Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Best Free Product commentary, part I

I'll admit that I'm a little hesitant to jump right into this, but I think it's an important discussion, so I'm going to hope that it's best to start the dialog right away.

The biggest source of controversy with the ENnie awards comes from the disconnect between what people want/expect them to be and what they are. This year's debate over the appropriateness of allowing quick-start products into the category next to full RPGs is a perfect example.

You see, it's not a matter of allowing quick-start's to compete in the other RPGs' category, but rather allowing other RPGs into the category that was specifically made to cover things like quick-starts that is the problem.

Yeah, the full title of the award is Best Free Product or Web Enhancement.

Until this year it has always been a category designed to acknowledge all the extra stuff companies give away for their game lines. Of course quick-starts are done for promotion and advertisement, but they're still a service to their fans, and still products worth acknowledging. In addition to usually including a quicker, easier version of the rules, most include a sample adventure and some characters so people can get started playing right away. All in all they're generally a pretty neat package of gaming goodness.

So, to illustrate this I thought I'd do a little research. Here are last year's Free Product nominees:
  • Changeling Quickstart, White Wolf Publishing *Silver Winner*
  • Fire and Brimstone!, SammichCon Creations
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Alpha, Paizo *Gold Winner*
  • Shadowrun Quick-Start Rules, Catalyst Game Labs
  • Signs & Portents, Mongoose Publishing
  • Honorable Mention: Bits of Magicka, Tabletop Adventures

  • Two quick-starts and a playtest document.

  • Black Industries Web Site, Black Industries
  • 6Guns: Lawmen- Earps and Mastersons, Dog House Rules
  • Nevermore Gazetteer, Expeditious Retreat Press
  • Classic Battletech Free Package, FanPro *Silver Winner*
  • Savage Tide Player's Guide, Paizo Publishing *Gold Winner*
  • Honorable Mention: Scion: Hero- Of Shadows Yet to Come, White Wolf

  • Two quick-starts and a player's guide for an adventure path.

  • Age of Worms Overload (Paizo Publishing) *Gold Winner*
  • Gates of Hell (Dicefreaks)
  • Mage the Awakening Demo (White Wolf Publishing) *Silver Winner*
  • Return to the Tomb of Five Corners (White Wolf Publishing)
  • Six-Guns: The James-Younger Gang (Dog House Rules)
  • Honourable mention: Temple Quarter: Ceremonies and Rituals (The Game Mechanics)

  • A quick-start, an adventure path intro, and an introductory adventure.

    This isn't to say that those who want to see complete products have their own place don't have a point or a right to complain, but I just wanted point out that it's a little misplaced. The mixing of this category was the result of an attempt to include these products that wouldn't have had a category of their own at all, not an effort to compare a product used as an advertisement against those produced just to share with the community.

    Most years these sorts of products fit into the Best Fan Product category (which could use some renaming given the shifting way and reasons these products are being produced), and so there is less of an issue. This year however there simply weren't enough products to allow for a category of their own. This is hugely unfortunate, and I'm not a fan of the decision, but according to the rules as they have always been presented there wasn't much choice. The judges had to find a home for the eight qualifying products that would have normally gone in the Fan category, and we chose to include them here. It's not ideal, but I don't see what other option there was left to us.

    Hopefuly future judges and staff members can find a way to encourage enough free, complete products that this won't have to happen again. Maybe a partnership with programs like Game Chef and the like could be encouraged.

    I don't know, and I don't have a great answer right now, but I hope people can see that this unfortunate circumstance was just the result of trying to be more inclusive, not any effort to push corperate products against those which are independant.


    Daniel M. Perez said...

    The ENnies need to make public the minimum number of submissions for a category to be viable AND keep a public, accurate and up-to-date record of what has already been submitted so that if something is lagging behind steps can be taken to fix that.

    A lot of the problems with the ENnies could be solved, or at least ameliorated, if the process was a bit more public. There's too much "secret conclave" and we need more "public viewing of closed session with a chance for input at designated times."

    Jonathan Walton said...

    I also think there's a lot of fan/free stuff that doesn't get submitted to the ENnies because the folks who produce those products don't really follow ENworld and have no idea how to even submit their work. That's more of an outreach issue, I think.

    Dyson Logos said...

    @Daniel - In the past it was stated that for a sub-category to not be folded back into the master category it requires at least five quality submissions that the judges feel are good enough to warrant nominations. So giving a flat number of entrants required wouldn't work because then the judges may be in a situation of nominating one or more products that they don't feel are worthy of nominations.

    Daniel M. Perez said...

    @Dyson - This goes back to what I mentioned above about the ENnies needing to be a bit more open and public: What I recall seeing/hearing is that for a category to be viable, there needs to be at least 13-15 submissions for that specific category, nothing about a minimum number of products worthy of nomination.

    Unknown said...

    @Daniel: I've done the best I could to publish entries during my two years as a judge, I've always felt like it was something that was appreciated by fans and publishers. I don't think that anyone else has ever tried to hide it really, certainly no one has ever asked me not to post entrants, I just don't think anyone really thought of it as necessary before I came along. I wouldn't be surprised to see this change in the future. It would certainly be helpful to have it posted on the ENnies site, which gets far more traffic than I do.

    @Jonathan: You're absolutely right, I just don't know that anyone has found a good way as of yet. This year the awards got a new volunteer to take over PR, and Tony has been pretty amazing about getting the word out, but beyond our usual call through emails to anyone we can think of and every major forum we can find it's just a tough job to keep up with it all. Hopefully having someone whose job is just that will help in the future.

    @Dyson and Daniel: As far as I know, during the two years I've done it the minimum is 10 products in a category, and a minimum of 5 of quality enough that the judges feel comfortable nominating them. As far as I'm aware a category has never been thrown out for lack of quality. Between the years that I've done it I think I've seen three categories tossed out. Every one of them has been for failing to meet the absolute minimum number of entries.

    Daniel M. Perez said...

    @Jeramy - What you have done should be praised and put into the rules for future ENnies. The transparency helps everyone.

    @Jeramy & Dyson - Those number need to be made public, and I mean in-the-rules public, not generally-known public.

    Unknown said...

    You are absolutely correct. I'll pass it along. That's a great idea.