Some time ago I participated in a game jam with my indie team, and I want to share a few thoughts about jams and how it played for us.
To start with, let’s say a few words about what is that Game Jam thing. Game Jam is an event where people make games within some set of rules in a limited time — like a hackathon, but about games. It seems like the first one was held back in 2002 to try out a new engine if I can trust Wikipedia. I think I can say that game jams are pretty popular nowadays, to say the least — with the growth of interest and capabilities to build games there are a massive amount of different jams around the globe. For example, check out the itch.io calendar — one of the remarkable internet corners if you are passionate about indie games and game development.
Brief overview. In most scenarios, you can participate single-handedly, or in a small team. Usually, you need to cover programming and art, a separate passionate game designer can come in handy and a sound guy if you can find one and you are all set. The most popular timelines from my humble experience are 24h or 48h — during a weekend, in some cases 72 hours. And it starts as a marathon — at the start time everyone is on the start line, then the “theme” or rules are announced, starting pistol fires and time countdown started! It all followed by fussing teams and individuals, generating ideas, building prototypes, drawing sketches, brainstorming, iterating to make an MVP (minimal viable product) in time to participate in the final contest, where the jury will decide the winners. Oh yes, it also often involves sponsors that make prizes for the best games. A thrilling experience, indeed.
Why would anyone participate in a jam?
And why would anyone participate in such an exhausting way to spend your weekend? Well, however unexpected that is, usually it’s not about the prizes.
First of all, it’s a unique experience — limited time scope creates pressure, that can sometimes stimulate your creativity. You need not create a game of your dream, of anything you like (that can take years or your entire life), but manage to create something playable in 48 hours (or whatever the timeline) on a specific topic, in a specific theme, or using specific software. Some can compare that to a real marathon — you try hard, suffer all the way, but in the end, the feeling that you did it brings you joy that just worth it. I remember my experience going into my first mountain trip — it’s hard, and sometimes you are overwhelmed with thoughts that you will never ever do anything like this to yourself again, but in the end — you are so satisfied that you want more. It’s counterintuitive in such a way, but it is what it is.
Secondly, it’s a great way to build a team, or test your team in a battle, so to speak. Common endeavors are what build relationships pretty good, as you need to work together, support each other to reach common goals. And all this is in just a few days! Perfect team building activity for teams and a way to spend time with friends. Maybe even with kids, who knows, doing something together always feels nice.
My latest experience in a jam
So why am I talking about game jams? Recently I together with a few friends decided to start building our games. Our first idea was to build a relatively small casual project that we can handle and have a chance of bringing us some money. And we did start a project, but then come around the Ad about the hyper-casual game jam. Our first project intention was to build a project as quickly as possible to test us as a team, and game jam could help us achieve exactly this, so this is why we decide to take part. The hyper-casual project even smaller than a casual project, to be precise it starts with a prototype, that usually takes 2 weeks to build, then is tested to prove the attractiveness of the mechanic before proceeding. Plus, the hyper-casual market is an interesting opportunity to try in terms of a business. Based on the number of talks, conferences, and games around it — it is in demand.
In our case, it was a 2-day game jam with a few lections, workshops, sponsors, and mentors from top publishing companies on the market and a slack server for communication between participants and mentors. So this was a good introduction to the genre and publishers, looking for new developers. The prizes were also around publishing opportunities like access to publishing managers, Ad vouchers, Ad credits, but also a console, Unity Asset Store vouchers, etc.
We had a very productive experience working on a game, with 2 brainstorming sessions where we generated ideas, choose one, and then transformed it into something completely new. Luckily for us, we involved an Artist we hadn’t before to join us, so the result, to my humble opinion, was really good, even though not hyper-casual at all. In the end, we did not win in any category ane place — a big frustration for myself, I have fallen in love with the game, but that’s not that important, in the end.
What was unexpected for us and intriguing is that we received a few letters from publishers, who think that our game is interesting and of a good quality and they want to test it. I will not dive deeper into the hyper-casual market for now, but let’s say, the jam was only a beggining. We published that game eventually, but after all the feedbacks it was not even close to the game jam concepts.
After some time, I can conclude that that game jam was in many ways defining for us, apart of getting a nice product in the end, we introduced ourselves in a new market, got new contacts and new member of our indie party. That’s following up the new experience consequence of participating in a game jam. Also that was fun and teambuilding activity that helped us to build drafts for the processes we started to use for the next projects like brainstorming techniques, start with a rough prototype approach and many more. We also try to repeat those thrilling feelings we had when starting a new project together to stimulate creativity.
So in short, I recommend to try participating in jams or hackatons, if you never did before, just in case you love it, or need a push in your carrer or business.