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You Thought You Molyneux: A postmortem of Molyjam Deux

You Thought You Molyneux: A postmortem of Molyjam Deux
July 9, 2013 | By Brandon Sheffield

July 9, 2013 | By Brandon Sheffield
More: Indie, Design

Indie developer and Gamasutra senior contributor Brandon Sheffield on what went right and what went wrong at this year's global Molyjam.

Last year, Molyjam was a phenomenon. In just over two weeks, we went from nothing, to a gigantic international game jam based on the tweets of Peter Molyneux parody account Peter Moldeux. Hundreds of people participated, across 35 cites around the world, and released well over 200 games. So the original five organizers -- Anna Kipnis, Chris Remo, Patrick Klepek, Jake Rodkin, and myself -- got together and decided to discuss whether we should, or even could do this again.

We were a bit at a loss. How could we keep the momentum going? Did we even want to? Just doing the same thing over again would've felt like the very thing Molyjam was against -- sequels, the same old thing.

On top of that, I personally had been a bit annoyed that Peter Molyneux wound up using it as a platform for himself, in some ways, though really he was the inspiration for it all, indirectly. That's when I had a thought - why not make this year's jam about taking actual Molyneux quotes out of context? He could never co-opt that. Everyone found it relatively hilarious, which actually galvanized us and gave us a bit of direction again. So we chose a bunch of quotes from his huge library of interviews (seriously, I'm not sure you could do this with any other developer), highlighting 22 of them, one for each of Molyneux's "cans." This change in direction turned out to be a blessing and a curse for us.

There's no question that this year's jam was smaller, attendance-wise. We wound up with about 270 games from somewhere around 600 developers and just under 30 cities (almost 850 registered on, as well). Everyone had a great time, but it felt a bit more like a standard jam than a phenomenon this time. How did that happen? Where do we go from here?

What went right

1) The Molyneux quotes

This is really what propped up the core original organizers, and got us inspired to do another jam. The site organizers from around the world wanted another one, so we knew we needed to either make it happen ourselves, or sit back and just become participants, and we decided to take charge once more. It was really the new direction that gave us some fire to find venues, sponsors, and do all that was necessary to make the jam succeed.

But - truth be told - we original organizers were much, much less important to this year's jam than we were to last year's. Part of that came from us being too busy to really help as much as we should have.

2) Revamped web site

Zane Wolfgang Pickett, Holden Link, Angus Perkerson, and Adam Proctor did a fantastic job redoing the whole web site situation. We moved to the much nicer domain, and have a login system that allows easier uploading of games, improved browsing, and an awesome world map showing all the jam locations, et cetera.

The system became really robust, and the team hopes to outsource it for future jams to use, which is really quite amazing. If nothing else, this system coming out of a second Molyjam was worth doing the whole thing.

3) Molydeux involvement

The man behind the Peter Molydeux persona stuck with us, even with the new theme not based on his tweets, and made us a fantastic intro video that really helped set the tone. Plus, it gave jammers a sense of legitimacy when he came into the livestream chat, commenting on games, and generally being amusing.

Plus, Peter Molyneux himself showed up at the London jam once again, to help attendees with their ideas. He truly does believe in this stuff. Here's a shot of him being stopped by security, with the Molyjam logo in the background. Good times.

What went wrong

1) The Molyneux quotes

The quotes were hilarious, but they gave less specific inspiration for games. The Toronto jam noted this especially, saying it took much longer for people to figure out what their games would be, and I noticed this at the jam I ran in Oakland, CA.

In the interest of differentiating ourselves, we may have made things a little less straightforward, and possibly less exciting for attendees. I think we got some pretty fantastic games out of the jam in the end, because people had to expand their minds a bit in order to give meaning to the quotes, but in a jam scenario, prompts being easy to understand and interpret is pretty important, when every minute counts.

2) Less stream involvement

I really underestimated the importance of Giant Bomb to our livestream popularity last year. With Patrick Klepek in Chicago, not at one of our jams, we got significantly less livestream activity. As Holden Link, the LA branch organizer tells it: "The livestreams didn't have as much activity as last year," he said. "We had planned to have a livestream host at all times talking to the viewers, but viewers were totally unresponsive for the first four or five hours we did it, so it didn't last like it did last time."

Many others had trouble with their streams going down (we certainly did in Oakland), and even the SF branch, traditionally the stream leader, mentioned that their stream numbers only increased when Klepek checked in with a few Giant Bomb comrades. The Dundee branch couldn't get Twitch working at all.

