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Höme Improvisåtion - 1 Week, 100k Views [GGJ15]

Home Improvisation was made for the Global Gam Jam 2015. It’s trailer has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube and the game has been covered on over 40 websites. This article dissects the choices that the team made that helped the game succeed.

Colton Spross, Blogger

February 5, 2015

11 Min Read

Home Improvisation was a game made by a small team for the Global Gam Jam 2015 over the weekend of January 23rd-25th. It is a game about cooperatively building crazy Swedish modular furniture without instructions. It ended up being one of the two winning games at this years Atlanta GGJ location. We published it on itch.io a little over a week ago and since then it has been played over 20,000 times. In that same span it’s trailer has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube and the game has been covered on over 40 websites including Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, Cnet, & Gizmodo.  Our team, The Stork Burnt Down, were as surprised as anyone about the game’s success. We have made several games that we felt good about in the past but have never even had a tenth of this kind of attention. This article is an attempt for me to dissect some of the choices that the team made that I believe gave the game the potential to be a success.


I think some of the decision we made when making the game in 48 hours allowed the game to catch the web’s attention. This article is about those decisions, not about the luck/skill/voodoo involved in capturing your 15 seconds of Internet fame.

This article is not a prescription. When game jamming please break at least one of these principles into a thousand pieces. Then use those pieces to build something crazy.

Lastly, people who are smarter and more successful than me have surely written some of the advice I give here before. I will do my best to give credit where it is due by I honestly can’t remember which talk/article/tweet a lot of it came from.

Principles that worked

Here are a few principles that I think helped allow Home Improvisation to be ready to get the press it did. I have principles for the game, the trailer, and the aftermath.

The Game

Crazy idea

The theme of this Global Game Jam was “What do we do now?”. When we were brainstorming we wrote every idea down on a whiteboard. “IKEA furniture building game” just happened to be one of the dozen or so ideas thrown out. We ended up narrowing the choices down to three and went with the furniture game because it was something weird that none of us had made before.

When it comes to game jams you should do the weirdest/craziest/stupidest idea your team can think of. Game jams are great for exploring new territory. Take this opportunity to make something you find risky. If you can imagine exactly how the game would work then the idea is probably too safe. Pick an idea that requires a bit of game design excavation. If you can’t tell if your idea is ingenious or idiotic then you might be on to a winner.

Small & focused scope

Another factor that played into our games success was it’s small scope and tight focus on one real mechanic, sticking pegs into holes. We made sure the programming and art assets needed for the game were very achievable in the 48 hours of the jam. This gave us room to do a good deal of polish on those assets even though we were a small team of 3.5 people (one member had to leave partway through the jam)

This was not our team’s first time around the game jam block. Combine we probably have 10 years of Unity development experience and have had several good game jams. Still, I think with each successive jam the games we make are getting smaller in scope. As your game making skills increases so does your understanding of your limitations. So make small games for game jams and if you have time you can add cool little polish effects.

Don’t make a game where 80% of the screen is black

I speak form experience when I say an 80% black screen leads to crappy trailers and screenshots. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Devil’s Tuning Fork is an awesome and stylish experience for one example. What I am talking about are the games where the screen seems to be black by default. Realize you are making a choice when you drop that one point light into your black void of a level. And if that choice is not oozing Kill Screen worthy style then your screenshots will probably suck. Just Saying.

Too Dark for TV

My sad little personal example is the game Black Oak Manor. It was a labor of love made by a team I was part of when I was at Georgia Tech over 6 months. It is a game that the team and I are still very proud of. We get a lot of praise for it when we bring it out at parties. However, the screen in the game is 80% black. It is on the same channel as the Home Improvisation trailer that has gotten over 100,000 views. It pops up in the suggested videos & sits on the sidebar waiting for its moment in the sun. It’s going to be waiting for a while. During those 100,000 views only 54 people have clicked on its sad little 80% black-screen trailer. 

Single players with optional multiplayer

If you want to have a game jam game reach a large audience then it needs to have a single player mode. When we came up with the idea for Home Improvisation we knew that multiplayer would make the game even more fun. However, we decided that the core experience had to be fun to play solo. As a little, free game you only have a moment to capture someone’s attention. If they have to find someone else to play with 99% of players attention will bounce to something else.

Our game would never have reached the small amount of fame it did without a compelling single player experience. That being said, it can be a tall order to make a game that works as both a single player and multiplayer experience in 48 hours. If you want to make an awesome multiplayer-only game at a game jam please do! I will be among that 1% who will try it. Just know that your player base will initially be limited.

