Do you remember the One Page Dungeon Contest 2011? I guess I’m still interested in running the same contest in 2012. But that’s not what this post is about. As I was looking through my inbox (I am a big Inbox Zero #fail) I found this question:
“Will a list of winners and their prizes be published, or are the prizes considered private? I for one would welcome the transparency.”
At the time I wrote a lengthy reply via email. Let me post it, with some changes, added emphasis to make it easier to skim, and some extra paragraph breaks:
I totally understand the interest in transparency. I don’t think the prize distribution in 2010 was very transparent. I don’t think there is any information available. This year I worked on the prize distribution using a spreadsheet I shared with the other judges. I’m not sure whether any of them ever went to take a look. I hoped this would strike the right balance between transparency and privacy.
My main protection against the suspicion of corruption is that almost none of the prizes pass through my hands. This year, a book was given to me by a fellow gamer at my table, and the sponsor of the $200 cash award wanted to remain anonymous so he sent me the money before I passed it on—none of the other prizes were sent to me. I guess if you were interested in verifying this, you could contact the sponsors and verify this claim (or at least do some random sampling), or you could contact some of the other judges.
I think the only remaining problem here is that the wish lists of the winners were sent to me personally and not to all of the judges, so this info cannot be used to detect favoritism. Did my friends get all the cool prizes? It’s hard to tell.
The main reason against full transparency is this: I try to maximize happiness by trying to give people what they wish for. This usually works very well. This year we had fifteen winners and twelve of them got their number one item, for example. Two of the winners got their number two item and the last one got his numbers three, four and five items.
It’s fuzzy, error prone, and most importantly, the prizes don’t have equivalent dollar value. So what seems cool for the individual might seem poor by comparison. That’s something I’m afraid of. Making the list public encourages this comparison.
In addition to that, I resolve ties by looking at the number of initial nominations an entry got in the first round of discussion amongst the judges. Not all winners are equal. This year, for example, we had three tiers—the one entry with the most nominations got the $200 cash prize, then the second tier people got their favorite stuff, and so on. This number of initial nominations is not public because I prefer the list of winners to include outliers—I feel they reflect our idiosyncrasies as a group. Having them ranked in public focuses on the very small number of most popular winners where as I want to spread the limelight.
If we assume that the value of a prize is more or less readily apparent to readers (such as comparing a $200 cash prize with a PDF that is essentially just a handful of dollars), and if we assume that winners have rational wish-lists, then the distribution of prizes would again make this hierarchy public.
What do you think–not enough transparency? Would you prefer the contest in 2012 to be more transparent? Do you know of other contests that are more transparent and do you know of any controversies that arose because of it? Would you like to see the initial list of nominations and the number of votes each entry got? I’m curious!