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IFDB statistics, part 3: IFComp

The IFComp has just ended so it’s a good time to compare historical IFComp results with scores given to games in IFDB. Are there any differences?

Here are the charts from IFComps 1999–2012, based on IFDB data from November 1st, 2013. I couldn’t find IFComp scores from before 1999 and there wasn’t enough data for 2013 yet.

The games are placed in the chart with horizontal axis showing the IFComp score and vertical axis showing the IFDB score. Hovering the mouse over the dot displays the title. The blue diagonal line is the trendline. If the dot is above the trendline, it means it has been ranked higher in IFDB than in IFComp (in relation to other games in the same comp). Conversely if the dot is below the trendline the game did better in the comp than in IFDB. The distance from the line tells how big the disrepancy is.

Chart with arrows pointing at outliers

Only games with at least 5 votes in IFDB are counted. That includes everything from 2008 on. Older bottom-tier games tend to have fewer votes. The only disqualified highly-ranked game is A New Life with only 4 votes which tied for second place in 2005.

(The charts might not show up if you’re reading this from the RSS feed or Planet IF.)

If we look at how IFComp winners are rated in IFDB compared to games released the same year we notice that the best games aren’t always found from the competition. In fact based on IFDB ratings the comp winner is the best-rated game of the year in only two cases, and more than half the time the comp winner isn’t even the best rated IFComp game in IFDB.

The XYZZY award for the best game of the year goes to an IFComp winner roughly one third of the time, and one third of the time it isn’t even nominated. Only Lost Pig in 2007 hit the jackpot (IFComp winner, highest rated game of the year, XYZZY award).

In the table below the first number column is the ranking among the competition games and the second is the ranking among all games that year. The last column shows if the game was nominated or won the XYZZY award for best game. For example in 1996 The Meteor, The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet won the comp, was nominated for XYZZY and in IFDB is rated the 5th best comp game and the 7th best game of 1996.

IFComp winner rankings in IFDB
IFDB ranking
Year Comp winner comp year XYZZY
1995 A Change in the Weather 2 9
1995 Uncle Zebulon’s Will 1 4
1996 The Meteor, The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet 5 7 nom.
1997 The Edifice 3 3 nom.
1998 Photopia 1 1 nom.
1999 Winter Wonderland 4 10 no
2000 Kaged 8 12 no
2001 All Roads 5 13 won
2002 Another Earth, Another Sky 5 10 nom.
2003 Slouching Towards Bedlam 1 2 won
2004 Luminous Horizon 5 10 no
2005 Vespers 1 2 won
2006 Floatpoint 5 11 nom.
2007 Lost Pig 1 1 won
2008 Violet 1 2 won
2009 Rover’s Day Out 1 5 no
2010 Aotearoa 1 7 won
2011 Taco Fiction 3 6 no
2012 Andromeda Apocalypse 3 16 nom.

(Data retrieved 2013-11-21.)

Here are the “best of”s of each year. The number in the “IFDB best of comp” column is that game’s actual placing in IFComp that year.

Best of year in IFComp, IFDB and XYZZYs
Year Comp winner IFDB best of comp IFDB best of year XYZZY best game
1995 A Change in the Weather
Uncle Zebulon’s Will
Uncle Zebulon’s Will 1 Christminster
1996 The Meteor, The Stone And A Long Glass Of Sherbet Lists and Lists 11 Lists and Lists So Far
1997 The Edifice Babel 2 Babel I-0
1998 Photopia Photopia 1 Photopia Spider and Web
1999 Winter Wonderland Exhibition 5 The Mulldoon Legacy Varicella
2000 Kaged Metamorphoses 2 Metamorphoses Being Andrew Plotkin
2001 All Roads Heroes 3 First Things First All Roads
2002 Another Earth, Another Sky Janitor 5 Savoir-Faire Savoir-Faire
2003 Slouching Towards Bedlam Slouching Towards Bedlam 1 City of Secrets Slouching Towards Bedlam
2004 Luminous Horizon All Things Devours 3 All Things Devours Blue Chairs
2005 Vespers Vespers 1 Tomorrow Never Comes Vespers
2006 Floatpoint The Primrose Path 2 Bronze The Elysium Enigma
2007 Lost Pig Lost Pig 1 Lost Pig Lost Pig
2008 Violet Violet 1 Blue Lacuna Violet
2009 Rover’s Day Out Rover’s Day Out 1 Make It Good Blue Lacuna
2010 Aotearoa Aotearoa 1 Flexible Survival Aotearoa
2011 Taco Fiction Kerkerkruip 8 Mentula Macanus: Apocolocyntosis Cryptozookeeper
2012 Andromeda Apocalypse howling dogs 11 Endless, Nameless Counterfeit Monkey

(Blue Lacuna is listed as a 2008 game in IFDB, but it was eligible for XYZZYs in 2009. If you count Blue Lacuna as a 2009 game then Violet is the highest rated in 2008.)

What’s obvious here is that people have different criteria for rating games in IFComp and IFDB. Lists and Lists, which teaches how to program in Scheme, is technically impressive but hardly something that people would want to win the IFComp.

