What Are Game Jams and Why Are They Important?

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An industry that is driven by product sales – such as the gaming industry – often gets to a point where corporations take a formula that is currently working and run it into the ground. This is why it’s important that there is a new wave of hungry game developers innovating and coming up with fresh ideas. Sadly, it can be difficult for these developers to find their way in the industry. Sometimes developers struggle to even make connections and form unions with other talented people on the come up. That’s why game jams are becoming an important part of indie game development.

What is a Game Jam?

Game Jams are organized events that see a group of creatives banding together to create a game in a small space of time. The time limit tends to be around 48 hours and during this time, a team of developers, artists, sound engineers and / or designers must delegate roles and birth a game from concept to execution. What’s great about game jams is that there’s no pressure. It doesn’t matter if the final product is completely unplayable or not. What matters is the experience gained, as well as the forming of new ideas from a diverse group of people.

People who participate in game jams tend to complete their projects even after the session. Some of the most notable indie games have come from game jams, including Super Meat Boy.

A picture of sound engineers at a game jam

Why Game Jams are Important

So now that we have an idea what a game jam is, here’s some reasons why Game Jams are important to the industry.

They promote innovation

When ideas become stale, it can feel as though the industry is stagnating. This is why it’s important for creatives that are independent from the reigns of corporate publishers to establish new concepts. When you have 48 hours to create a game and a team full of people with varied philosophies, you can bet that some of the most unorthodox projects will be created. This fresh burst of innovation typically has a domino effect that drives other studios to push the boundaries.

Child of Light, published by Ubisoft, is a great example of a project funded by a corporation but inspired by indie game development. It allowed a company as big as Ubisoft to realize that they could create smaller budgeted games with just as much depth (if not more) as the big budget blockbusters that quickly become stale.

A picture of three people working at a game jam


Natural diversity

I’ve been on record saying that I dislike when there’s an organized push to add more diversity in games. If I’m playing a game and it seems as though the creators are trying their hardest to pander to all different types of people, it can break the immersion. Diversity is something that should feel more organic, it’s not something that should be thrown in your face like ‘Hey everyone, we have a gay character, a black character and a Hispanic character, look how diverse our game is!’ When diversity is presented in this way, it comes across as if the intentions aren’t really genuine.

Because of the open nature of game jams, people from all walks of life will be getting involved. When you have a group of diverse people with honest intentions working on a project, that diversity will show in the work more authentically. Data collected at the International Game Developers Association revealed that 79% of respondents identified as Caucasian, with 76% of them being males. Of course, this sample of data doesn’t represent the entire industry, but it is enough to show that there are still many voices that need to assert their creative prowess in the gaming industry.

It opens doors for creatives

There are talented people in the world that don’t have a degree or a set path to follow. Instead, they may be driven by raw talent and ambition. With no academic certifications, these people may find it difficult to just walk into a role without some connections. Game jams kill two birds with one stone because these events allow people to network and have their names attached to a tangible body of work. Working with like-minded people will put you in a better position to meet life-changing connections in the future. Furthermore, you’ll have work to show when the dream opportunity comes around.

There has also been an increase game jams that are thrown or sponsored by well know publishers. Ubisoft are a big advocate for these types of events as shown in the video above. These are the types of events that can really open doors for talented people.

More variety for consumers

In the end, it’s the consumers that win. Creatives create so that enthusiasts can consume. The one thing that consumers despise, is being force fed the same generic products repeatedly.

Having people constantly come up with new ideas under the time constraints of a game jam is something that will help deliver new and innovative experiences to customers worldwide, so everyone wins in the end.

Conclusion

Game jams solve so many problems in the industry so it’s important that we encourage programmers, artists, sound engineers, writers and designers to put their skills to the test. What’s important to remember is that game jams are fundamentally about having fun.

Sure, people create playable experiences that go on to sell thousands (and millions in some cases), but it’s not about forcing yourself to excel. It’s about exploring your creativity with other talented people and seeing what type of end result you can come up with. Whether you take the project further or not is completely up to you. In some cases, the ones organizing the events may claim ownership on any projects made, but these are terms that are worked out ahead of time.

Game jams are inspired by the musical tradition of musicians coming together to play their instruments and come up with new sounds. The idea was to create an atmosphere that was informal, where commercial concerns wouldn’t influence the production. The best ideas are birthed in these environments, and whether those involved know it or not, they are moving the industry forward even if what they create never leaves the room.

If you are interested in finding an online game jam, you can find a list of them here and here.

About The Author
Gary A. Swaby Co-founder/UK Managing Editor
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