My sincere apologies for being quiet as of late. This post is a bit rushed, but I hope it addresses the concerns.
First off, I took some time off after Ludum Dare 35. I’d been stressing myself out trying to find the right way to say what I need to say. I’ve been chatting with a number of people behind the scenes, getting lots of feedback, and it’s been really good. I was originally going to make this post several times, most recently on June 1st, but when you’re saying something important you always seem to learn something equally as important at the last minute. 😉
It’s getting more and more difficult to figure out how to make everyone happy while doing what I think needs to be done. To continue to grow and improve Ludum Dare for everyone today, and for tomorrow.
I gather I haven’t done the best job communicating the significance of Ludum Dare. If you looked at the website we run, your first impression would not be that we’re big, successful, or even good at what we do. But you might be surprised to hear how things actually are:
- Ludum Dare is a big deal. At its size and scale, it’s no longer a fun little spare time side project. It hasn’t been that way for years. It was getting difficult before we broke 2000 entries in April 2013 (3 years ago), and it has been a struggle ever since.
- We are known across the industry. Our participation bacon number to most gaming and tech companies would be 1. Everybody seems to knows who we are. It’s rare for me to have to explain what Ludum Dare or game jams are when I meet developers.
- Educational institutions care about Ludum Dare. I get approached by schools for a variety of reasons, some want to make Ludum Dare (and participating in game jams) part of their curriculum.
- The gaming press and media care about Ludum Dare. I’ve chatted with popular YouTubers for a variety of reasons. I’ve chatted with documentarians. I’ve chatted with television producers.
- I’ve been approached by many people that want us (i.e. the experts in their eyes) to run and host game jams for them. Both online events, and real-world jams at some respectable events.
- I’ve been approached by many big companies that want us to work closely with them. To add deeper integrations for their services and whatnot.
I don’t talk publicly about these conversations, because you don’t. It’s a courtesy. Regrettably I’ve had to turn-down many interesting things over the years, because we just couldn’t handle it (unsupported features, bad scheduling, not enough time, etc). I’m really sad about that.
We do a lot of good, and I want us to do more. So much more. We’re barely scratching the surface of what we can do for game jams and the game development community.
Big picture, we have built an amazing reputation. Both in the game development community, and within the gaming and tech industries as a whole. I care a lot about that reputation, probably too much. I’m worried that some of the problems we’re having today could damage it:
- It’s obvious how our system can be abused to get extra eyes on your game (i.e. vote for a lot of games, whether you play them or not).
- I received a record number of concerned messages regarding people “fast voting” hundreds of games in a very short period of time. I don’t doubt that some people can play a lot of games quickly, and with 2 or more people sharing an account that’s even more. So at the very least, proper team support is necessary to gauge this.
- Sadly, I was also presented with evidence that games had more votes than downloads. I can’t really ignore that.
- We found a user that created multiple accounts just to give their game 5 star ratings. I knew this would happen some day, and maybe it already has. I could have gone in to the database and fixed it, but given how many accounts they created, I decided to save myself the trouble and disqualify a game. This is first time I’ve done that. We have removed fake games before, but this was a real game.
- I had a number of people reach out to me frustrated that some games didn’t opt-out of graphics and audio, even though they used 3rd party assets.
- Alternatively, some were sad they couldn’t score in these categories because they used a single royalty free sound.
- Some security issues I probably shouldn’t mention.
I don’t want people to feel like they’re being cheated when they participate in Ludum Dare. I’ve been talking about solutions to some of these problem for years, but I can’t seem to make the time.
The thing about Ludum Dare today is it’s actually a 2 month long event (or season). 5 weeks before, we begin the theme selection process. Then for the 3 weeks that follow, we judge games. The event may last 3 days, but there’s a lot more time than that. I’ll admit it’s not a constant stream of work running Ludum Dare, but nothing about Ludum Dare is truly automated. This is why I haven’t been able to participate myself for a few years.
And when we kick off a season, that’s when people start reaching out to me. People looking for help, interviews, sponsors and companies that want to partner with us. And between that, I’m often doing things, like this past event I moved us to a new (lower cost) server. I was working on some new features as well, but I wasn’t able to finish in time.
I do get a bit of a break after Ludum Dare, but I am on call. Anytime things go wrong, I’m on the case. When people start reporting problems, I need to look in to them. Sometimes I continue on what I’ve been working on, but I do relax a bit. ‘cmon, I shouldn’t have to crunch anymore either. 😉
But probably the most important thing I do after a Ludum Dare is start planning the next event.
