What is a Game Jam and why you should participate in one

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There is always a good reason to face a new challenge, but sometimes you just don’t know what could be a good one. As programmer you have a bunch of opportunities that sometimes can overwhelm. Should I create a new app? What technologies should I choose? What if my idea is not original? How big this new project should be?

These kind of questions can be a real stopper for everyone as you can feel tired just thinking about them, but the thing is that the only you really want in that moment is to create something and get your hands dirty… and now, what if I tell you that there are already challenges ready for you?

What is a Game Jam?

Game Jam are small challenges with the main purpose of create a game in a short period of time. Normally, they are focused on videogames, but there are representation for other kind of games, like board games. They are a nice opportunity to start in game development, learn new skills or meet people with the same interests of you.

Characteristics of a Game Jam

There are a lot of Jam events that occur periodically and each one have it’s own spirit and characteristics, but in essence, a lot of them share the same points:

  • Theme: this will be your key inspiration, your game design should take this into account and apply it somehow in the game. Some people respect this to the extreme, others just reflect it with some little details. The decision is up to you, but normally, stick around the theme is highly appreciated for everyone as this will demonstrate your capacity of adapt to this variable.
  • Deadline: we have a fixed period of time to tackle this challenge, it could be a weekend, a month or even a few hours.
  • Original content: some Jams will let you use free copyright content from others, but the general philosophy is to create in the time you have all the elements that compose the game. I’m not talking only about the code, but also graphics, sounds, etc.

Those are normally the common characteristics of a Jam, but there some others:

  • Technologies restrictions: we can find a big variety of restrictions regarding the tools that we can use. That could be a single framework like Unity or Unreal or it could be a programming language or even the total space that can use to fit all the resources.
  • Based on a fixed category: you can find Jams dedicated to develop a shooter, a sandbox or a platformer. Also, it can be based on a famous game, for example, create one with same mechanics of a Zelda game.
  • Team or alone: this is normally optional, but for some of Jams you will need to work alone without help or find a team to work with.

What is NOT a Game Jam?

  • A real competition: yes, sometimes there will be prizes, experts that will give a score to your game and some other recognitions, but remember that you are not here for that. This is a test of what you are capable to do and the best prize will be to be proud of what you developed. I saw in past some people ruining the experience for everyone because they wanted desperately to win. Don’t be like that. This is about collaboration, not competition.
  • A training to learn something from scratch: of course, you are going to learn lot of things during the process and probably you will need to check some blogs or tutorials to achieve some difficult steps. However, this is not the best moment to start a training from scratch of a technology you didn’t even know that exist. If you are participating alone, you can do whatever you want, but when you start to understand how that tool works, probably the time remaining will be finishing. My recommendation is to stick with the things you know and help in those areas or prepare for the challenge before the Jam starts.

The good things of a Game Jam

Let me describe you all the good things that a Jam experience can bring to you:

  • This is for ALL people: are you a designer? are you a good story-teller? do you have no idea of how to code simple Hello World? that’s OK! you don’t need any of these skills, you can help in several ways to develop a game. Think on a big company that develops AAA games, they need a lot of employees to create all the content of the game like graphics, UI design, music, sound effects, a good story, … You can even help the team with your feedback, with the tests or bringing to the team some coffee!
  • Fixed time: we have a deadline to develop the game and this is good! It’s a fact that humans work better with deadlines and this is a guarantee that the project we start will have a end.
  • Meet new people: if your Game Jam admits groups, it’s a nice opportunity to meet new people with the same hobbies that you. Game Jams can be organized online or in a physical place, these last ones are the best experience in my opinion. Be open and try to connect with all the people you can!
  • Learn new things: as I said before, this is not the best moment to understand something from scratch as any minute can count during a Game Jam… but I didn’t say that you cannot learn anything new, actually you’ll learn a lot. The best way to catch new concepts and keep them in the memory is when you DO things. A good way to memorize all these things is to make a good Post-morten after you finish the game and don’t forget to share it so other can learn for your mistakes too!
  • Add new projects to your portfolio: maybe you are aiming someday to be hired for a videogames company. They will take into account several things, but I assure you that having finished projects to show them will help you a lot. This is not only for game developers, it could help you to join any software related company.

The king platform for Game Jams: itch.io

itch.io is probably the best web you can find to start looking for a Jam that can fit to you. Actually, itch.io is not only for that, it brings a lot of cool functionalities for game developers such as creating your dashboards to advertise your own games, earn money with your creations, search through a large library of Game Jams or even host one!

Game Jams calendar

Global Game Jam: a good starter point

The Global Game Jam is the world’s largest game jam event taking place around the world at physical locations. It counts with the support of lots of sponsors, they have hired and volunteer staff and collaborations with game organisations around the world. If you live in a big city, probably you will have the chance to join some place to participate, you can check it here.

This Jams has a 48 hours duration (a weekend) and it starts on Friday afternoon. Depending where you joining, there will be volunteers that will be more than happy to help you find some team mates. It’s not mandatory to go physically to some of those locations, so if you feel more comfortable participating from your home, you can do it.

My recommendation will be to start joining this one as a first experience and, if you like it, move to some other challenges. I bet you will love it and, who knows, maybe we can meet in the next Jam 😉

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