Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If you can't be a Superstar, be a Superstar Supporter

Superstar voting ends today. In one week, the Top 32 will be announced, leaving hundreds of hopefuls disappointed.

That's the nature of the beast, but in the last couple years, we've been seeing a lot of those people taking their ball and going home (or, rather, going to the annual critique thread to get feedback on their item and then going home), at least based on comments on competitors' entries.

Last year, the Top 32 averaged 29 comments each*. The number of comments ranged from 10 to 42, meaning the item with the fewest comments had just five people talk about it other than the author and three judges.

That 29-comment average is a 40 percent drop from the previous year, when items averaged 46.8 comments. It would be easy to dismiss that as a one-time aberration — 2013's Round 1 comments were actually right between the number in 2011 (47.6) and 2012 (45.9) — but digging deeper into the numbers, we can see that's not really the case. 

Crunching the numbers on the monster rounds shows the number of comments dropped by a similar 40 percent from 2012 (43.5) to 2013 (25.4) and then dropped even more in 2014 (22.5).  

Moving on to Round 4, in 2010, the encounter round threads averaged 63 responses (ranging from a low of 52 to a high of 84); In 2011, they averaged 54 responses (ranging from 31-76); in 2012, they averaged 45 responses (31-62); and then plummeted the last two years, when they averaged 22 (ranging from 15-29) and 22.25 (10-39) responses. That last number means only SIX people beyond the judges commented on one of the entries.

Now, I think there are various reasons those numbers have dropped, but at the moment they're  not important. What is important is that we offer Superstar support, and here's why.

  • It's good for the contest. Anyone who enters obviously cares about the contest and wants it to succeed. That won't happen if no one reacts to what's happening. It's safe to assume voting totals exceed the number of comments (we know the traditional exit polls are not 100 percent accurate, for example), so if you care enough to read everything and vote, why not add to the experience by commenting.
  • The contestants work too hard to be greeted by a vacuum. Look at the Compatible Products threads, and you'll see even the top 3PPs talk about how grateful they are for feedback. Honestly, I find it's as rewarding, and possibly moreso, than whatever money I make for my game-design work . I know I was surprised last year when I kept coming back to the site to see what people thought of my entries and not having new comments. That experience alone convinced me that this year I'll make sure to comment on every entry in every round.
  • It's good for you and your own potential game-design career. We know that plenty of RPG publishers — including Paizo, of course —  keep an eye on the Superstar forums, so this is a way to start getting your name out there. Constructive criticism and professional posts will get you noticed: Anthony Adam's Template Fu reviews helped get him some professional reviewing work, for example. You also, of course, will presumably learn a lot by following along with each round *and* with the voters' reaction to each entry's design choices.
  • It can also help you for future runs through Superstar. I remember my first year in the contest, when I was still new to the Paizo boards and rarely ventured beyond my PBP games, being so surprised by the reaction Mike Welham got when he made the Top 32. I had no idea who he was (sorry, Mike!) and was surprised that everyone else seemed to. The goodwill helped carry him through his polarizing Round 2 entry and he went on to win the whole thing. Building up a fanbase is important; I honestly think being one of "the Jacobs" has helped me in that area, and I think it's likely part of why I made the top 4 in the exit poll of Round 2 last year despite getting no recommendations from the judges (even if those results sadly for me didn't hold up with the actual voting). 

*  That does not include one item that was disqualified because the creator was a previous Top 8 finalist despite that item's having more comments than one Top 32 item.

** Comparing to earlier years' Round 3 was difficult as they featured villains and/or separate monster concept/stat block rounds.


  1. Thanks for a great article, Jacob.
    I know I was hoping for more comments last year when I made top-32. On the other hand, i could have made more comments myself.
    This year I'll try and be more active.

  2. I find myself usually not commenting on the later rounds, as I feel my input doesn't have the depth as the judges. I just mark things as favorites.

    I usually comment on the Top 32 items I liked, rather than post on why I didn't vote for the others. I have a history of getting posts on Top 32 items removed...

  3. Keep the faith, keep the good faith and keep being part of the journey. That's the point!

  4. @Andrew: Thanks. If you're in the contest, it's hard. You don't want to say anything that could be construed as denigrating another competitor, plus you don't really have time. I commented on a few of my very top items on Tuesday night -- when I'm always at work and thus can't really get started on my next design -- but it's basically just a rah-rah comment. As a competitor, sure, I like those comments, but I also want more constructive ones, such as how my knot last year probably was a little underpriced.

    @Thomas: But was that just the year you were in the competition? (If not, I may just not have seen your other comments.) I wonder if we're deferring too much to the judges. A lot of the entries used to have robust back and forth discussions in the comment threads and that seems to have been lost a bit, which is a shame. I know I really liked Mikko's pitch last year and was trying to promote it, though I didn't want to denigrate the others' work (it's interesting, I found it harder to be an advocate since I had competed with all four and was friendly with each of them too).

    @KalEl: Absolutely. Again, I realize it can be tough. In 2013, I was crushed not to make the Top 32 (hell, I didn't even make the Top 89!) and ended up posting more in the Critique thread. I did post more in later rounds of the contest, but I feel like I was unfair to those competitors.

  5. Good post. I'll admit that last year my number of visits and presence on the forums diminished over the course of the contest (after not advancing R1). Assuming that I don't advance, this year I'll make an effort to stay involved and supportive.


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