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11 August 2011 @ 02:23 pm
Reflections on FKFicFest 2011  
The [community profile] fkcommentfic/fkcommentfic "after party" for FKFicFest 2011 continues through August.  I've been gifted two ficlets for my pairing prompt ("lightning storm, lightning light"): "Lightening Strikes Twice?" (Nick/Janette, ~500 words) by twilight2000 and "Through the Eyes of a Vampire" (Nick/Emily, ~500 words) by pj1228.  My thanks to them!

Additionally, [community profile] fkficfest/fkficfest still has Archive of Our Own (AO3) invitations available for members.  If you'd like one, please ask.  If you archive your FKFicFest story there, please consider affiliating it with the collection (2010_FKFicFest, 2011_FKFicFest).


Reflections on the 2011 FKFicFest Game



My personal participation in this year's game totes up one story, five (six?) beta-readings, eight drabbles, and moderator/administrative activities.  LJ's technical difficulties were an enflamed thorn in my side throughout the second week.  Still, overall, as both a moderator and a player, I think things went fairly well.  I fervently hope everyone had fun!

Obviously, however, things could have gone even better.  People could have had even more fun.  How?  I've been giving this a lot of thought.  Please note that these are initial personal meditations, not formal ficathon plans.

LJ's Downtime / Multiple Platforms

No one could have predicted LJ falling to DDoS attacks for half of the ficathon.  Luckily, we did have DW.  However, under half of the stories posted to DW, limiting that salvage.  This year, worried about isolating players on one venue or the other, I tried to direct comments to just one copy of each story, hoping to maximize player interaction and conversation.  Next year, perhaps, we'll instead encourage anyone who wishes to post on both platforms to do so; that may cost some precious interaction, but it would help defend against such disastrous downtime.

Alternatively, we could use both LJ and DW as admin-only venues, and move all the fiction activity to the AO3.  The capacity exists.  It boasts some advantages.  But consolidating on any one site risks being taken out by problems on that site, and the AO3 is no more invincible than any other venue.

I remain reluctant to have stories posting outside the community while the ficathon is on, fragmenting the focus.  I long for people choosing to point their friends to the community itself, where they can bump into other stories, and we can all share conversation.

Making Matches

Your mods do their very best to make matches that both writer and reader will enjoy!

That said, matching is not easy.  With so many compatibility criteria to consider, ranking is necessary.  In 2010, the tipping-point goal was that the requester would enjoy reading the story produced.  In 2011, it was that the writer would enjoy writing the prompt received.  In retrospect, of course, some matches in both years should have been different.  No question.  The better I get to know everyone in the community, the more I learn about why some writers didn't end up clicking with their prompts, and some readers with their stories.

Was one approach overall more successful than the other?  Here are the hard stats: We had one default for health reasons in 2011, compared to three player withdrawals for unknown reasons in 2010. We had fewer late players (as a percentage of total players) in 2011 than in 2010.  On the soft side... I had the impression that matches were either exhilarating or disappointing in 2011, while 2010 saw a lot of middle ground.

Deadlines and Game Formats

An exchange format necessitates a deadline at the start of the game.  That's the only way to establish the need for and secure pinch-hitters.  However, in a challenge or prompt-claiming format, the deadline can be the end of the game (post any time between the start and the cut-off).  I'm wondering whether some other deadline style, perhaps a phased deadline, would help some players.  On the other hand, perhaps some approaches remain the same no matter when the deadline is set.

I've observed that participation is usually higher in exchange games.  People often drop out of prompt-claiming games (I did myself, once) as they feel less obligated.  Challenge-style games (all writers using the same prompt) seem to have their drop-out rate between the other two, but it's hard to say; I've seen few in journaling venues.

