Every hackathon has different rules and every hackathon manager will apply the rules differently. Below we will cover creating rules your hackathon and what the differences are for in-person and online hackathons.
PLEASE NOTE: Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice from Devpost nor is it intended as a substitute for using an attorney.
For online hackathons
You should absolutely work with a qualified attorney to create a set of Official Rules for your competition. Contests of skill have legal requirements and these vary by state and country. You should also involve your attorney if you have questions during the competition about updating, clarifying or interpreting the Official Rules.
Below are some things to consider when working with your attorney to create the Official Rules and when applying the rules. These have been put together based on our experience powering hundreds of challenges.
Creating Hackathon Rules - Standard Info
You will want to make sure the Official Rules include clear and compliant language around the following basic areas:
What are the key dates & times such as the deadline for submissions and the announcement date for winners?
Who can participate? Individuals, teams, and organizations? What’s the minimum age for individuals? Are there any limits on team or organization size? What are the residency and location requirements? (Note: different countries may have different laws). For organizations, do they need to be domiciled or have their primary place of business in an eligible country or just have an employee there?
What do contestants need to create? What do you need in order to screen, test, or evaluate submissions? Be careful not to create too many requirements that deter participation or force you to disqualify submissions you want to include.(See below for more detail on software challenges).
Submission Rights & Display
What do you (the sponsor) get the right to do with the submission? Do you want the right to use the winners’ names to promote the competition? What rights will you have to use the submission (aside from displaying it on the website)? Consider carefully any rights you’re asking of contestants or winners.
Prizes & Winner Selection
What are the prizes? How will the winners of each prize be determined? Are there any circumstances where the prize(s) won’t be awarded?
Creating Hackathon Rules - Submission Requirements
Below are some things to cover with software submission requirements:
Does the submission need to include a fully functioning app? If so, how is that defined for the competition? If not, what is required (e.g. design, clickable prototype, video of an app on a simulator)?
What to enter
Aside from a link to the app, what else are you requiring contestants to submit to describe or demonstrate the app and/or make it available for testing?
The Devpost platform accepts links to YouTube, Vimeo or Youku. Are you requiring a video? Does it need to include a demonstration of the app? Are there any limits or suggestions on length?
The platform allows submitters to upload one file, though they can combine files into a single ZIP file. Are you requiring any file uploads, such as installation files?
The platform requires contestants to enter an entry name and description. Include any specific instructions for these and any custom fields we’ve created for you in your rules.
What operating systems or devices can the app run on?
Is the app required to use an API, SDK, or data set?
Topic / Categories
Are there any category requirements, content, or specific functionality the app must include?
New vs. Existing
Do apps need to be new for the competition? Are existing apps eligible? What about existing apps that have been modified or include new functionality?
Do apps need to be up on the relevant app store? If not, do they need to be submitted to the app store before the submission deadline? If the app is not publicly available, what is required for testing?
Can contestants charge the public for their apps? Include in-app advertising?
Can contestants submit more than one app?
Creating Hackathon Rules - Communicating Requirements
It’s important that the requirements above aren’t just buried in the Official Rules! You want visitors to your hackathon site to learn quickly whether they are eligible and what they need to create. We recommend repeating and summarizing key requirements in other places:
Create a few bullets in the About the Challenge section with the key eligibility and submission requirements. Provide a brief summary in the How to Enter section.
Eligibility and Requirements Sections on Homepage
Although it seems redundant, we encourage you to include a quick overview of the basic eligibility and submission requirements on the homepage in common terms. This helps to call out the most important bits of information.
Enter a Submission
Remind contestants about the key requirements in the instructions text at the top of the page and in the File Upload and Video URL instructions.
FAQ (if you have one)
Call out the key requirements on the FAQ page and add new questions and answers as they come up.
Updating Hackathon Rules
We recommend avoiding updates or changes to your rules after the competition launches unless absolutely necessary. If you think it is necessary, you should consult your attorney. Here are a few practical suggestions to consider in addition to the advice from your attorney:
Don’t disadvantage anyone
Contestants may have started work based on the rules in place at launch. Avoid changes that could put them at a disadvantage or make them wish they had started in a different direction.
Don’t do it last minute
Don’t change dates at the last minute! Contestants who worked hard at the end may be unhappy with a last minute extension of the submission deadline or winner announcement date.
If the rules change, be sure to update any related language elsewhere on the site, such as the Enter a Submission page, How to Enter, and FAQ.
Communicate important changes to the rules using the communications features in the Devpost manage area. Consider sending:
- a message to anyone who has submitted already
- a message to anyone who has created a draft
- an update to people who have registered for your challenge (or include information about rules changes in your next general update)
Applying and Interpreting Hackathon Rules
Follow your own rules closely!
Contestants will hold you to them. Don’t allow in submissions that are missing a requirement or that include something prohibited. If your rules say a submission “must” (vs. “should”) include or do something, then it must. For example, if you require a video and it must be under 5 minutes, you will likely need to disqualify submissions with videos that go 5:10.
If the rules leave room for discretion or interpretation, check with your attorney and make sure to apply the rules consistently to everyone participating in the challenge. Remember, letting people in because of a rule you wish you had is not sufficient. Fix it for next time. Exceptions disadvantage submitters.
Respond to questions about your rules posted on the Discussion forum.
Make sure everyone gets the same info
If you receive questions via email about your rules, post your answers to the Discussion forum as well, so everyone benefits equally from any clarification.