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Why I'm no longer participating in game jams
by Folmer Kelly on 07/28/14 08:19:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


A couple of days ago, indie game treasure hunter extraordinaire moshboy announced that he is organising a game jam. He opened that post by saying "I have been vocally against game jams in recent months. They are held with such frequency and so commonly at the same places that they mostly taste vanilla and rarely feel special anymore."

That statement didn't sit right with a friend of mine, who voiced his dismay with Moshboy's opinion and the two got into a brief twitter argument (no drama; it was resolved as quickly as it started by shifting the topic to something both parties could agree on, namely that Jenny LeClue looks awesome and everyone should be throwing money at it).

The conversation between the two stuck with me, and I've been thinking about game jams a lot. While I agree with Moshboy that there are indeed too many jams, that didn't really factor into my decision to stop taking part in them. 

Rather, it was my friend's pro-jam stance that made me reconsider my involvement in game jams. There was a level of attachment to the concept of game jams in his arguments that I found interesting. It felt like he perceived "I'm against jams" the same way as if someone had said "I'm against more people making games".

And I couldn't help but wonder- "are we perpetuating the idea that game jams make games happen rather than people make games happen?" And that thought fucked me up! I started feeling like game jams have become a forced frame for creativity, a required activity for those interested in making games. It's like we collectively started saying "You wanna make games? Do jams".

I do not feel comfortable being a part of that voice.

To break it down while conveniently using myself as an example: I've made 23 games since 2012, and a decent amount of those were due to game jams. Looking back, would I have made less games if I hadn't participated in those jams? Knowing myself, the answer is "probably not." Would I have made better games if I hadn't participated in those jams? Possibly, since I wouldn't have put myself in a position where I was stuck with a theme and a deadline I didn't set myself. Did participating in jams get me in touch with other indie devs / creatives? Not until I set out to make that happen my dang self. Did participating in jams get me more exposure? I can't front on that one- it's both yes and no. Participating in jams and using the associated hashtag will get you noticed by other participants which can lead to new fans / followers / friends. On the flipside, odds are that the jam as a whole will get more exposure than any individual entry, or that some entries will grab the spotlight leaving the rest ignored. 

In August, the third edition of GBJam kicks off, a Game Boy themed jam I've participated in twice. I love making Game Boy style games! It's one of my favorite things to do, and the piece of advice I give the most to people asking me about pixel art- you'll learn a ton about things like limited palettes and color balance and much more. I think I've made maybe 6 or 7 GB style games altogether. So what's the difference between me making a GB style game and me participating in GBJam?

Someone else told me when to do it.

I want to be clear on this: despite the cynicism of the last two paragraphs, I have nothing against the concept of game jams. When I first tweeted that I decided I'm going to stop doing them, someone responded saying "I'd never get anything done if it wasn't for jams." Game jams are a valuable tool, a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, to force yourself to release something, great to learn about deadlines and crunches... there are many, many things to be said for them. And many amazing games have come from them! SUPERHOT started as a 7DFPS entry. Gods Will Be Watching was a Ludum Dare entry. Shit, I myself am currently working on an expanded version of a game that was the result of a jam that I helped organize myself. 

But I am worried that, with the abundance and popularity of game jams, we're at risk of losing a sense of spontaneous creativity, the lack of context and framing that can lead to amazing things. I'm worried that we're turning game jams into the new standard for aspiring indie game developers.

So in closing: You can make anything you want, whenever you want to. If you feel that participating in jams works for you, great. But we don't need jams to create. 

We need people to create. 






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Ferruccio Cinquemani
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As someone with a full time job and a family, I find game jams a luxury I can't afford in terms of time and effort. I also find it a little bit disturbing that one of the most popular ways of making games is based on working insane hours in a rush to finish something. It's as if people played music for 24 hours in a row in order to come up with an album in a day. It doesn't sound very healthy to me.

Yama Habib
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That's an interesting viewpoint.

I like to think of game jams in the same way I view marathons and triathlons. The people who participate in these events are putting themselves through indisputably unhealthy feats of which no ordinary human being should ever be expected to go through, but the key is that they're doing this of their own initiative, to better themselves. The goal is not the end-point, it's the experience and the test of will.

To that end, I agree with the article that "You want to make games? Do jams." is not a constructive sentiment in the same way that one wouldn't typically say "You want to get in shape? Run a marathon."

Yannis Patras
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Agree with every point, but I have to say that the place you're at might be playing a role on how useful/potent jams are.

In a country like Greece, for example (where people working on games are very, VERY few), game jams (which are of course almost non-existent right now) can get more people interested in game-making, or at least get the few that already are together.

Joeri van der Velden
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"are we perpetuating the idea that game jams make games happen rather than people make games happen?"

It's a nice argument, but I don't exactly agree with this premise so the whole point is moot. Game jams are just one of many ways to have FUN making games. It's often encouraged to new developers since they can learn a lot of things about game dev in a short time by participating in a jam. And at the end, you not only have your own game, but you can check out those other participants to see how they tackled that particular theme or challenge. Game jams are a learning experience mostly.

