If you’re an indie game developer, there is no better way to get your heart pumping than by participating a game jam.
A game jam is like a 48 hour film festival, but for games. Small teams of developers around the world gather together (in person or online) in order to plan, design, and create video or board games.
They work for hours on end, often staying up all night, for the sole purpose of finishing their game by the deadline. At the end of the weekend (or week, or month) the participants gather and show off their new creations. Game jams are becoming more and more common as a method for indie developers to get a little attention and to meet other people with the same passions.
Though there are sometimes prizes, you shouldn’t think of game jams as competitions. You’re racing against time itself to reach your own best game. The real prize is the experience. “For many people, it can be difficult to find or make the time create a game or prototype for yourself,” explains the website of game jam Ludum Dare, “We’re here to be your excuse.”
Despite the sleep deprivation (or perhaps because of it), game jams are a hotbed of creativity and motivation. It’s a unique, high-energy environment perfect for making great contacts and for showcasing your talents in front of other game developers. Jams have given birth to widely acclaimed games such as MirrorMoon, Dreadhalls, and Dumpy.
Global Game Jam, the largest game jam in the world, is an annual 48-hour jam with over 300 registered locations in 63 countries. One Friday in January, thousands of writers, artists, coders, and developers sit in front of their computer screens and watch a keynote presentation which announces the theme for the jam. By waiting until the last minute to announce the theme, Global Game Jam is able to encourage every aspect of the design to take place during the 48 hours of the jam.
It was at the official 2012 Game Jam location in Genova, Italy, that developers Pietro Righi Riva and Nicolo Tedeschi (known together as Santa Ragione) first met Paolo Taje and decided to make a game together. The theme for that year was “ouroboros,” a snake consuming itself. Riva, Tedeschi, and Taje put their heads together and came up with the elegant exploration game MirrorMoon, inspired by the concept of infinity and closed systems.
“We have basically no experience in the traditional game industry and we often question what we do,” Riva explained in an interview with indiegames.com. Of their three-man team, only Taje had any experience with coding. “But, like many, our experience was built working on game after game.”
This is really what game jams are all about. Building experience, meeting creators, and pushing through until the end. Santa Ragione and Paolo Taje were pleased to discover shortly after the jam was over that their little 48-hour game had been nominated for the IGF Nuovo Award. MirrorMoon is now available for purchase on multiple systems.
Most of the games created during game jams will never create a profit or become famous. But that’s okay. Game jams give developers at all levels of experience a chance to flex their storytelling, design, and coding skills. They give new creators something to put in their portfolio, and they become springboards for bigger and better ideas. Not to mention that game design is a great way for kids and teens to learn creative problem-solving. You’ll find that an increasing number of game jams are taking place within colleges. Cal State Fullerton’s computer science department played host to its own game jam just last month, and they plan to host another one in December.
Want to learn about more game jams? Game Jam Central keeps an updated list of upcoming jams and events for gamers. The GitHub Game-Off started last Friday (Nov. 1st), and lasts until the end of November. You can check in on their Twitter account to see real-time updates about the progress of the jam.