Some games have readers vote for favorites in various ways, and that often seems to boost participation by both writers and readers.  There's the "last writer standing" (aka "Survivor") format, which works with tiny stories or poems; every writer produces a new piece every week, readers vote every week, and the least popular writer is eliminated every week.  Then there is the "team" format, where the writers are divided in half to two themed teams during the matching process; readers vote on how much they enjoy each story; the individual story results are never revealed (no one should be made to feel bad), but one team or the other is declared the overall winner in the end.  Is there anything to take from either of those?  We may be too small for such mechanisms, but we could have some sort of polling if that would add fun.  Maybe elect stories to various categories?  Funniest, darkest, sexiest, most like an episode, most innovative...?

Timing

Players voted overwhelmingly for holding the game in summer.  However, summer is wide, and the game ended up overlapping — off the top of my head — two away-from-keyboard player vacations, three conventions, and one major work deadline.  I'm wondering whether the end of July is a horrible time for a ficathon!  For next year, I will at least know to ask about convention dates.

I'm also pondering whether two stories per day is too much, and whether one story per day would be better.  On the up side, more people could, if they chose, keep up with one story per day, and we would have that many more days of FK celebration.  On the down side, people who select stories based on ratings or other limiting factors would face many days with nothing to their taste, and perhaps spreading out the celebration would dilute the experience.  It's hard to say whether people would participate more or less with a thinner layer of stories over more days.

Fretting

I fret that the enthusiasm and creativity in our sleepy, long-canceled fandom is a fragile, limited — though renewable! — resource.  I worry that mishandling it could accidentally snuff it out.

In the poll, I was the only one to vote for "every other year;" I picked that option because I am concerned that playing too often could sap instead of nourish our precious enthusiasm.  Is annual too often?  Or is there some other misstep that could have been prevented?  There were not only fewer players this year, but fewer replies to stories in proportions beyond the decrease in players.  (Please understand that I am not criticizing anyone for not playing, reading or commenting!  I am instead trying to discover how to make things more inviting, more encouraging, more fun for all.)

I know that many different opinions exist about how to keep the flame of enthusiasm burning.  Some stake out camps at the opposite pole, proposing that very frequent games are the route to success, that annual is not nearly often enough to keep imaginations alight.  They could well be correct.

But... there are few enough of us as it is, so... I worry.

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greerwatsongreerwatson on August 12th, 2011 10:15 am (UTC)
First off, thank you for reminding me: I started a ficlet for the fkcommentfic "afterparty", put it aside because the ending needed work, and then...forgot. I must get that finished!

"In the poll, I was the only one to vote for "every other year;" I picked that option because I am concerned that playing too often could sap instead of nourish our precious enthusiasm. Is annual too often?"
Quite the opposite, in my opinion. Annual is good. It's a clear schedule, without being so frequent as to be off-putting. Just as people can plan for other regular games, they can see FK Fic Fest coming in advance. They can look forward to it, tie it mentally to a particular season, and figure it into their schedule for the year. Think Yuletide: my sister has done that for two or three years now. People plan that into their mental picture of the year's activities. Do FK Fic Fest too infrequently and you won't tap into that vein of expectation that brings people back.

As for dropping out: health issues are obviously not something that can be avoided. For that matter, illness can keep people from signing up at all, as well as cause them to drop out (and I think both happened this year?) Obviously the same applies to work schedules: people can suddenly find themselves overwhelmed. That's a problem with any scheduled game. However, your reasons for having a deadline are good ones. You've mentioned before that people are far more likely to finish if there's a deadline looming. I know that's true for me!
"Some stake out camps at the opposite pole, proposing that very frequent games are the route to success, that annual is not nearly often enough to keep imaginations alight."
With more active fandoms I would agree. However, there's a limit to how much enthusiasm the "rah-rah" stuff can whip up. You can't artificially create enthusiasm. I know that, in my other main fandom, there are a pair of very active mods; and that, when they went on holiday for two months this summer and were almost incommunicado, there was a real concern for the future of the comm. It is a problem with small fandoms.

