boyer, chairman of the IGF, at the time.

"Mobile experiences from the past few years have in many cases at least matched, if not exceeded, similar experiences on consoles or PCs. We no longer feel like the question needs to be raised whether a game is great, or great 'as a mobile game': each game will now compete on equal footing."

The problem is, the 2013 awards showed this to be a bunch of malarkey.

Out of sorts

A grand total of six mobile games were nominated for the 2013 awards.
Year Walk, Bad Hotel, LiquidSketch, and Spaceteam were the only mobile-exclusives, with three multiplatform releases - Little Inferno, Super Hexagon, and Knights of Pen and Paper – making up the rest.

To put this in some kind of context, these six games were out of a total of more than 30 nominated across the board.

A year previously – the last year the IGFs featured a mobile category – four mobile-specific games were nominated outside of the mobile specific category – a small fraction of what PC games received.

It could be argued that the increased number of nominations in 2013 is a sign of an increased awareness of the quality of mobile games, but in my view, the representation is still lacking.

I have my doubts that the IGF truly believes that mobile can stand on its own. Despite the vastness of the mobile indie scene, organisers seem reluctant to honour it fully. Mobile is one of the most suitable arenas for indie developers, helping to create an entire new wave, yet the IGF continues to devalue it.

Yes, mobile-only isn't an option for many studios – a cross-platform strategy is a must for a large potion, but those working on new control methods and interfaces that take advantages of the hardware smartphones have served up deserve recognition.

For whatever reason, the IGF seems unwilling to provide that.Looking ahead

Really, part of the problem is that, despite its aims to be different, the IGF actually celebrates the same 'hype cycle' mainstream gaming has been criticised for.

For starters, the IGF often deems it necessary to award games that haven't even come out yet.
Monaco won the IGF grand prize in 2010. It was released in 2013. Fez won an "Excellence in Visual Art" award back in 2008, before going on to win the grand prize four years later in 2012.

The Oscars don't give out awards to movies currently in production. The Tonys don't give awards to rehearsals of productions. Hell, quasi-reputable gaming sites won't give out review scores of alpha builds, so why do the people in charge of independent gaming's top honors see fit to give their top prizes to unfinished games?

Mobile games, in part because of their often-smaller nature, just can't compete with that. The hype cycle just doesn't circulate much with mobile games, and perhaps that's why there's little traction with the IGF.

But considering that the IGF sees fit to award lesser-known names and to honour the unconventional, there's a vile hypocrisy in the process. Organisers have created their own establishment. They have gazed into the abyss, and the abyss stared back.

So it's time for independent mobile creators to forget the IGF. It's not worth the time and the $95 entry fee - especially when the judges might not even play the game they're assigned to play.

Nevertheless, independent mobile creators need recognition. I believe that it will need to come from within.

There are, of course, events like the Pocket Gamer Awards at GDC, but no matter what, if mobile gaming wants to be recognised, it's going to have to recognise itself first.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!


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Carter Dotson
Brandon, I greatly appreciate you commenting on what I've written. Same for everyone on Twitter and elsewhere commenting – it's been fascinating.

I do look forward to seeing if the changes you've implemented with the "good-faith stipulation" and the one entry rule will lead to a greater improvement in the culture. And I do hope that the backend improvements make the judging process better, though considering the limitations on ad hoc distribution on iOS still, it's going to remain a challenge.

And I certainly can appreciate if you think that the IGF should show "new, never-before-seen & in-progress works" then I think that's fine, that's your and the IGF's prerogative. But it does still short-change a lot of mobile titles and the process of their creation. The progress and, to be blunt, hype cycle, that does get perpetuated among a lot of the titles on PC and console which IGF seems to focus on just is a rarity on mobile.

So I think that if this is the choice of the IGF in what it chooses to honor and reward, it's going to short-change mobile titles that don't fit into that culture. And it gives off the perception that the IGF is ignoring a very important outlet for independent gaming.

Without special dispensation for mobile titles, I stand by my argument: the mobile scene is best off looking elsewhere for honor and recognition.
James Coote
Maybe mobile games just end up getting lost in a much larger pool of consumers, while most people who play games on PC are probably aware of the indie scene?
jon jordan
Thanks for the comment Brandon
Brandon Boyer
Hey there -- chairman of the IGF here. Just a few notes & clarifications on this:

- Last year we instituted a new good-faith stipulation that a developer intends to release their submitted game within 12 months of entry, if it's not already released, alongside the more widely publicized rule that former finalists are barred from re-entering their same game in future festivals.

That said, I still very strongly believe in the IGF as an outlet to discover new, never-before-seen & in-progress works -- this is in part what gives the yearly pavilion its energy & makes it one of the most consistently over-packed parts of the GDC show floor, as well as sets it apart from standard "best games of 201X" lists & even its sister Choice Awards ceremony.

- A very large part of the investment we put into entirely overhauling the IGF backend last year was specifically to make the submission & distribution of mobile games as painless as possible, and I'm super, super proud of the results.

We went to great lengths to make it as easy for mobile developers to submit as it is to upload a standard, zipped-up PC game, and our judges get to discover those games via a full, separate mobile-browsable interface with one-touch installs.

Compared to the ugly, messy provisioning hassles of years past -- not to mention removing the burden of iOS devs using up a large portion of their own testing/ad hoc slots -- I think our dedication to mobile devs & mobile platforms is very apparent to those that enter & judge the festival.
jon jordan
"The Tonys don't give awards to rehearsals of productions." - neat