GamePro burns developers on $5000 programming contest

[UPDATE 12/17/09] I was contacted by phone by GamePro President Marci Hughes on December 4th. She explained to me that there was a slip up within the company where it was believed there had been no submissions to the contest. She was very polite and apologetic and assured me the contest entries would still be judged. I assured her I would be happy to update this post if GamePro could clarify the situation on their developer blog. As of today, they have done just that. I understand that communication mistakes happen within companies, and I’m happy to see GamePro correct the situation.

I was very disappointed today to learn that GamePro.com has canceled its API programming contest after the entry deadline. I submitted an entry to the contest, and since the judging results were due, I reached out to the API guys via Twitter. Here’s what I learned:

John - We've discontinued the API contest - there wasn't enough interest.

Direct message via Twitter

I can’t be any more clear when I say this: I and any other developer putting time and energy to create an entry for your contest were very interested.

I think GamePro should be reminded of  the first rule of Open Space:

“Whoever shows up is the right group”

This is a fabulous example of an API vendor doing it wrong.

I love making mashups. Experimenting with APIs is my favorite thing to do as a programmer. They’re like geek Lego.  One of the most exciting parts of Mashup Camp is the speed geeking contest, where developers pitch their mashup to a couple dozen small groups in hopes of winning recognition and some great prizes. The speed geeking contest is something I look forward to participating in every time, and over the years I’ve done well getting votes and winning prizes. I’ve won awards from IBM, Thomson-Reuters, Dapper, and others. In Dublin I even managed to win the Best Mashup grand prize. A couple times I’ve come prepared with a mashup, but as my friend Andrew Bidochko can tell you, half of the fun is spending a sleepless night hacking away.

For API providers, sponsoring a mashup contest is a great way to stir interest in their services. Not only do contests attract developers to using their APIs, but it helps vendors discover valuable use cases for their data. The kind of creative use cases that clever mashup developers uncover can be invaluable to vendors. Even simple mashups can evolve to new revenue models and uncover vertical niches not thought of by the vendor. I would think the return on investment for running a contest, including prizes would be high. If nothing else, you’ll get bug reports, feedback, and dozens to hundreds of developer hours in testing your API.

For the developer, mashup contests provide a great incentive to try out an API. If I had a choice, the only coding I would do would be mashups. But since I was laid off in September and freelancing once again, time for the fun stuff is scarce. That’s why I was excited to read about the GamePro.com API contest on the best mashup news site in the world, programmableweb.com. Programmable web has a special page for mashup contests, and I perked up a bit when I noticed GamePro was offering $5000 for theirs.

GamePro contest on Programmable Web. The link is a 404 now.

Now for the lowly freelancer, five grand is a nice chunk of change. I figured there would be a decent amount of competition in this contest, but I already had a good idea for it and thought I’d take a stab. So, with some great help from my wife Liz and our good friend Emily with the artwork, over the course of several weeks I created Pew Pew Zap!

Pew Pew Zap! is a devilishly cute and simple mashup using the GamePro API. It’s basically a ‘hot or not’ style site where the user is presented two games and votes on their favorite. The games are organized by platform and genre, the end goal being that the human-powered bubble sort will eventually reveal the best game for each platform and genre as indicated by the leaderboards.

This site by no means is a great engineering feat, but I think it’s a clever use of the GamePro API. Additionally, I wanted to test this interaction model, as I had previously spent some time on a similar but yet unreleased mashup for Etsy. My hypothesis being that the average page views per visitor would be high due to the simple nature of the site. So far, I’ve found that is the case according to my stats.

Working with the GamePro API was straight forward, although I did run into some errors with the service. The guys at GamePro were helpful and responsive on the forum, and even answered some questions I asked via Twitter direct messages.

So a couple days before the contest deadline I submitted my mashup to GamePro, and as the now non-existent contest rules page stated, I waited 30 days to hear the results. Suspiciously, a day or so after the November 1st entry deadline, GamePro removed all the information about the contest from their site. Here’s Google’s cached version of the contest announcement. The GamePro Terms of Service page, nor its cached version, contain the contest rules any longer. In fact, the only mention I can find of the contest is this forum post. I did not contact GamePro about any of this until today, trusting that there would be no issue. I guess that’s a lesson learned.

