How game jams can help your next game

Have an awesome game idea you want to try out? Or maybe you’re looking to improve on some skills? Maybe you simply need motivation and idea inspirations? Game jams might just be the thing to help you out.

What are game jams?

Game jams are events where people aim to make a game in a short amount of time—usually over a weekend (48-hours), but it could happen over longer periods of time. These jams can happen in person at a game jam event site, or just at home. Game jams usually come with a certain theme that acts as an inspiration for your game idea. For example, a couple themes from the past Ludum Dare game jams are ‘You are the Monster’ and ‘Ancient Technology’. The game jam theme shouldn’t be thought of as a constraint, but more as a way to force creativity and thinking outside the box.

Global Game Jam 2017 Vancouver
Participants of the Global Game Jam 2017 in Vancouver

Game jams are usually are done solo or in teams. People usually form teams as it allows for diversity in the skill sets and the ability to patch up skills each individual may be missing. You may be an amazing artist, but you don’t know how to code. Maybe you know how to whip up an awesome AI script, but don’t have the perfect accompanying electro mix to go with your game. It’s completely up to you on how you want to proceed.

Why do one?

Honestly, there are a ton of reasons to do game jams and they vary depending on where you are in your game development path. For a beginner, it might be a good place to dive into game development and finally get started on developing that game you always wanted to do. For an intermediate developer, it might be a good place to rapidly prototype some ideas and experiments. For a professional developer, it could be a good place to help improve on some development skills. 

Walkie Talkie from Ludum Dare Game Jam
Walkie Talkie from Ludum Dare 37, One Room

Most importantly, a game jam is fun. By the end of it, you (hopefully) will get a working game. These game jams are also not only restricted to developers but open to everyone. Be it a game designer, artist, music composer or programmer, game jams should have something for everyone.

A couple reasons why a game jam can help you:

Great networking opportunity with like-minded people

What’s nice about these events is that you know the people are all there for the same reason. They want to make a game. Everyone shares a similar interest that can help ease off the pressure of meeting and connecting with people. It’s also a great opportunity to expand your game development community and meet people who might be able to help you with your next game after the game jam.

A chance to improve your skills

Game jams are a great place to hone your skills, no matter what level you’re at. You can practice skills you don’t normally get to flex or sharpen ones that you want to take to the next level. It’s like doing a fun boot camp for game development!

Global Game Jam 2015
Global Game Jam 2015

It’s fun and a great motivator

One mentality you should always go into these game jams with is that you should have fun while doing it. It’s also a powerful motivator and might revitalize the flame you had for developing games if you ever hit a motivation slump. You see lots of progression during these jams. In the end, you have a game. You’ve made something in a short period of time. It may not be perfect, but it’s a product of your hard work and abilities.

Breeding ground for ideas and experimentation

Do you ever get an amazing idea for a game but think, “no, that’s not commercially viable” or no one will like it. In game jams, you don’t have to worry so much about that. The game jam themes are meant to invoke creativity and experimentation. It’s a place where you can try out ideas and see if they are as fun as you thought. Sometimes they aren’t, and that’s okay. Sometimes you get something great out of it and it becomes a game that you want to continue and polish into a full-fledged product.

Some game ideas spawned from Ludum Dares and even made its way onto Steam.

Titan Souls from Game Jam to Steam
Titan Souls from one Ludum Dare to Steam

 

Pony Island from Ludum Dare to Steam, game jam
Pony Island also made its start as a Ludum Dare

If you want to check out more, there is a list here:

http://store.steampowered.com/curator/537829-Ludum-Dare/

Gives you a brief sense of what it takes to make a game

Perhaps this one is more for newer game developers who haven’t completed a full game before. When I first did my game jam, I’ve played around in Unity before, done a couple tutorials here and there but never put my full effort into completing something. It was difficult completing everything on time during the jam. For me, I knew of most of the components involved in a game, but it was more of a realization and experiencing it first hand that taught me how much finesse each component took. It gives you a sense of appreciation towards what magical things people in game development can do.

Lets you try an idea with a limited scope

The time limit part of game jams really forces you to make something simple. You’ll have to boil your idea and gameplay to its bare bones. If the scope of your project is too large, then you won’t be able to finish it all in the time frame given. You’ll be left with a half-finished game by the end of it. Even if you scale your scope down, you can always add features if you finish early. This also allows for you to really refine the core game loop and make it as fun as it can be.

Are game jams worth it?

For me, yes, it was well worth experiencing it. For you, it depends. Do any of the reasons above make you want to do a game jam? You definitely get what you put into it. If no, what is it that turns you off about them? If the 48-hour time constraint is too much of an issue, then try a game jam with a longer period of time. Or if the theme is just too restricting and you can’t come up with something you like, go ahead and break the rules a bit. It’s likely there’s more for you to gain than lose in a game jam! 

How to get involved?

There are tons of great game jams out there. Some of the bigger ones you can get involved with are the Ludum Dares or the Global Game Jam. The Ludum Dare jams are online so you can participate from the comfort of your own home. The Global Game Jam happens once a year in the month of January and is usually held at an on-site local location.

Summer Slow Jams, Game jam
One of the upcoming Gamejolt Game Jams

If you want more online game jams, there is a lot happening on both itch.io and Gamejolt. Indiegamejams.com is also a great resource for finding game jams and getting details on when they happen. You can also look around to see if any local game jams are happening in your area.

Hopefully, this introduced you to game jams and piqued your interest! If you have a game jam story you want to share, please do! We would love to hear it!

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