With just a couple days before the winner of Game Chef is announced for this year, I have been contemplating the finalists. Both last year and this year, I found some of the choices surprising and others obvious. I’m sure that if you read over them, you’ll feel the same way. I also found the lack of inclusion of certain games fairly puzzling.
The thing is, before any game sees an official judge, it is voted in by 4 individuals from among the other designers. We each critiqued 4 games and offered up our opinions on which should continue on to the finals. From there, the panel of judges takes the ones who got the right amount of votes and do a formal review to find the winner.
There’s no way to know what sort of designer will look at your game. There’s no set standard for what does and doesn’t count as a winning entry. It is based on quality, but quality is subjective. Someone who hates dice mechanics is probably not going to vote up a dice game. People who enjoy simulationist RPGs won’t vote in a free-form abstract game.
Many voting systems I saw others using had vectors such as “Fun” or “Would I run this game?”. To me, these are far to subjective and personal. I tried to base my own voting criteria on the set goals of the competition. Things such as innovation, theme use, ingredient use, etc. Even here, there is a margin for opinion. If I have never seen a system before, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist commonly elsewhere. I might see something as innovative, while someone who has played four other games with the same basic systems would consider it old-hack.
More or less, this entire post is focused on anyone who thought they did great, but gets a rejection. Maybe your project really does need work. Then again, realize that it may also be that the subjective opinions you found didn’t quite hit on where you were going. Look at all the stories of authors whose now-famous work got rejected over and over again. Think of the record labels who all turned away the Beatles. Your game may really be something special and still not win. Keep working on your projects. Keep entering contests or publishing works. You’ll always be improving and eventually you’ll strike a chord with the right audience.