There’s also an inherent bias with this kind of scoring where you obviously need to play the game before you can rank it. When you’re participating in the IFComp as a judge you often play the games without knowing anything about them beforehand, or play and rate them all even if you do. Outside the comp you’re likely to not even pick up a genre that doesn’t interest you; if roguelikes are not your thing you’re unlikely to play and rate Kerkerkruip.

Moral of the story? Firstly, even if your game doesn’t rank well in IFComp it might still be highly appreciated in other contexts or as time passes. Secondly, releasing in IFComp is not (and has never been) required for a good game to get the appreciation it deserves.

And finally here are the best IFComp games ever according to IFDB.

Highest rated IFComp games in IFDB
Game Year Comp ranking
1 Lost Pig 2007 1
2 Violet 2008 1
3 Photopia 1998 1
4 Slouching Towards Bedlam 2003 1
5 Metamorphoses 2000 2
6 Heroes 2001 3
7 Babel 1997 2
8 Moments Out of Time 2001 2
9 The Best Man 2000 15
10 Exhibition 1999 5

Ex Nihilo

Part of this year’s New Year’s speed-if event I’ve released a hypertext story called Ex Nihilo. You may find it interesting.

It’s (naturally) Vorple-powered but with a custom engine. It might have been possible to massage Undum into giving the same results, but not without quite a lot of work. Making a simple hypertext engine is not a hard job—the WWW itself is already one big hypertext engine. (Undum’s strengths are, among others, ability to save and replay stories, which is a hard job.) Ex Nihilo’s custom engine is only about 200 lines of code and mainly takes care of animation effects and deals with nodes in uniform manner.

The source code is available from GitHub, and archivists can download the whole thing from the “zip” link on that page. Playing offline is not possible, you’ll get a network error at one point if you don’t have a server set up. A text-only Glulx version is also available, but it’s severely lacking compared to the real thing so it’s not really recommended unless the online version is not accessible.

IFDB statistics, part 2: Development systems

Click here to read all posts from the IFDB statistics series.

When we talk about development systems in IFDB, it’s good to remember that some systems have better coverage than others. Parallel communities like Quest (201 games in its own site, 26 in IFDB), non-parser systems and the AIF crowd are underrepresented. Another factor that skews statistics is that game listings tend to display the system in which the game is available now—for example Scott Adams adventures are listed as Inform 6 games because the downloads are for the Inform ports.

In the all-time popularity chart Inform 6 is the clear leader: a quarter of all games have been made with it. Inform 6 and 7 together cover more than a third of all games.

The chart for current (2010-2012) systems is a bit different. Inform 7 has risen to dominate the field with the market share of two thirds. Inform 6 has dropped significantly and all other systems are in the margins. Does this mean that the field has become less diverse or that IFDB has not kept up with new systems?

The Commercial Era

I’ve split the statistics in two eras: the commercial era (before 1994) and the hobbyist era (from 1994 on). 1994 marks the beginning of a renaissance—IF died commercially but at the same time the publication of Inform practically created the modern hobbyist scene.

Many of the commercial era games don’t have the system marked down or have a suspicious “none” (were they written directly into machine code?) or a vague “custom”. The most popular system was Eamon, which was exclusively used to create stories in the Eamon game world. The Quill was almost as popular, although the Wikipedia article says there were more than 450 commercial The Quill games (203 listed in IFDB) which would make it more popular than Eamon.

The large number of Inform 6 games is because of ports, as mentioned above.

Looking at the numbers by year, Eamon reaches quickly its highest point in mid-80s and declines from there more or less steadily. The Quill and AGT have a more steady growth all the way to the 90s. As you might imagine, BASICs popularity drops quickly after dedicated development systems become available.

Here’s the same chart but with percentages from the total number of games: the vertical thickness of the area denotes more games in relation to other systems, the full height being 100%. The data in this chart goes up to 1998 so that we see how all the “old” systems drop practically to zero in popularity by then.

The Hobbyist Era

In the mid-90s the playfield changes completely. TADS, Inform, ADRIFT and other systems are released and especially Inform gains popularity.

Inform’s domination is apparent in the percentual view. TADS 2 has steady popularity until the turn of the millennium when it begins a downward slope. TADS 3 gains a small foothold but never grows very much. Hugo has seen a small resurrection lately, mostly thanks to a small but active group.


After Inform 6 was released, it rose to cover almost half of all published games in only two years. The same happened when Inform 7 was released: in a few years it took the lead, eating mostly Inform 6’s popularity.

This year only a handful of Inform 6 games have been released and Inform is at almost 70%.

The question is: has Inform 7 attracted people into IF who would otherwise not have done so, or would people who now use Inform 7 started to use something else if it had never been released? Surely there are people in both groups, but the graph above suggests that Inform 7 is eating away the Inform 6 userbase, not others. The “everything else” line does not seem to have any correlation with the Inform 7 line.


TADS 2 was at its height in 1999 when 27% of all games were written using it. Another peak was in 2002 after TADS 3 was released, but since then their popularity has been on a steady downward curve.

Again, the statistics show no correlation between Inform and TADS. Peaks in Inform’s popularity do not show anywhere in the TADS statistics. (You could argue that I7 might have cut short TADS 3’s slow climb between 2004 and 2008, but I very much doubt it.)

IFDB statistics, part 1: Publishing date

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