Spring Thing is an oddball, highly variable comp. With IF Comp, you can extrapolate from current trends and make some educated guesses about what the landscape’s going to look like: with Spring Thing, it’s always a surprise. Some years you get a tight little bundle and half of ’em are really, really good while being the sort of game you’d never release in IF Comp; some years you get a string of duds, or nothing at all.
This year… I’m going to call by a sports phrase, used of underperforming teams with varying degrees of euphemism: rebuilding. The two best games, Bear Creek and Surface (click through to play), struck me as good work by promising authors who are still finding their feet. (The lack of any game which you’d really call a classic Spring Thing entry – big, ambitious, capably made but somehow unprecedented – doesn’t really need much explanation: we just don’t get those every year.)
When I first heard that Spring Thing had received the most entries it had ever had, I thought – okay, obviously that’s because of Twine. But while Twine became a majority platform for most events at some point in 2013, there was only one Twine entry in a field of eleven, and that with relatively strong sympathies to traditional parser games. In retrospect, that’s not too surprising, now that I think about it; the Twine ethos is very oriented towards radical inclusivity, while an original motivation behind Spring Thing was that the IF Comp was too inclusive, specifically inclusive of troll entries, coding exercises and half-assed crap. (Spring Thing began in 2002. In the two years previously, IF Comp had received over fifty entries, many of them painfully bad; this looked like the new normal. If you think reviewers get tired and crabby during comp season now...) The fee for Spring Thing was intended to be a roadbump rather than a prohibitive financial outlay, but it may be setting the wrong tone for many Twine authors – and of course if you’re dead broke or struggling or too young for PayPal, any entrance fee is going to be too much.
I don’t know that this means that Spring Thing has to change that rule – I feel very strongly that the big advantage of having multiple IF events, of having XYZZY Awards as well as the Comp and Spring Thing and Introcomp even though they’re all pretty much the same species of thing, is that they have different dynamics. If Spring Thing’s deal was reduced to “like the Comp, but six months earlier!” it might as well not exist. If the XYZZYs became just another way of giving prizes to the top-placed five Comp games, I’d shutter them in a heartbeat. So if you took out the entry fee, I think you’d need balancing changes to give it a distinctive character – and, well, I’m pretty much committed to the idea that more kinds of event, serving different needs, is a vital supplement to the basically Quixotic task of trying to make existing events all things to all people.
Institutions evolve or they become irrelevant, in function if not in form. The three big events of the IF calendar have all come under new care in the past few years; I’m super-excited (and a little inspired) by the energy and care Jason McIntosh is bringing to modernising IF Comp. And there are very few people in the community more vigorously committed to innovation than Aaron Reed. I’ll be interested to see where this goes.