Have you heard of Ludum Dare?
If you haven’t, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Ludum Dare is a competition every few months where game developers are challenged to write a game in 48 hours or less, based around a theme of some sort. Ludum Dare 22 happened last week with a theme of ‘alone’. So why am I writing about it?
I’ve been following the gaming media coverage of this December’s competition. I was aware of Ludum Dare thanks to Shaun Inman’s Twitter feed (he essentially liveblogs his game creation), but my RSS feeds were quiet. Mainstream coverage of this Ludum Dare has been … poor. I’m going to examine 5 different gaming sites coverage of Ludum Dare 22.
Eurogamer’s article (written by Wesley Yin-Poole) barely mentions Ludum Dare. It mentions that Notch (Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft) made Minicraft in 24 hours, but the sentence structure implies that “In under 48 hours” is his own unique accomplishment, not the point of the entire Ludum Dare competition. Sort of like if I was writing about a Nascar race, and wrote: “Driver Agary Westing came first in the Daytona 500! He completed 200 laps.” Extra points lost for tagging this article as about ‘Minecraft’, so that it has a helpful ‘About Minecraft’ column on the left.
Searching through Eurogamer for Ludum Dare isn’t too helpful:
OK, so Eurogamer readers are pretty darn uninformed as to what Ludum Dare is. The only Ludum Dare link is directly to Minicraft, and readers don’t even know about other developers. But at least they know the controls for Minicraft!
Thankfully, readers have other options.
Oh dear. This article, by Richard Mitchell, is even worse. It doesn’t imply that Notch’s game was unusual in that it was made in 48 hours, which is nice. However, there is no link to other Ludum Dare entries, no mention of what Ludum Dare is, and a very helpful link to the now-ended live stream of Notch’s work (extra pageviews, woot!). The link to Minicraft doesn’t even go to Minicraft’s Ludum Dare page (as Eurogamer’s does), but rather, directly to the game. This is a Kotaku level of writing.
But they have more! Let’s look at the linked article about Notch’s livestream. Jessica Conditt should be commended for a short description of what Ludum Dare is (“a 48-hour programming competition …”), and she even included a link to the Ludum Dare website. Good start! It’s a shame that the headline is “Notch live-streams making a game in 48 hours, listens to dubstep”. His musical choice should not be the focus of the article, and there’s no need to refer to dubstep as “aural torment”; again, this is straying into Kotaku-style journalism. I’ll give Joystiq this article because Notch’s livestream is unique and a piece of news itself, but their overall coverage of Ludum Dare is still one sentence in an article ostensibly about dubstep.
Finally, Joystiq has a ‘Ludum Dare’ tag, but let’s take a look:
An uninformed reader could easily be led to think that Ludum Dare is some sort of Notch creation, as the only posts tagged ‘Ludum Dare’ mention Notch in the headline.
Honestly, I expected this to just be brutal.
Aside from me not knowing how to classify this, err, “article”, it’s not atrocious. As always, the subject of this is on Notch. Ludum Dare is only mentioned as a “game development event” where Notch will be livestreaming. It could be an event where game developers all sit around and watch Notch, or Notch’s involvement could be a small percentage of the total event. We have no idea. This “super-headline” was written a week before Ludum Dare, so let’s fast forward a bit.
Oh boy, this article is so close. I almost gave it to them, but I can’t.
See, it begins with the celebrity worship of Notch that we’ve seen so far, and no mention of Ludum Dare. Giant screenshot, description of Minicraft, and a link to it.
Then the writer, shocked that Notch is stealing everyone else’s thunder, goes on to describe Ludum Dare and how it challenges other developers to make games in 48 hours, with a link to Ludum Dare and everything. Like I said, this is agonizingly close. But Luke Plunkett still feels that celebrity Notch’s game is more important than all the other entries, so Minicraft gets a screenshot, description, and game. Notch wouldn’t be stealing everyone’s thunder if the paragraph about Ludum Dare went first!
I also braved Kotaku’s search system, but the only results were the above article and their “blip”, also mentioned here. No mention of the 21 other Ludum Dare competitions.
I tried searching for Ludum Dare on IGN and got this:
IGN’s article about Minicraft is much better than it’s headline would suggest, although I am baffled at the writer’s choice of tense for the opening paragraph (“Indie developers all over the world participate in an online competition …”; yes, they do participate in it, but they just did!). The opening paragraph is a solid summary of Ludum Dare and it includes a link to their website, but the second paragraph is all Notch lovin’. The last paragraph ends with another link to the Ludum Dare website. I was honestly surprised by this article, based on it’s terrible headline and IGN’s search results for Ludum Dare.
Rock Paper Shotgun
Finally, a glass of ice water to someone in hell. Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s article (written by Adam Smith) is finally not just about Notch! Refreshingly, he’s not in the headline. The first paragraph describes Ludum Dare and mentions the theme of ‘Alone’, then goes on to describe some of the numerous entries, with lots of pictures that aren’t just that one photo of Minicraft. Great read.
Now, RPS did have an article that sounds like it’s all about Notch’s Minicraft, but not quite: it’s still more informative than any of the other websites. This is imperfect but okay, since Notch is a bit of a celebrity and since the article is still very informative. I’ll let it slide.
I want to be absolutely clear here: I’m not trying to belittle Notch’s accomplishment at all. He’s a pillar of the indie gaming community, and unlike many Ludum Dare entrants, he streamed his entire process so people can see him work, which is really awesome. That’s a news piece that can be centred entirely on Notch, and Joystiq did just that.
But articles like Eurogamer’s are irresponsible to only mention Notch. As great as he is, Ludum Dare 22 had 891 entries (source). That’s 891 participants who all made a game in 48 hours. Notch is 0.001122% of that. He’s likely the most famous of the entrants, and tying a well-known name to Ludum Dare articles can help attract interested parties, which is nice. But to ignore the competition in favour of some sort of hero-praise on Notch is poor writing, bad research, and irresponsible journalism.
So I really don’t want people to think I’m attacking Notch. I don’t know him personally, and I’m not trying to attack him in the slightest. I’m attacking the idiots who wrote about him, only to miss the forest for the trees.
I examined five websites, and honestly, none of them was perfect. Rock Paper Shotgun continued their spree of general greatness, but not mentioning the livestream was just unusual, considering they did have a Minicraft centric article. Kotaku & IGN both had surprisingly good posts considering their pedigree, but they’re still poor. Joystiq’s good article strays too far into attacking dubstep, and Eurogamer’s article is just abhorrent.
Rock Paper Shotgun was the only website that game Ludum Dare it’s own article, rather than shoehorning it into a human interest story about Notch’s musical tastes or his own game, Minicraft. This is just sad. Most readers skim through their RSS feeds and would be completely unaware that over 800 people created free unique indie games ready to be played in your browser. I don’t think any of them mentioned that you can vote for your favourite games at Ludum Dare’s website. Instead, we get articles on when private betas close (because the general audience won’t have access, but they’re still happy to know when it’s over), idiotic comparison polls, and my personal favourite, a single screenshot from an unreleased DLC pack (written by the “writer” who wrote their crappy Ludum Dare article, no less).
I’m not trying to turn this site into GJAIF, but honestly, it’s too much fun not to do every once and a while.