This January 25th, people all over the world will gather together to spend two days creating an original game in the 10th Annual Global Game Jam (GGJ). Most of the participants will be students or amateurs, but for you professionals – it would be a shame if you missed it. Here’s why.
Sprints, scrums, conference calls, kanban boards, bug triage – expect none of that. This is a 48-hour exercise in creativity that is all about building something on the fly with strangers. I suppose you could try this with people you know, but I would strongly advise against that for reasons I will get to later. The GGJ experience is just building a game with all of the administrative stuff stripped away.
You are Sick of What You are Working On.
One of the keys to being a good game designer is being willing to play through a terrible game thousands of times. Let’s face it, no matter how much you love any project, it gets tiresome to work on the same thing for a long period of time. It’s fun to do something different and GGJ gives you a chance to do that. It’s a great way to get out of a funk and reconnect with your creativity and enthusiasm.
You’ll Meet New Talent.
People who participate in the GGJ are mostly people without established careers. They are artists, engineers, composers. What breakdown of those disciplines you will meet depends a lot on which location you go to. If you go to a Jam at an art school, you will meet more artists. If you go to a Jam at a University you will probably meet more programmers. You may meet someone you will want to work with again, or someone you want to recommend for a job.
You’ll Appreciate the Talent you Work With!
To be honest, many of the people who join a Jam are terrible, at least at this point in their careers. At the start of one Jam weekend I met a programmer who aspired to create his own engine. I considered trying to explain to him that while creating an engine is really interesting, it is a huge investment of time and energy and probably not worth it. By the end of the weekend I had seen enough of his code to know that I didn’t have to worry about how he spent his time.
As a professional, you probably work every day with people who are very talented or very experienced, and often both. You probably complain about them, as people tend to complain about anyone they spent a lot of time with. After you spend a weekend with people who want to make a game but aren’t very good at it yet, you will find a new appreciation for your co-workers.
Try a New Role.
I love to program, but as a producer, I hardly get to do it anymore. And I don’t often try, because I am not nearly as good as the experienced programmers I work with. But I am good enough for the Global Game Jam! Maybe you are a producer who wants to compose music or a programmer who wants to design. GGJ is a great opportunity to flex your other creative muscles.
There Will Be Bugs.
And bad art. And bad design. Let it go.
In my experience, about 25% of the work involved in making a game is actually making the game. The other 75% is polishing, and improving compatibility and reliability. GGJ is an environment where you will be forgiven for only doing the first 25%. Enjoy that because it usually is the more fun part.
You will hear ideas that sound terrible. You will see things proposed that will never work. Say yes. This is the time to let out-of-the-box, crazy ideas happen.
As a professional game developer, your projects probably have to be very polished, market driven and safely within a schedule and budget. Your game may have to appeal to a particular demographic. It may have to be on brand. A game made at a Jam doesn’t have to be any of those things. It’s liberating to have that freedom.
Learn New Tools and Techniques.
Established developers standardize on proven tools. Students and amateurs experiment and improvise. Sometimes they don’t use the best tool; sometimes they can’t afford the best tool. So at a Jam, you will see new things. Often amateurs are looking for cheap ways to do things, hacks, and strange places to get assets. You may learn about resources that are very useful. The GGJ was the first time I ever used Discord as a productivity tool, and the first time I tried Sourcetree.
There’s a good chance you will have something to teach the people you work with. They will probably be happy to work with someone with professional experience. If you can help one person by mentoring them, or giving them career advice, the weekend will be worth it for you and the person you help.
The 2019 Global Game Jam will take place on January 25-27. For more information or to sign up to host a Jam or join a Jam, go to globalgamejam.org.