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19 Sep 2014

The Value of Game Jams

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Quick, off-topic story, but I swear there’s a reason for it, so bear with me. A few years ago, I was tasked with writing a how-to book overnight concerning a piece of software I had never used before (somebody missed a deadline, I was asked to help them to meet their deadline, etc.). Now, I had never done anything like this before, so to say it was a learning experience is putting it mildly. After writing for 16 hours straight, I knew more about this software and writing a how-to book than I would have ever learned in such a short while. It was difficult, exhausting, and of course time consuming, but it was a great way to learn (and plus, I helped somebody out tremendously).

Game jams are the exact same. Gamasutra posted an interesting article last week where they asked indie developers via Twitter what value they see in game jams, and it’s the basis for today’s post.

If you don’t know what a game jam is, here’s a quick rundown: it’s essentially a 48-hour competition where people team up to make a game surrounding a certain topic over a weekend. Programmers, artists, writers, engineers, audio aficionados, and more collaborate to make a game that their peers can play once the weekend is over. The best part about game jams? They are not strictly a competition, but a place where people can see what ‘good stuff’ they are made of. Other teams help other teams, trade ideas, and generally help one another out to produce the best games they can must within the 48-hour time window.

When Game Academy Radio was still active, many indie developers told me that the idea for their game originated at a game jam. Once they returned to work, they began fine-tuning these ideas, until they have a game plan for expanding and developing a game that players would want to purchase. Which brings me to one of the first points of why game jams are so valuable:

They force you to innovate

Megan Vokal said she enjoyed game jams because it helped her to:

“Getting practice ‘shipping’ and being forced to iterate quickly on a design.”

The ability to backpedal and change your ideas at a moment’s notice is a great skill to have, and it’s one that a game jam can help you to learn quickly.

Speedlbaars mentioned that it helped them to:

“Get to the essentials of what a game needs to make it fun.”

That’s really one of the best things about game jams. You are forced to look at the foundation of what make a game good. As Traumendes_Madchen put it:

“I learned that making a game is rather easy, but making a good one is not.”

That’s one of the lessons that makes attending a game jam worth it.

You can see what works

Many indie developers take the time to prototype some ideas they have had floating around in their head, but haven’t acted on them yet. It’s the best place to put your ideas into practice, and according to Insomniac Games designer Liz England, she agrees:

“No-risk opportunity to experiment with ideas that would not be commercially viable. No worrying about what ‘the market’ wants.”

And that’s really one of the prime reasons why game jams are so great. Instead of working ‘on the clock’ and worrying if you are wasting time prototyping an idea, you can get a solid idea if your idea will work or not within 48-hours or less. If it doesn’t work, at least you know. If it does? Then you have an idea that could certainly turn into an awesome new indie game.

It’s just fun

I’ve never been to a game jam myself, but I understand the appeal and the energy that surrounds one of these events. A game jam is a place where you can learn new ideas, meet new people, discover new ways to develop indie games (discover new ways of developing you didn’t think you were capable of!), and a place to see your hard work come to life within 48-hours.

Game jams are becoming a global phenomenon, and chances are, there is one near you! Consider attending one the next chance you get, because believe me – they’re worthwhile experiences.

Source: Gamasutra

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