So for the past 8 years, I would get 2 months of downtime, before 2 months uptime running Ludum Dares. It’s true that 8 years ago we weren’t as busy as we are today. But back then, we hadn’t even broke 100 games in an event yet.
It’s tough to make progress when you work alone, and with only 2 months of downtime between events (now 1). I need help with it, but that’s a whole other post.
So two things.
- I would like to retire this website from running judged Ludum Dare events. I’ll be keeping it around for historical reasons (to make sure many tens of thousands of internet links don’t break), and if people want to continue to run MiniLD’s. Again, I strongly discourage trying to run a judged event on this website for the reasons outlined above (none of which really affect MiniLD’s).
- I am going to take a break. I wont be running an August Ludum Dare event. I’ll be spending the next 5-6 months working the new website, and something else I’ll talk about in a moment. The plan is to continue where I left off in December.
If the community wants to pick up and run an August event, that’s fine by me. According to my notes, August 26th-29th is a good weekend to do it. It avoids GamesCom, PAX Prime, and the demoscene event Evoke.
My plan is to run Ludum Dare 36 on December 2nd-5th weekend. My hope is that it’s the first of many events that are run from the new website.
The hard part
As it is today, Ludum Dare is unsustainable.
I’m super grateful for all the Patreon and Paypal supporters, but what I’m getting at is more that that.
Somehow for the 14 years we’ve been running Ludum Dare, I was the constant. Picking up more and more responsibility, until Phil and I started running the event 8 years ago. Then eventually, it became my responsibility. If something was to happen to me, we’d be in a bad place. The original team and I do keep in touch, and I council them when I need opinions and to sanity check what I’m doing, but we don’t have a fallback plan.
Remember, Ludum Dare was hobby. Under my watch, it grew in to something bigger. We didn’t plan anything, because we didn’t expect it to succeed. It used to be just for fun.
But at some point it started mattering.
It also sits on a mountain of opportunity. Many businesses have reached out to me, and want to work with us. I also can’t describe how much I want it to become something bigger, more than it is today. I want it to reach its full potential, but to get there, it needs a budget.
Now, this is why I hadn’t posted this before now: I haven’t figured out the solution yet. I have ideas, suggestions, recommendations and goals the original team and I have discussed, but doing it is not easy.
Generally speaking, Ludum Dare should be a charity.
I’ve been putting off figuring out how to do it because I didn’t have the time, and I knew it was going to be extra complicated. We didn’t even know “charity” was the right term until recently (we assumed it was non-profit). It turns out I was right about it being complicated. A charity tends to sustain itself through charitable donations, and in return provides tax receipts. A charity can also only be an entity that does “public good”, which I think we do, so best I can tell we’re a candidate. The tricky part is that I’m based in Canada, and most of the larger companies interested in contributing are based in the US (and elsewhere). There is a NAFTA provision to allow US entities to contribute to Canadian charities, but only on income earned from Canada. That’s not good enough.
Anyway, this is the other thing I’m spending my time trying to figure out. I didn’t have the time to look in to this before given LD’s tight scheduling, but since I’m skipping the August event, I’ve been making time. I roughly know where I would begin if I was starting a Canadian charity, but the US/International part I need to figure out before do anything. Unfortunately, it’s looking a lot like “speak with a lawyer” territory. 😉
Bottom line, I want to turn what we have here in to something that is sustainable. In the near term something that can support me, in time others, but eventually in to something I can step away from. Something that can actually out-live me. It shouldn’t be catastrophe if I go away.
I could just assume the community will pick things up, but that would be irresponsible of me. It should run itself. Both technically speaking, and as a sustainable self sufficient entity.
Ludum Dare should not have to rely on any one individual to run.
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Anyway, I hope that’s satisfactory. I kinda haven’t slept 😉 . I can’t describe how difficult it’s been trying to approach and phrase this. I hope we don’t get caught up on the nuances of how I worded something, or some point I fail to get across. Anyone that I’ve been chatting with privately, feel free to speak up.
Ludum Dare has been a part of my life for the past 14 years. While we may not agree on the methods, I don’t want to ruin it. I’m sorry that I’m breaking the 8-year streak of 3-events-per-year that Phil and I started, but the website we run today is broken in ways that both frustrate and scare me. I can’t fix it with the time I have.