I'm personally concerned about the mailing lists. I can't help but notice that fewer of the FK Fic Fest stories have been posted to FKFIC-L this year. Last year, within a couple of weeks, about half of them had been posted. I'm worried about FORKNI-L, too. Enthusiasm seems to be waning ever more dangerously: there are fewer and shorter threads; and comments that once would have inspired a number of responses simply go unanswered. Last summer I had hopes that a new war would help; and War 13 did inspire quite a flurry of activity...for a while. But things have been very quiet lately. (I also note that Don and Lisa have been remarkably silent for months.)

And I don't know the answer any more than you do. You are understandably concerned about the LJ side of the fandom. But it comes to the same thing: fewer people are getting involved.
greerwatsongreerwatson on August 12th, 2011 10:29 am (UTC)
I went on so long that LJ made me split this for length!

"I remain reluctant to have stories posting outside the community while the ficathon is on, fragmenting the focus."
I agree. The focus helps to make this An Event, which I think is important to boost participation. I feel that the two-a-day release assists with that. Psychology counts!

Let me congratulate you on your management of the release of stories this year. Last year, it was a bit more mechanical: stories were released in the order they came in, except when an author wrote more than one. Deliberately scheduling the longest pieces for the weekend was sensible. Also, you generally avoided having two very short stories coincide. Was I right that, this year, you tried to mix up the types more, too, so that, if one didn't care for one of the day's stories, there was a better chance that the other would please? I got the impression that gen, het, slash, humour, and faction got well tossed. Certainly, we got a good mix.

If only one story were to be released each day, some days would be far more disappointing. Stories vary a lot in length. Although the minimum is a thousand words, most stories in that range are far more "ficlet-y"; and, for real satisfaction, one generally wants something at least three times that size. At any rate, I found this year that pretty well all stories that hit the 3K point were quite enjoyable. (The exception is humour, which is often best when short.)

Of course, this ties back with your reflection on matching prompts and recipients. People are far more likely to turn in a token story if they didn't like any of the prompts they received. I know that I liked all three of the ones that I got, though one inspired me most, and that was the one I wrote to. However, if one's heart sinks when the prompts arrive, one is far more likely to write a dutiful 1K's worth, just so as not to default; and that's bound to show. (Whether the recipient likes the story is, of course, another matter entirely. One may have been inspired in one direction when they'd actually been hoping for something quite different.)

The truth is that one can readily knock out a ficlet. Planning and executing a proper plot takes both time and effort.
"LJ's technical difficulties were an enflamed thorn in my side throughout the second week."
It must have been agony. I know how frustrating I found it! I did mostly find that...eventually...I could get through to read the stories; and it's a measure of my interest that I kept on trying. It was posting that drove me nuts; and I really felt for the poor writers whose stories remained uncommented-upon for days. (I do hope I didn't miss anyone out in the end.)
"...as both a moderator and a player, I think things went fairly well. I fervently hope everyone had fun!"
I certainly did.
Amy R.: Castbrightknightie on August 13th, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC)
phased release criteria
>"Also, you generally avoided having two very short stories coincide. Was I right that, this year, you tried to mix up the types more, too, so that, if one didn't care for one of the day's stories, there was a better chance that the other would please?"

Yes, exactly. The aim was to offer, when possible, (1) two stories dissimilar in type/tone/faction, (2) one story on LJ and one on DW, (3) roughly the same total word count each day, and finally (4) keeping the order in which stories were submitted whenever more than one story fulfilled the other requirements.

Of course it's easy to meet these criteria at the start, with all the stories to choose from, and difficult to keep it up at the end.

>"I do hope I didn't miss anyone out in the end."

Thank you very much for reading and commenting! I, also, worried about the authors whose stories released during the worst of the LJ downtime. It wasn't fair to them...
Amy R.: Castbrightknightie on August 13th, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC)
thank you for the reflections
Good luck with your FKCommentFic piece! I understand that you have until the end of August.

Thank you for sharing your reflections on the game mechanisms.

