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The Trouble with Game Jam Culture

Following a few discussions on social media in the wake of Ludum Dare 43 (enjoy my photo from LD19), I took an opportunity to gather my thoughts on this revered tradition of ours and ask a few important questions: Why do we do this? Why do we do it like this? Should we still be doing this? 

Believe me, I’m far from anti-jam. I’ve probably participated in a dozen over the last decade, but I do have some thoughts on how we can put them to better use. I don’t think we should respect any practice too much to question it, so let’s get the ball rolling. 

Though I’ve been thinking on this topic a long time, tweeting with some folks including your friend and mine, Christer Kaitila helped me finally decide to organize what was in my head. If you jam, you should check out his book, The Game Jam Survival Guide. We’ll have to pester him to make an appearance here soon. 

It was a great week of feedback around social media after a show we were actually worried about for a few reasons so thank you one and all. As always, your ratings and reviews keep our community growing, and your kind words keep us working on it. Thank you!

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By Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell is an independent game developer and freelance journalist. He is the founder of CodeWritePlay where he produces and hosts the GameDev Breakdown and GameDev Breakdown Radio podcasts. Follow him @Mechatodzilla.

2 replies on “The Trouble with Game Jam Culture”

I appreciate your opinion on game jams, and it definitely makes me question the reasons I do them. I have also released games made in game jams that were more than sub par. A few months back I deleted a lot of them from my portfolio for the very reasons you mentioned in this episode. They were not complete games.

I think it is worth noting that game jams that are held in physical locations can be one of the best ways to make connections with other developers, artists, and designers. If you are usually a solo indie dev, you get the opportunity to sharpen skills otherwise unavailable.

I think game jams can be very beneficial for all types of devs, but one must go into a jam with a general and reasonable idea of what they want out of it.

In the most recent Ludum Dare, I teamed up with someone who was totally new to game jams. I asked him what he wanted out of it, and he immediately replied “online multiplayer”. This was a very unreasonable goal in my opinion, especially for two people who have never done networking in a video game. This is an example of a dangerous goal to have before a jam, as you probably wont finish anything even remotely decent.

Thankfully I went into the jam with the goal of practicing my product management, and we were able to move towards a more realistic scope. Although the game we did end up making (which included an interactive title screen, credits, and online leaderboard) was not good enough to put on any marketplace, this was not relevant. I was able to accomplish what I wanted out of the jam, and would still label it a success. I got to practice my product management with other people, in a setting that has less consequences than the real deal.

Just wanted to throw in my two cents.

Keep up the great work!

Tyler Jones
Lamestar Games

Spot on. A mental roadmap of what you want to practice and what you want to gain greatly elevates the jam experience. Something else I meant to mention is it’s also a great little short-term rebound activity if you’re coming off a long project.

Fine points about newbies needing some guidance on what can be done in a jam too. I can sympathize because you kind of ask yourself “What do I love about games?” and that may be something simple or it may be, well, online multiplayer. For my first team jam we fell into the trap of “just a simple RPG!” Somehow we actually got away with it, but it was far from simple. Or good.

Thanks for weighing in!

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