If you enjoy playing games, you’ve probably thought at some point “I want to make my own game”. Some people are so infatuated with gaming that they pursue it as a full-time career, while others never think of making a game as anything more than a fantasy. In either case, the idea of making a game is intriguing to you. Whether you’re already pursuing a career in professional game development, or just want to try making a game for fun, you should consider participating in a game jam.
What is a game jam?
Generally speaking, a game jam is an event where you make a game in a short period of time. Typically they are done over a weekend, sometimes they can be as long as a full week. The specific rules depend on the event, but usually you can work alone or on a team. Also, some game jams are held at a physical location where everyone can work together. Most of the time it can be done online though.
Some of the most notable game jams are Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, but there are tons more. Ludum Dare is probably the most popular one, it’s held online every April, August, and December. Global Game Jam is held in various cities throughout the world every January, bringing all participants together at their local Global Game Jam site.
Why you should do a game jam
No prior knowledge required
Even if you don’t know how to write code, there are lots of tools available that non-programmers can work with. One of the most popular of these tools is called Game Maker, but there are many more. Also, because you can work on a team, you can help with non-functional parts of the game instead of code. Maybe you like to draw or make music, these skills are highly valued on any team. At some game jams you can even work on a board game instead of a video game if you so desire.
Making a game can take a lot of time and effort, after a while it can start to feel overwhelming and many people lose motivation. A game jam is the perfect way to get motivation to actually make a game and finish it. Since there is a deadline, it changes the way you think and make decisions to get your game done as fast as possible. Typically at the start of the jam you’ll come up with an idea, and then you try to make the idea into a playable game. Ideally you can come up with an idea that can actually be done within the time constraints, but if you can’t it will quickly become apparent and you learn what to cut out to finish. The goal is really just to have something playable at the end, don’t worry too much about winning.
Getting involved with your local game developer community is a great way to meet similarly minded people. If there is a large enough community in your city, they’ll probably organize meetups for the big game jams. You can go to these events to meet new people and find potential teammates for the jam. Plus if you’re new, there are always people willing to help you learn. Even if your city doesn’t have a large enough community to support these events, there are lots of people online in the same situation. Generally the game jam organizers will help connect participants with each other if they can’t meet in person through forums, Facebook, Twitter, or other means.
At the end of the jam you get to play everyone else’s game and let them know what you think of it. Other participants will give you feedback as well on your game. It feels great to get feedback on your game. If you’ve ever released an app, game, website or something else you’ve created you probably know how hard it is to get people to try it (and if you haven’t, trust me it’s not easy). Trying to get people to play your game is hard enough as it is, let alone actually getting honest and useful feedback. Game jams can be a great opportunity to try out an idea as a prototype, see if people like it, and continue developing it based on the feedback. Or scrap it entirely if the idea ends up not working out the way you thought it would.
After the jam
Once the jam is over and you’ve submitted your game, that’s it. You will have actually finished a game and can call yourself a game developer. Whether you want to pursue it as a hobby, a career, or passing interest, after participating you’ll have a better idea of what you want to do. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.