Regardless, I’m glad I created the mashup. It ended up winning Programmable Web’s “mashup of the day” on November 19th. The actions by GamePro will not discourage me from entering programming contests in the future. I have to wonder though, how many other developers got let down on this one. I hope the folks participating in GamePro’s comment drawing don’t get burned, too. I’m not bitter–I got to spend some time doing what I love, and was able to submit some bug reports to help GamePro improve their API. I just don’t think it’s right for them to dangle a carrot.

About John Herren

John Herren is a developer and technical consultant with focus on web applications. He currently serves as Director of Development for Primetime US, the company behind the hit movie and book The Secet. John was formerly staff writer and developer community evangelist for Zend Technologies. Along with founding neat experiments like TagCloud.com, John is an active member in the mashup community, working with API providers and speaking at conferences. He is a published author of Linux certification study material. John enjoys using open source software like PHP and Ruby on Rails to bend the web into exciting new chimeras of hyperlinked goodness. View all posts by John Herren

14 responses to “GamePro burns developers on $5000 programming contest

  • Jason Garber

    Hey John,

    Great writeup. Couldn’t agree more about the “open space” rules, and it’s unfortionate they pulled the contest. Hopefully the next one will be 50K, and will work out better.

    Thanks for the balanced overview.

    -JG

  • Kragen Javier Sitaker

    It seems like you and the other people who entered have a pretty good case for a class-action lawsuit, except that the total money at stake is apparently only $5000. Maybe report them to the FTC instead?

  • Ben Atkin

    I don’t blame them for regretting having a big prize for the contest, but I do blame them for not sucking it up. Incredibly dumb move IMO. They’ve painted themselves into a corner. It will be hard for any future marketing promotions by them to be taken seriously.

  • Andrew Hyde

    I hate hearing stories about this, but you now have a first hand experience in spec work. Stay away from spec work at all costs.

    Love the open space rules.

  • Emilian Bold

    What the company did is dishonest and quite possibly illegal.

    I don’t know the specifics of your state/country but in my country any company has to go through some legal hoops to even be allowed to make such a contest public! Apparently too little red tape is also bad as it allows companies to pull stunts like this.

    Good luck with your projects.

  • Derek Martin

    In Canada this is illegal. As Emilian said, companies who hold public contests are accountable and legally bound to deliver the promised awards as soon as the first submission as been received. I can’t imagine that this would be any different in the United States. You should look into it.

  • Scott Blaine

    I’m no lawyer, but it would appear to be illegal under California law (where GamePro is based). From http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/legal_guides/u-3.shtml:

    “All prizes of the value and type represented must be awarded and distributed. The opportunity to win a prize cannot be conditioned on a minimum number of entries or contest participants.”

  • Antonio Roberts

    It probably is illegal but it’s really fortunate that they didn’t run off with the code

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  • Curious

    I’m just a little confused about your use of the word “mash up”…

    I understand a “mash up” to be when two distinct entities are “remixed” TOGETHER into a new whole.

    In this instance, there’s only one entity…

    Wouldn’t a mash up be more like mixing the Gamepro API with the Amazon API to let you buy from Amazon while looking at Gamepro reviews… or something like that?

    In that case, the two services are being mashed together, so it makes sense to call it a mash up….

    Is there some other connotation I am missing or something?

    • John Herren

      @Curious Have you tried clicking one of those ‘Buy It’ links?🙂

      You’re right in that the Wikipedia definition calls a mashup the combination of two or more data sources. When I teach mashups, I define them by three characteristics: combination, aggregation, and visualization. So I think even if you group and measure just one souce as I’ve done with this mashup, or show the information in a different way, it meets the definition of a mashup.

      Here’s a slide deck from an intro talk I gave a few years ago. I’m interested in any feedback you have on the finer points.
      http://www.slideshare.net/jhherren/mashup-university-4-intro-to-mashups

  • John James

    I have decided to forward this link to every authority I could in California; local law enforcement, BBB, attorney general, etc. GamePro needs to owe up because those who did put in their time deserve to be rewarded.

  • yanares

    i think that GamePro.com like a cheater,you should get all reward by all ways

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