Regarding fkfic-l, my story, at least, will appear there soon; it has not yet only because I had another ficathon obligation that ate up all my hobby time (it does take me, at least, some effort to format to post on fkfic-l without bad line wrapping and the other formatting problems native to the old listserve).

I used to try to convince people to "come back" to the email lists; I promoted them enthusiastically as the "home" of the fandom. I got slapped down for it. I've been more cautious and reticent since. While I think fondly and nostalgically of my own days active on the email lists, some people had very bad experiences, and I can't much blame them for their avoidance.
greerwatsongreerwatson on August 13th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Re: thank you for the reflections
"While I think fondly and nostalgically of my own days active on the email lists, some people had very bad experiences,..."

Of course, I only joined the lists in 2004; so I missed the frantic heyday when going to digest was the only route to sanity. I also missed the period when factions really meant something. I gather feelings could run high.
PJ1228pj1228 on August 12th, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC)
>LJ's Downtime / Multiple Platforms<

While LJ's downtime was certainly annoying, I found the split posting between LJ and DW personally inconvenient. Of course, DW saved us and provided us with stories while LJ was down. But I found it rather complicated to post a comment on DW using Open ID. Also, I didn't receive notifications when someone had replied to my post, so I had to go back from time to time to see if there was a response. Of course, this is a problem of my own making that would be easily overcome if I decided to have a DW account.

I think holding the ficathon centrally on AO3 would be a good idea. I like the design and it allows for comments. However, I see a problem with the step-wise release of the stories. I'm not sure if that would be possible on AO3. And I also understand that you're reluctant to move the event away from a central community. Maybe an option would be to post links and summaries in the LJ community and link to the AO3 URL of the respective stories. Then others can be directed to the community and find all stories there as they do now, only that the link goes to AO3 instead of the LJ-cut.

>Making Matches<

I can only say I was thrilled by the prompts I received. :) Those from last year were great as well.

>Deadlines and Game Formats<

I agree with keeping a deadline. It gives the opportunity to plan respective time intervals for research, writing and beta.

>Timing<

I have to admit, that I eagerly accessed LJ every afternoon at work as soon as the stories were released to take a glimpse at today's topics. Once I was home, I started reading. After these 10 days I fell in a kind of hole when it was suddenly over. So I wouldn't mind extending it by releasing only 1 story per day. Or maybe 2 if the word count is below 5000.

>Fretting
I still agree with once a year. More frequently might be too stressful. I also like to reserve a percentage of the year to other writing projects. A gap of two years harbours the danger that FK will be forgotten at all as it isn't aired anymore. So a constant annual reminder that it's still there and that we are still there won't do any harm.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this round immensely.

Amy R.: Computerbrightknightie on August 13th, 2011 05:52 pm (UTC)
thank you for the ideas
>"...if I decided to have a DW account."

If you decide that you would like a DW invitation, I would be happy to send you one.

>"However, I see a problem with the step-wise release of the stories. I'm not sure if that would be possible on AO3."

Good point. I will ask, and discover whether there is a mechanism or workaround.

>"Or maybe 2 if the word count is below 5000."

Good idea. I will plan to make that a poll question: "Should the 'one per day' release kick in at 5K, 8K or 10K words?"
waltdwaltd on August 13th, 2011 07:23 am (UTC)
I like the current exchange method.
Deadlines help focus.
Summertime seems to be a good time for an annual contest. Maybe try August rather than July?
Annual seems to be good, every other year is why bother, twice a year would be nice but a trial. Annual seems a good compromise.
Releasing two a day is good also 'cause if they were all released at once, I'd still up all night reading them all. 2 a day help with pacing. One a day would stretch it out, but that may be stretching it too much.
As to connection problems, well, stuff happens.

Actually, like with Goldilocks, it was juuuuuust right! :-)
Amy R.: Sunbrightknightie on August 13th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
not too hot, not too cold
Thank you for your favorable judgment! :-)