Anyone in the world is welcome to judge the IFComp’s games, and judges can score games according to whatever criteria they feel comfortable with. That said, the competition’s been around a long time, and we do ask that judges have an awareness of ways that IFComp voting tends to differ from other internet-based contests or rating systems.
Unlike with rating behavior seen in, say, app stores or movie-streaming services, this competition’s judges tend to not simply award the highest possible scores to games they like and dump the lowest scores on all the rest. Instead, an experienced IFComp judge will often have developed, over time, a scoring rubric where each number from 1 through 10 has a specific meaning assigned to it, and will carefully consider where on this spectrum each game they play falls.
Here’s an example of a very simple rubric:
10: This game epitomizes what interactive fiction can do, perhaps breaking new ground in the process. It dazzles and delights. People interested in the form will be talking about and studying this game for years to come.
7, 8, 9: A good/great/excellent game you’re pleased to have played, and which you’d recommend to others (with three gradations of enthusiasm).
5, 6: A respectably crafted work that didn’t necessarily move you one way or another, but which you might recommend with reservations. (A 6 offered more to hold your interest than a 5 did.)
3, 4: A flawed project that doesn’t manage to live up to promise, and which you wouldn’t generally recommend playing. (A 4 has more going for it than a 3 does.)
2: A work that technically qualifies as IF, but seriously misses the mark for one reason or another (or several).
1: This work is inappropriate for the competition. Grossly buggy to the point of unplayability, perhaps, or maybe it’s not interactive fiction even by a generous definition of the term.
Several long-time members of the community have also publicly shared their own IFComp rating systems. See, for example, Jacqueline Ashwell’s or Sam Kabo Ashwell’s scoring philosophies.
In this way, an IFComp judge might legitimately enjoy a game, feeling happy with the time they spent with it, and assign it a score of 6. The judge may have liked the game, but found that it simply wasn’t in the same league as the best that the competition has to offer. Similarly, judges are often quite shy about assigning the perfect score of 10 to any game, reserving them only for truly outstanding gems. It’s not unknown for a judge to not assign any 10s at all on a given competition year.
Ultimately, you are free to develop your own scoring system, and we indeed encourage you to do so. Score games according to your own experience, taste, and instincts. So long as you rate entries with thoughtfulness and in good faith, you can’t do it wrong.
Every year the IFComp releases a lot of games, and offers judges a limited amount of time to score them. While we encourage judges to play and rate as many games as they can, we certainly don’t expect every judge to chew through the entire ballot before the six-week deadline. It is more fair to judges and authors alike when judges restrict their ratings only to those games they have played and thoughtfully scored, without feeling pressured to push through the whole list.
If you are unable or unwilling to play a certain IFComp for any reason – it’s Windows-only and you’re on a Mac, for example, or you simply ran out of time before you had a chance to get to it, or the game advertises itself as a heartfelt paean to fish sticks and you really don’t like fish sticks – please don’t rate that game at all. Just leave its rating on the ballot screen as None.
(If you try in good faith to play an entry but find it unplayable for some reason inherent to the entry itself, then that’s a different matter, and one you can choose to reflect in the score you assign that game.)
Even if you manage to play only a handful of games and your ballot looks like a sea of None votes, as long as you get at least five ratings in your votes will be counted – and very much appreciated.
During the judging period, the ballot page features a few buttons at the top of the game list that let you shuffle the games away from their default alphabetical order. You can use these buttons to have the website suggest a random next game to play, or to build you a personal playlist. They can help you play and rate entries in an order less influenced by elements such as title and apparent subject matter.
Random Shuffle does just what says, reordering the whole list randomly. Pressing this button and looking at the first entry in the resulting list is an effective way to have the website suggest a next game to try, off the cuff.
The Personal Shuffle button appears only while you are logged in to the website. It presents you with a single shuffled playlist unique to you, ordering the games in the same way every time you ask to see it. This gives you an impartial order for playing the games.
Many judges prefer to play with a playlist in this fashion, seeing it as more fair than their intentionally choosing each game play next – especially true for judges who don't plan to play every single game on the ballot prior the voting deadline.
Alphabetize resets the game list to alphabetical order.