Ameen Altajer
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In my case it is totally different, I live in Bahrain, that is a country near Dubai, and the gaming industry has no existence in here. I honestly think that game jams are crucial in my region since we're striving to create a community for game developers and a footprint for the industry, that's not gonna happen when every game developer works in his comfort zone back in his home. I remember when I contributed in organizing the first game jam here in Bahrain, I felt this is the glue that I needed to bond those shy and scattered game developers and my hometown.

To me game jams are much more than just a contest, it's a bigger initiative and it's totally needed in different regions due to the difference of maturity level of the industry in those regions.

Paul Weber
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For me, back in the day, the Flash Kit Games 48 hour game jams were where I got better at programming quickly and debugging problems. It was also fun to just create an insane concept and run with it.

Although I do agree that there seems to be too many of them lately, if I had more time, I would still take part in one now and then.

Allan Rowntree
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I think Jams are great for learning and improving your game making skills. But I would add that they are a bit like training to sprint for a marathon.

Actual game development can take months. And weeks can go buy with only minor visual/audio feedback changes to the actual game.

Maybe we also need slow jams, where you are only allowed to work on the game for an hour a day, and they run for 48 or 72 days.

Mark DeLoura
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I love the slow jam idea!

Jonathan Jou
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This idea makes the most sense to me. In areas like creative writing there are flash fiction events, there's National Novel Writing Month, and there are Writer's Groups that simply get together and give each other feedback on their current work.

Let's not assume all work on a game has to be done during the event—it would be helpful to simply have developers get together on a regular basis to get the same creative energy and inspiration in more measured doses.

I'm sure something like National Game (Video) Development Month would be amusing, if people had as objective a metric as writers do in wordcount. Maybe something like minimum minutes of play would work. The same ways that game content can be repetitive can apply to novels just as easily, so it would be a similar invitation for devs to challenge themselves—after all, the only way to really win is to make something you're proud of in a limited time frame.

Yama Habib
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"Maybe we also need slow jams, where you are only allowed to work on the game for an hour a day, and they run for 48 or 72 days."

Ha! The problem with that concept is that once you're on a roll, it's harder sometimes to force yourself to stop working than it was to start.

Gregory Kinneman
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"Looking back, would I have made less games if I hadn't participated in those jams? Knowing myself, the answer is "probably not." -OP

I know that I make more games because of jams, because it encourages me to spend my whole weekend working on a game, rather than for a few hours before other responsibilities and distractions prevent me from continuing my project.

Also, even when I was living in Boston, there were only about 6 game jams per year. I don't see how spending a couple days every-other month would make something "vanilla". If you're looking for rare instances of innovation, rather than a well-organized and established group activity, game jams probably won't satisfy you, but I'm not sure what kind of event would feel "special" to you in the way you desire.

E Zachary Knight
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I think that game jams have their place in one's personal development as a game designer. There are times when you can get so strung up on a single game idea that doesn't seem to be going anywhere no matter how much time you put into it. It is only when you take a break and do something else that your creative juices begin to flow again and you can focus on the main task at hand. Doing a game jam can be a guilt free way to recharge those creative batteries.

I can also see how the hundreds of game jams every year can seem like a distraction. Some people feel like they should be completing every single one. But there is no obligation to do so.

I am currently taking part is something similar to a game jam, One Game A Month. This campaign has helped me break out of my shell when it comes to development. It has helped me become more familiar with my game engine of choice. It has greatly impacted my work. I don't think I would be where I am today if I hadn't taken part in it.

That said, I am also planning to take part in the Game Boy Jam. The 2 reasons I am doing so: 1) It fulfills my August One Game A Month requirement, 2) The thought of making a Game Boy style game intrigues me. The low pixel count and 4 color palette just seems like a fun challenge.

Edgar Onukwugha
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I'll say this: the last game jam I worked on, I made a multiplayer game for the first time in my life with three people I didn't know beforehand. It was a very entertaining weekend, and I have tons of great memories of that time.

Where is that game now? On one of the team members' GitHub accounts, gathering digital dust until that person rediscovers it again in who-knows-when. What am I doing now? Still making the same games I've been making because that's what I like to make.

Mike Kasprzak
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I'm waiting for someone to blame me for ruining game development. Not that it hasn't already happened, but it's been a few years. ;)

<- Runs Ludum Dare

Kevin Fishburne
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I blame you for not following my suggestion forever ago about making it a 50 hour game jam. Then you could abbreviate it LD50, which is far cooler and more amusing than LD48:

And for ruining game development. Damn you Mike!!!

Matt Newcomb
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I used to participate in similar events for film making. They were 48 hour film making events that were competitions. You assembled a team, wrote, shot and edited, and then watched them all and had people vote on the best ones. You didn't even know what genre it would be until you started so you often made things you'd never attempted to do before.

We had a lot of fun participating in them, and at the end we had a finished project that we had all worked on. We even won several awards.

I think the biggest benefit was, when we wanted to get a team together that we only had to agree to work with each other for 48 hours. So the commitment was lower than trying to do a feature, or in this case, work on the full game. Some people we went on to do longer projects with as well after our 48 hour test run.

So, I definitely think there is benefit if you're just starting out, or just need an inspirational kick in the pants, but my friends and I no longer want to participate in these weekend events, and we'd rather spend more time working on ideas that we feel more attached to. But maybe some day we'll decide to participate in another event like those again.