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Global Game Jam® Online (2021) Impact Report

Many external circumstances going on in the world led to 2021 being one of the most challenging years in the 13 year history of Global Game Jam® (GGJ). The GGJ® community of volunteers, organizers and jammers came together for our first fully online GGJ

Tim Cullings, Blogger

March 4, 2021

9 Min Read

The Global Game Jam is an international non-profit organization based in the United States, with a mission to empower individuals worldwide to learn, experiment, and create together through the medium of games. The annual GGJ event in January has become the world’s largest game creation event since its inception in 2009. Each year we receive thousands of responses on our participant (jammer) feedback survey, the following are some of our findings and highlights from this year's survey.

Many external circumstances going on in the world led to 2021 being one of the most challenging years in the 13 year history of Global Game Jam® (GGJ). The GGJ® community of volunteers, organizers and jammers came together for our first fully online GGJ® and while the overall numbers were lower than a normal year we still put together a valuable experience for the community with much higher numbers than were expected across the board. 28,826 jammers joined us at 585 virtual sites in 104 countries around the world to make 6,383 games all around the theme of Lost & Found.

Speaking of the theme, Lost & Found was one of the most popular themes in recent years with over 85% of GGJ® jammer survey respondents liking the theme. Thanks go to Laura E. Hall and the Theme Committee for coming up with such an inspiring theme in a tough year. Sentiment was somewhat split on the one-time early global theme reveal we used this year in favor of the usual rolling reveal at our in-person sites with 59% being in favor of the early reveal format.

“I enjoyed having the theme early! We didn't start working on our game until Friday, but it gave us time to think about our idea and we didn't have the usual intense stress on Friday night.” - Anonymous jammer feedback

The GGJ® jammer community was also somewhat split on the online jam format with 37% saying they were in favor of it, 30% against and 33% being undecided or having no opinion. Jammers were overwhelmingly in favor of keeping some sort of online option going forward with over 76% saying they would like to see an online option even after the pandemic and only 10% being against it. We believe this speaks to the accessibility that the online format adds since it allows people to participate that may not have a local site in their area and lets teams work across time zones and physical locations that would normally be at separate physical locations.

This was borne out in our survey numbers where 41% of jammers said they participated at a site they normally would not have and 39% said they would not normally work with both due to the online format of the jam this year.

GGJ® wouldn’t be possible without the tireless effort of our volunteers on the Executive Committee, regional organizing team, site organizers, translation team and more. Countless hours were spent interviewing hundreds of interested potential site organizers, translating websites and videos into multiple languages, pairing sites for our co-op sites program and vetting applications for the accessibility fund all in an effort to make GGJ® as inclusive, welcoming, safe and fun as possible for everyone involved. Over 91% of GGJ® jammers reported being satisfied with their overall experience and 93% said they felt comfortable and safe participating at their site and this is directly thanks to our dedicated volunteer organizers and staff.

“Working with new people who accepted that I was learning different skills and appreciating the skills I already have. Everyone at my site was very inclusive and I am proud to be a part of that community.” - Anonymous jammer feedback

One way we help make GGJ® more accessible and inclusive is by offering the Accessibility Fund to our site organizers, which are one-time small grants that fund specific needs for their jam sites. Typically this is used for physical accessibility needs at our sites when we jam in person but our organizers got creative this year with the online jam format and we were still able to make a substantial impact. This year the fund was generously supported by sponsors Unity and WB Games New York and helped us provide translation and sign language services for sites in Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay, stable internet connectivity and data coverage in Tunisia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe and software licenses for sites in Serbia, Colombia and the US.

“I'd like to thank the whole GGJ organization for the great work during a very challenging year. I would also like to thank you for the opportunity of receiving that fund, and being able to translate our content to sign language...this accessibility fund was definitely a very important first step for our site to communicate with another minority group (deaf people), showing them that our site is a place where they can profit during Global Game Jam!” Site Organizer, GGJ Sampa Diversa - SP

The demographics of GGJ® jammers are still somewhat representative of the industry as a whole. We did see a nice percentage increase in participants who identify as women or non-binary (25% - up from 20% in 2020) but we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do as an organization and an industry to close that gap and have been brainstorming ideas internally about ways to do that.

