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3 Dec 2013

Why Should You Participate in Game Jams?

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Whether you are just starting out in the industry and want to make your ‘break’ or you want to hone your skills over a weekend, a game jam is certainly worthy of your consideration. Even if you want to come up with a great new idea for a game yet you are ‘stuck in a rut’ so to speak, again, a game jam can help you to discover new ideas for a game, and from there, create your next big game. Yet, what is a game jam?

At its core, a game jam is an event – usually occurring over a weekend – in which seasoned developers, new developers, and even those that have yet to make their first game come together to make the best game possible within 48-hours. During the start of the jam, entrants are given a theme, and from there, they must create a game centered around said theme. Thus, if you are tasked with creating a game centered around the life of Ernest Hemingway, you better be ready to ‘think outside the box’ and develop a game that is unique and different from the rest.

What is the purpose of a game jam? There are many purposes, yet in the end, a game jam is what you make it. Even so, if you are wary about why you should participate in a game jam to begin with, here are a few good reasons why you should make the consideration.


It’s where great ideas come from

Truly. Of all the interviews I have done over at Game Academy Radio since its inception a few months ago, it’s safe to say that most of the developers came up with ideas for their best games thanks to game jams. Aaron San Filippo’s game Race the Sun instantly comes to mind, as does Tyler Owen’s assortment of games. These guys attended game jams, began letting their mind wander, and from there they discovered awesome concepts for games they would likely have otherwise never come up with. It’s a ‘trial by fire’ approach to brainstorming, and it’s amazing what types of ideas formulate from being forced to be creative in the moment.


A chance to hone your skills

A game jam is intimidating, in that developers must act instantly if they want their game to be finished on time. Because of this, developers must use their skills in a way that will prove to them that they are way more skilled than they originally thought they were. Even if a developer fails at a game jam, it allows them to realize what they need to fix as a developer and allow them to become more skilled than ever. It’s a great way to do an ‘audit’ on which of your skills are solid and which skills need a bit of work.

Moreover, it can even help you to improve your skills before you attend a game jam. If you know you are wary of participating in a game jam because you do not think your skills are solid enough, knowing you want to attend a game jam is a great way to improve those skills anyway. Think about it: by having a goal (in this case, participating in a game jam) yet knowing what is keeping you from attaining said goal (a skill or even a few skills that are not as solid as they should be), you can improve your skill(s) considerably so you can achieve the goal of participating in a jam. No matter how you use a jam to your advantage, it’s beneficial to you as an indie developer.


Learn the advantages of working with a team

I’ll be the first to admit that the thought of working on a team puts a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it’s because it brings back images of group work in school and college, in which only a few people would do the group’s work while others slacked off, skipped class, or generally didn’t try to churn out grade-A work. Working professionally with other team members, this doesn’t happen anymore, yet I still can’t shake the ‘yucky’ feeling I get if I know I’m working on a team with a bunch of people. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, I guess you could call it a phobia that I have.

Lots of people feel this way. One bad experience (or in my case, a few bad experiences) with working on a team can make the very idea of teamwork seem negative, but teamwork is a part of working professionally. As a developer, you are going to be working on a team for much of your career (and that goes for any career), and if you have a bit of a ‘phobia’ for teamwork, a game jam is a great way to overcome this.

Before you go, grab a team, and work on the game. And if you need certain things accomplished in your game that you or a member of your team cannot accomplish? Find an individual at the game jam that can complete the task for you. This is the beauty of a game jam: it allows you to communicate with your peers, work alongside them, and do whatever it takes to make the best game possible. And who knows? Maybe someone will ask you to help them on their game for a bit, and if this occurs, take the opportunity to work with the person (or their team) and help them to create an incredible game as well.

A game jam isn’t a contest: it’s a way to improve all skills associated with game development. Need to improve your teamwork skills? A game jam can help you with this. Want to learn how to improve your skills as a graphic designer, a musician, programmer, or want to learn how to take new ideas and actually put them to use? A game jam can help with this. A game jam is what you make it, and it can certainly mean the difference between getting an idea for that awesome new game and failing to come up with it. It’s worthy of your time, so check for local game jams in your area, and the next chance you get, participate!

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