I think a bit more promotion, with more coordinated efforts among branches, could lead to more viewers. On the bright side, we had a great channel hub on Twitch, which made it easy for viewers to see all streaming jams at once, then click on one that was most interesting to them. This in particular was a great setup, and Adam Proctor of the Toronto jam spent all weekend curating that aspect of it, which did work nicely. I encourage you to browse through the livestream archive by city, and watch the presentations from all the jam sites. Ours in Oakland was particularly amusing, I have to say, since San Francisco accidentally shut off the main channel after their jam was done, killing the viewership completely, with Las Vegas and Oakland still left to present. I had a lot of choice words for San Francisco in my intro, and peppered throughout.

3) Poor timing of announcements, lackluster "core" involvement

With Kipnis and myself the main points of contact for "official" Molyjam news, decisions, and announcements, there was a rather significant bottleneck as we got busy. She's hard at work on Double Fine's Broken Age, and I'm a full time indie trying to find inventive new ways to afford food. We also both had aggressive travel schedules during the run up to the jam -- and it took forever for us to find an appropriate time to hold it, besides. (Thank goodness we didn't hold it the weekend before E3, as was on the table at one point.)

Kipnis and I just couldn't respond to queries from our branch organizers fast enough, and weren't blazing trails quite the way we did last year (though she in particular did her best). As a result, we wound up announcing our jam dates the Sunday after E3. Announcing anything on a Sunday is a bad idea, and we didn't get too much pickup from the announcement. Then, when we announced the new theme of Molyneux quotes, we also got a bit less excitement than we had expected. It's very hard to say whether the new theme, the timing, or simply a dwindling interest in the jam in general was to blame, but we just didn't feel the buzz there was last year. If the jam is to continue, we need to choose a yearly time, and stick with it.

Space Jam

In the end, it was a great experience, and all jams seemed to have a great time - but we definitely had lower attendance in our physical locations than we had last year. Whether this is growing pains for a new annual jam, the fact we had it right after a major American holidy (the 4th of July), or a genuine dwindling interest is hard to determine. But everyone I've spoken to seems keen on having the jam continue, and (while it's difficult to track) it seems we made more games this year than last. So I doubt this will be the last you hear of Molyjam.

Here are a few more interesting tidbits from our jams around the world. In Aalborg, Denmark, the team (led by Emil Kjæhr) had a pretty fantastic location, with lots of free food and nice weather.

In Utrecht, Zuraida Buter and our other Dutch friends prototyped a board game - we were mightily amused when they asked if we had a cardboard uploading system.

In Rome, Ciro Continisio tells us about a unique jam element I wish I'd stolen: "We had an internal radio station, Radio Basilio, that was used as audio for the video streaming on," says Continisio. "This hopefully provided more interesting audio than just the webcam's microphone, as Basilio tirelessly streamed for the whole 48 hours and even interviewed the jammers about the event every now and then." Continisio is actually a pretty good singer, as well.

In L.A., organizer Holden Link shared a few anecdotes: "We maintained our low student / high professional turnout from last year, along with a bunch of hobbyists and people who have never made games," he said. "Although we made it clear that all were welcome, it's interesting that Molyjam somewhat exclusively has that breakdown among L.A. game jams."

Perhaps more interesting were the six interns from NASA JPL that showed up, having never made a game before. "They took over one of our conference rooms at the studio, and the whiteboards were totally covered with all sorts of detailed notes and diagrams," Link told us. "They had fun, but it was incredibly refreshing to the professional devs there to see people discover the joy of making games for the first time." They also blogged about it here.

In San Francisco, Double Fine head Tim Schafer made an inspirational video for jammers, telling them not to be afraid of failure, because game jams are the place where you get to confront ideas without worrying about whether you'll succeed.

In Oakland, we jammed at the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment, and former Gamasutra editor Frank Cifaldi and I took an hour to talk about interesting games we found in the archives there, including a game for the Super Nintendo called Nosferatu, which costs around $500 boxed. I opened it up and showed the manual to the stream, likely devaluing it by about 50 bucks. Sorry!

Shall we Jam again?

To me, it was very fitting that the final game demonstrated on a Molyjam livestream was based on this quote from Molyneux, perhaps the most uplifting of all of them: "The most powerful story I could possibly tell is a story that reminds you of your own childhood. We've all had times in our childhood, common experiences when we felt down, and we felt up, or we celebrated doing something for the first time, and I loved that thought."

In the game, Sol, from the Oakland jam, you play as a sperm, trying to reach the egg before all the other sperm, because, as the game's creator Cabbibo says, that's the one experience we all share as humans - we got there first.

May the Deux be with you, and see you next year!? And don't forget to check out all the games!

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