Crazy Furniture












The Trailer

Gameplay with Voice Over

A large part of the media coverage the game received came from the fact that we had a solid, comical trailer that they could easily post to their site. For years the Atlanta site for the Global Game Jam has had the much-maligned requirement that each game have a trailer by the end of the jam if it wants to be considered for some of the Fabulous Prizes on offer. No one has complained about this more than I have but in the end it was probably the key to our game’s press coverage. If I had not been forced to make one I probably would not have gotten around to making one.  Even if you don’t make a trailer at the jam then you should make one the week afterwards.

Edit a lot of videos

So this is not really advice so much as setting expectation. Our trailer, which is by no means a masterwork, is competently edited. The whole thing (script, VO, screen cap, & editing) was done in less than 2 hours. This would not have been possible if I had not been editing videos since I got a digital camcorder for Christmas when I was in 4th grade. I have edited a lot of videos since then and that allowed me to glue together a competent trailer in a short time span. All that to say, it helps to have someone on your team who can put together a solid trailer on short notice. Failing that, at least have a friend who can cut a trailer for you after the jam.

Custom Video Thumbnail

Not too much to say here other than “Please, Please, Please don’t let YouTube pick some random awful thumbnail for your video!” Take a nice screenshot. Add your game’s name or logo to that screenshot. Upload that as your video’s thumbnail.

The Aftermath

Put the game on a site you have control over

I love the Global Game Jam and their website does it’s job well. However, if you want to have your game discovered by players and press, it is a crowded place. This year there were 5,438 games made at the Global Game Jam. If you think your game is going to magically stand out from that big of a crowd you are sorely mistaken.

The week after the jam you should put your game up on a site that you have control over. It can be your own site or another place like Kongregate or itch.io.  We made and itch.io page the Tuesday after the jam and it has been the source of the majority of plays/downloads. (The other plays are from our build on Kongregate)

There are many benefits to having your own site. You can upload new builds that fix inevitable bugs that come from a game being made in 48 hours. You have more control over how everything is presented to the viewer.  You can get analytics that let you A) see where your traffic is coming from and B) waste time looking at numbers go up.

If we had not uploaded to itch.io we would never have gotten this tweet that I think got the whole media ball rolling. 

Web build

If your tools allow you to do a web build put in the extra effort. Our unity build required trimming a song and downgrading textures to get it under Kongregate’s 20mb limit. That hour or so of work has more than paid for itself (in press coverage, not ad dollars). We were even skeptical it would perform well in a web player but we tried it and it was way smoother than expect.

Reach out to media?

I’d like to say we did this and that it helped but honestly I’m not sure. The Rock Paper Shotgun article that was our first “real” coverage came out before we sent any emails to press. After that I sent several emails to gaming sites and YouTubers but only one of those outlets has covered the game. I’m not even sure if that was due to my email. I even followed the sage advice of Leigh Alexander and Pixel Prospector about contacting press.  Those emails may turn into coverage someday but as of now it has about a 1/30-success rate.


One thing I might change

Of all the things that went right there is one thing that I might do differently. The name of the game is officially Höme Improvisåtion. Now the name itself is fine, it was suggested by our good friend Adam Le Doux. However I decided to add the Swedish vowels for authenticity. If you have sold your soul to the devils of “Search Engine Optimization” you know that including characters in your game’s name that are not on 99% of keyboards is a “suboptimal idea,” just ask Prince. As it stands we will be keeping the name, ungoogleable symbols and all, as a reminder of the danged or making decision while running on 5 hours of sleep.

What is next?

So that’s all my sage advice. Like I said at the start, please don’t take these suggestions as how every game jam game should be made. If GGJ 2016 has 2,000 games that follow all these rules I will be very sad. Just keep them in mind as guiding principles and make sure to break a few!

We will be taking the game to Indiecade East in New York next weekend (February 13th-15th). We will be talking to people there about if/how we should move forward with our little furniture game. If you will be around NYC we would love to talk to you then!

You can play the game here: thestorkburntdown.itch.io/home-improv

You can follow us @StorkBurntDown

You can follow the game here: www.facebook.com/homeimprovisation


If you enjoy this game please consider donating to the Tony Tseng memorial fund: http://www.gofundme.com/tonytseng

This Game was made by: Aj Kolenc - Jessica Jackson - Colton Spross - Josh Faubel


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