Earlier this year, indie exploration game Proteus won The Most Amazing Indie Game 2012 award at the first A MAZE Indie Connect Festival in Berlin. Despite the rules stipulating that the €5000 cash prize would be paid on the day, however, co-creator Ed Key has only received half of the money and is still waiting for the remainder.
“Since April we have been waiting fairly patiently for this money, despite one of the terms and conditions of the competition being that this would be given on the actual night of the award,” Key writes in a blog post. “I won’t go into too much detail here, but part of my rationale for patience was that it seemed like the natural deadline for the money to finally be paid out would be the start of preparations for the 2013 festival.”
But as submissions for the 2013 event opened, Key felt the need to warn other indie developers – who, for the most part, don’t have a great deal of money to burn – of the delay he faced receiving his prize. There is, after all, an entrance fee of €45 if you want your game to be considered.
“On one hand I’d like to see the festival continue, but on the other I can’t endorse this if the same situation is likely to happen to someone else,” he writes. “It seems like the fairest course is to make my experience public so that future entrants can make up their own minds.
“My hope is obviously that this doesn’t happen to the 2013 winner and that A MAZE can move on from this, possibly with some assurances that prize money if offered will be put aside at the time of the event rather than future winners go through this process as well.”
Key is measured in his criticism of the handling of the prize money, and stresses that he wants to see A MAZE continue in future, recommending it as a great event to meet other indie devs and creators.
“To be honest we had some difficulties getting the festival budget together,” admits festival director Thorsten S. Wiedemann after we approached him. “It wasn’t so easy doing a festival from scratch, of the size that I’d like to see. After the festival we just realised that the audience count was smaller than expected and we had a lack of money in the end.”
Wiedemann insists that Key was informed of the situation as soon as it became apparent, and promised that he would receive his prize money by the end of 2012. In his blog, Key claims that two instalments were promised: one in November, and one in December. The first payment didn’t arrive until late in December, though.
“The first payment definitely came a bit too late, but other than that the money is paid,” Wiedemann tells us. “Of course, in other circumstances, I would have loved to pay him earlier and I can understand his disappointment. I know that he is in need of the prize money, as are most independent game designers.”
Wiedemann has now paused submissions for the 2013 event until January 15 – a move Key tells us he suggested by email, though received no response – by which time Key and co-creator David Kanaga should have received the full prize fund. Developers that have already submitted their game won’t be affected.
“From my point of view Key’s concerns about [the 2013 submissions] are not reasonable,” Wiedemann continues. “The A MAZE Indie Games Award is not at risk and is still worthwhile, not just because of the €5000 prize money, but because of the visibility and the attention it draws to indie games as the art form of our times. I’m looking forward to all the submissions after January 15, and to have Ed Key back on stage again.”
While it is clear that the prize money was not deliberately withheld, and that Wiedemann is a passionate and dedicated promoter, the problem does highlight the potential pitfalls new game festivals and events can face. While A MAZE has been putting on events since it was founded in 2008, the number of new dates springing up on the indie development calendar each year makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish which are backed by experience, and indeed, which are worth paying to be part of.
“I want to stress that I know there are financial pressures on the festival and I don’t think there are any bad intentions,” Key tells us, “but ploughing on with the 2013 festival when the 2012 matters are unresolved is no good for anyone. Thorsten genuinely cares about the festival, and according to various Berlin indies I know, he’s done a lot for the local scene. This is why I’m doing my best to be constructive, but also to try and hold them to a higher standard for the sake of future entrants.”