Challenges and their victory conditions should, as far as possible, give scope to improve any entry.
When the objective victory condition rule has been discussed in the past, the general consensus (and one that I agree with) is that the victory condition exists to drive creativity. If a challenge's requirements are "do X", and not "do X, but Y is better", there's no scope to do anything else once you've just done X. On the other hand, if it's possible to improve your entry, that motivates you to actually improve it, increasing the quality of the site. So a victory condition that makes improvement possible is really the heart of the "objective victory condition" rule, and the reason for the rule is more important than the rule itself.
As such, I think we should modify our rule for victory criteria as follows: a challenge should be designed so that, no matter what you've done for the challenge so far, it's always possible to do more, and to know what is required of you to do that. In most challenges, this is equivalent to requiring an objective victory criterion, because without one, it's impossible to know how to improve.
This also means that the important factor isn't competing against other users; it's competing against yourself. The purpose of a victory condition isn't to tell whether user A's answer is better than user B's answer. It's to let user A improve themselves as much as possible, pushing themself as far as they want to. In other words, ties between users are completely harmless; but unimprovable answers are very dangerous, as they render the competition pointless from then on.
So I'd suggest that we change our list of off-topic reasons like this:
- Instead of Questions without an objective primary winning criterion are off-topic, as they make it impossible to indisputably decide which entry should win.,
- our rule (and off-topic reasoning) should be Questions which can be given an answer that cannot objectively be improved on are off-topic, as the posting of a "perfect answer" makes competition impossible..
Implications of this:
Victory conditions with ties are acceptable, and should be encouraged in situations where no obvious tiebreak exists.
Sometimes in a challenge, there's a way to make a "major improvement" to the goal which requires creativity, and "minor improvements" on the tiebreak which don't really. If there's no tiebreak, then improving an answer needs to be a major improvement, and if that's the heart of the challenge, we want to be focusing effort on it. (See this question for more details about situations in which tiebreaks actively hurt the question.)
"Earliest submission" is never viable as a tiebreak, and in particular, is inferior to having no tiebreak at all.
Once you've posted a submission, it's clearly physically impossible to post another submission earlier without a time machine. In other words, this is about as unimprovable as it gets for solutions that have already been posted, and as such discourages rather than encourages competition.
Before you've posted your answer, the tiebreak also has negative implications. Many of the challenges posted here are fairly easy (because the reputation system gives higher rewards for easier challenges, something that's impossible to do anything about without closing easy challenges on sight – something which would be a bad idea, as they're fun for new golfers to compete in – or getting diamond moderators to do a community wiki conversion or to delete the resulting reputation manually, which would be way too much work). As such, there's often an objectively right answer. A good example of a worthwhile tiebreak would be to encourage people to improve their posts via better descriptions, explanations, and the like (which is close to a guided popularity-contest); we already have consensus that doing so is desirable. The FGITW tiebreak does the exact opposite of that, encouraging people to spend a minimum effort on their submission (and perhaps even posting it before it's properly tested), on the basis that spending any extra effort takes more time. And on easy challenges (note: I define "easy" as any challenge in which the shortest answer is to directly translate the words of the specification into Jelly :-P), the byte count is necessarily going to end up tied, so the tiebreak will control the actual victory. Note that the situation with no tiebreak would be better here, as it would remove any incentive to post a bad post simply to do better on the tiebreak.