Why Every Game Developer should take part in Game Jams
If you have been a game developer for some stretch of time, you most likely know what a “game jam” is. Game Jams are the game developer’s hack-a-thon — you are given a time constraint, and usually a thematic or mechanics constraint, and you must create a game, prototype, tool, or other misc. interactive component. Occasionally the games are rated, and winners receive a small prize. Entry to game jams is almost always free!
One of the biggest game jams is the Global Game Jam. Every year during the early weeks of the year, developers around the world spend one weekend developing a game against a short prompt. In 2019, Global Game Jam had 47,009 participants in 113 countries. 9,010 games were made at 860 locations — its quite an amazing result!
What teams create in game jams is often spectacular, especially given the short time frame (most game jams last a week, some last as long as a few months, and as short as a few hours). If this is the case, why do gamers rarely hear about these excellent games? Due to the lack of volume boosting for game jams, it’s hard to convince professional and freelance developers to take time from their ongoing projects to compete in game jams.
So there it is — I will explain why you should enter the next game jam. Whether you are a professional, freelance, hobbyist, or complete beginner! If you have stumbled on this article, you have enough interest to compete!
Learning the Ropes
For beginners, a game jam could be the very first experience designing, developing, creating art and music for a game. Learning all the tools and producing something great from it is an amazing experience to have. If you are a developer, you can work on art or music; if you are creative you can try designing levels and mechanics. Game jams are perfect opportunities to exercise other muscles in a stress-free environment.
Along with that, jams can teach you plenty of skills that come in handy during a development cycle. Organizational skills, working with others, brainstorming, and prototyping. All of these are necessary during larger projects. Although I say it is a stress-free environment, there are still hard time constraints to work under. If you are not used to working under pressure, you can get some much-needed experience here.
Game jam theme constraints are usually very open ended, but it requires that you brainstorm with your team and determine the best game design that matches your interpretation of the theme. Thinking outside of the box is critical to plan your game quickly without wasting too much of the allotted time.
Restriction Breeds Creativity
Along these lines, the entire point of working on a game jam is to work outside of your comfort zone and try new things. When you receive a theme as vague as “repair”, “one button”, or “small world” you are forced to make decisions on (a) what this prompt means to you and your team and (b) how to build a compelling game around said interpretation.
Restriction breeds creativity. If your prompt is mechanics related, you may need to think of unique controller inputs, mechanics that you’d never implement under normal circumstances, mediums you’ve never touched, and more. Working with these constraints can show you new and interesting angles to approach your future works. And when all is said and done, and you have submitted your project, you will get to experience everyone else’s submissions. You will find tons of other interpretations, unique angles and creations to spur your imagination even further!
Prototypes are Worth Their Weight in Gold!
Your game jam idea can lead to a prototype that becomes a full release one day. There are plenty of games that had their start in a game jam, some you may recognize:
- Baba is You
- Goat Simulator
- Super Hot
- Snake Pass
I discuss prototyping tips in another article, and there’s no better place to prototype than in a game jam setting. Game jams force you to create a minimum viable product as quickly as possible, whilst being flexible and using all the tools at your disposal to meet the deadline. You can try out an amazing, out-there concept that you’ve tossing around in your head for quite a while, with the lowest level of effort expended. If your idea sucks, you will know in less than a week, and you are free to move on to another idea.
Escape your Bubble
Another great outcome of participating in game jams is from a networking perspective. It’s not every day that game designers, developers, musicians, artists, graphic designers, engineers, and project managers meet in one place to create games. If you are looking for your next team member, a local game jam is the best place to look. Now, in 2020 you are relegated to online game jams — which leads me to my final section.
Where do I Sign Up?
If I have sold you on game jams, your next question must be, “Where do I sign up?” — and thankfully game jams are still in full swing despite the 2020 pandemic. If you are looking for an aggregator of game jams, it is certainly itch.io’s page. There are dozens of jams running in parallel, so feel free to join some and get a sense for how to participate online. Most game jams have a discord community where you can get to know other game developers, form teams, and communicate.
Another great option is to look out for local game jam communities on Meetup.com or your local IDGA chapter. Now get out there and participate in some game jams!
If you want to read more, here are some related articles!