Or: The Need for a Corporate Identity.
Langerwehe, 20 August 2000. The Evoke party was about to reach its climax: the prizegiving ceremony. Everybody was already very curiously awaiting the results of the demo competition, especially the contributors. There had been very nice releases by farbrausch (then a fairly young and hardly-known group) and witchcraft; which of them were going to win?
Neither! The winner was a black-and-white, purely 2D demo. Its makers were very surprised at its success: after all, it had been made in the last three days before the party and just for fun. Very aware of the quality of the demo, none of them had imagined that it would even rank among the top five.
There seems to be only one reason why true won: its credits, which marked it as a co-production of the famous groups Haujobb and Calodox. "Namevoting orgasm!" Otis perfectly summarised it. In fact true had been coded by Melwyn, a musician(!) in Haujobb at Fred/Calodox's home, only to fill the time until Evoke would start. The former Demojournal editor PS, the third who was present at Fred's, contributed a piece of music he had made together with Xhale/Miasmah. They, and a lot of beer, were the ingredients that made up the winner demo at last year's Evoke.
A unique phenomenon? Not at all. Lately the number of complaints about odd results caused by namevoting has risen. At Mekka & Symposium 2001, for example, farbrausch's joke-demo Kapital (placed 4th) beat two serious and interesting demos, Nature Still Suxx (placed 5th) and Leitmotiv (placed 10th).
This fact led to quite a hot debate in the comp.sys.ibm.pc.demos newsgroup, in which several individual members of farbrausch stated that they had not been in favour of releasing this production. But on the other hand, they said that forbidding any member to publish using the group's name would have been against farbrausch's basic principles.
Johnny Smith will never beat Sunflower
Judging from these incidents, one may induce the rule: if you want to win a party with a high quality production, then it must be a really high quality one, or you have no chances against the well-known names.
The big question is: Why? Why do famous names have an advantage, even if their product is below average?
I think the answer is due to corporate identity. Corporate identity (CI) is a term from the business world which you've probably already heard of. It's about giving a company an image with which it presents itself to the outside and by to which it designs its products. This includes names, colours, themes, slogans, mascots, funny recurring features... It forms a kind of company philosophy, emphasises the way of life it embodies, and it also adds some mysticism and legend to it. This boosts the recognition factor (brand names are remembered more easily, upon seeing a new product you'll immediately discern which company made it, etc.) and makes the company more familiar, perhaps even likeable. It gives you the notion of "knowing" it.
Also in the scene, corporate identities do matter and are, in fact, widespread. One of the best examples is Tpolm, which definitely has a very strong CI: its members are supposed to actually live on "the planet of leather moomins" 3000 years ahead (that's why in Tpolm's turn-of-the-millennium demo the arrival of the year 5000 was celebrated), they have the same taste of music (Beastie Boys), and they are also supposed to have similar preferences with regard to smoking. Another is Noice, notorious for the goats which appear in every demo. Or think of farbrausch with its consumer theme - every demo deals with it in some way. Things like these are kept in memory, and they have a heavy impact on the voters' behaviour. Unless there's a really outstanding release that overshadows all the others, you are more likely to vote for known and respected people and groups than for strangers.
It seems like it's enough to make one ground-breaking production and win a big party with it. Then your name will become famous, and you'll find winning much easier with your next releases. Unless you have strong competitors or your release is really crap, you can be sure that you will get vastly above average placing.
Oddities regarding Charts
You don't believe me? What about charts? Why, for example, is it that Statix still holds #1 position on the coders charts in many different magazines (e.g. Planet #3 from April 2001), although his last big demo dates back to 1998? Why do the Future Crew keep appearing in demogroup charts, although they have been defunct as a group since 1994? Why do some graphic and music artists who haven't released anything for scene prods or compos for a rather long time still hold top positions? It's all namevoting again.
I suspect it's because when people fill in votesheets, most of them want their votes to be as objective as possible. As you can't be an expert in all areas, you may stumble across a category that makes you think, "Oh! Actually I don't know what I am supposed to fill in here... I know someone, but he probably isn't the best, so I'd look somewhat ridiculous if I voted for him as #1..." Then you decide to look up some previous charts, and copy the places from there. Or you may remember, "Hey, I heard of this group... They're supposed to be very good... I haven't seen anything of theirs yet unfortunately, but if people say they're good, it's probably right... so let's vote for them." The result of this is what I've been writing about throughout this article.
Why don't people leave a category in their votesheet blank if they feel incapable of passing fair judgment in this area? It's no shame, nobody knows everything about the scene. For example, when I fill in a votesheet for a diskmag I regularly leave the "slideshows" category blank; sure, I know a couple of them, but as I don't actively collect and review them, I can't tell which are among the best of all existing ones.
Note that this only concerns votesheets which ask for the "best" in each category instead of the readers' "personal favourites". If they asked for "personal favourites" then, I think, nobody would have inhibitions to vote for the productions they personally consider their favourite (read my article, "Charts Suck!" in Hugi #18 for more on this matter).
Looking at the results of Evoke 2000 and other parties, one may seriously wonder, "Are voters able to distinguish between serious and joke productions?"
Apparently this applies to a large fraction of them. If a reputable group (or individual) releases out a new production, it's automatically (a priori, as philosophers would say) considered good. In fact, the organizers of graphic competitions have realised this long ago; that's why many parties demand an unsigned version of the picture to be included with the submission, so that the voters won't know who drew it before the prizegiving ceremony. Should the same method be applied in all other compos, too? I think in music compos it also ought to be done, but for demos and intros it would pose a great problem: Often the credits part is a crucial component of the show, after all...
But there is a simple way to prevent namevoting. However, this only works if the groups themselves are responsible enough: Don't publish joketros using your groupname, create a new label for them. Quoting The Update of CoPro: "We usually discuss our own stuff before releasing it since about two years and either we think it's a quality production and we release it under the main label, or, what happens more often, we say that it's some kind of fun stuff and we release it in our second label. In the first label we care what the others think about it, think about criticism and try to improve from release to release, whereas the second label doesn't even have a website yet."
Adok/Hugi - 04 May 2001