GGJ® jammers range in age from 18 to 67 with the majority being between 20-26 and the average age of our jammers being 26. GGJ® jammers also tend to be well educated with most being high school graduates, in college or college graduates with undergraduate degrees.

Game designers and programmers make up the majority of GGJ® jammers followed closely by writers, producers and artists with the always coveted audio people making up the rest of our participants. A whopping 92% of participants completed at least one game at GGJ Online with a dedicated few (6%) finishing more than one game. 

“I really just loved the atmosphere. Being in a (virtual) company of my friends for two days straight was amazing now that company of other people is so scarce. I haven't had so many laughs in months. And the combination of having fun AND working on making something together is priceless.” - Anonymous jammer feedback

GGJ® is always a great place to start your game jam experience and this year was no different as 33% of our jammers were participating in their first game jam ever and over 50% were participating in their first GGJ. This is welcome news in a non-traditional year since our expectation was that we would see more returning jammers who were already aware of GGJ so it was good to see a strong number of developers try their first game jam at GGJ and we hope a lot of them join us again next year.

GGJ® is also known as a wonderful environment for learning with 84% of jammers saying that they either improved upon, or learned a new skill during the event. This was also reflected positively in a number of the comments made by jammers in the survey and is equal to the percentage from 2020 so GGJ® continues to be an excellent way for game developers to learn or improve on their skills.

“There was a moment where I met with the Lead Developer on the team because he was having trouble implementing our main mechanic in the game engine we were using. Though my focus is on art, I've always pushed myself to have a solid understanding of every subset of game design that I could, including coding and visual scripting, for moments like this where I might be of help. We put our heads together, got the code to work, and saw the firework shoot off in the game. It felt good to see it working and it was at that point that the team started calling me the Creative Director. That's my dream job, so that felt the best :)” - Anonymous jammer feedback

We continue to hear feedback from jammers every year about the impact that GGJ® had on their game development careers. Whether it is someone like the quote featured above who gained confidence that they could reach their goal or that of Unity’s Senior Developer Advocate for Games, Ashley Alicea that was featured on our GGJ Online livestream. Ashley came to her first GGJ® on a whim and ended up spawning a passion for game development that became a lasting career. Stories like these and countless others continue to inspire both new and veteran jammers alike. Check out the GGJ® Success Story Spotlight series of interviews on our YouTube channel for more interviews with past GGJ® participants.

The sponsored and community suggested Diversifiers continue to be a popular feature of GGJ® to add constraints or creativity to our jammer’s creations. “Destination Happy Place” (sponsored by Unity) was the most used diversifier this year at 904 games. "Make a game that includes the journey or process (a location, an activity, an idea, people, and so on) to get to a place or state of mind that makes you happy" seemed to resonate with jammers in a year where journeys and happiness are in short supply. 

Our most popular community submitted Diversifier was “On the safe side - Make a game alone or in a team where all members are at least 100 km apart” (769 uses) which seems predictable and shows that our jammers were practicing proper social distancing. Look for the call for public suggestions again when we get closer to GGJ 2022.

The main impact for us as the staff and volunteer organizers of GGJ® continues to come from the stories of lasting bonds created and dreams fulfilled. One of the highlights of this year came from our site organizer in Shibuya Tokyo: 

“We had a blind gamer who was dreaming of making a video game and made one during this GGJ at our site. https://globalgamejam.org/2021/jam-sites/asobu. It was his first time making a game, he teamed up with 3 other people specialized in sound to make a sound-only game (there's no graphics except the title screen). He did the scenario and concept. https://globalgamejam.org/2021/games/audio-dolphin-7 
We'll have him coming to do a talk on our Youtube channel later this month, where he's explaining how he can play games while being blind.”

Stories like this and so many more are why we continue to be so passionate about making GGJ® the premier event on the annual game jam calendar. Look for GGJ NEXT, our jam aimed at young creators aged 12-17, coming this summer. We hope you had a great time jamming with us this year and hope to see you back again in 2022! If you have any questions or would like further information you can find our contact info here.

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