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The recent GAME_JAM was, by all accounts, a complete disaster. But there's long-term implications off the world's first large-scale jam, and it's not all disappointment and broken trust.

Matthew Fundaun, Blogger

April 1, 2014

8 Min Read

There’s a sick sense of morbid fascination to reading about GAME_JAM. Masterpiece disasters are a group effort, and they always have a background of errors leading up to the explosive climax. But sometimes, there genuinely is a single person involved that steps up to the plate and brings everything together to magically turn gold into lead.


The horror only mounts as you dig deeper and deeper. You don't want to believe the preperation could have crashed so hard. You don't want to believe Matti Leshem did the things he's said to have done. You don't want to believe that dear god was it really that freaking horrible?


Unfortunately, when everyone on the ground is speaking up to all say the same thing, you have to listen.


GAME_JAM was an all-too-human mess, a veritable conga line of complaints and fumbles. Malware loaded computers that crash when slotted with a USB drive. Providing the developers with recording equipment during a ‘Let’s Play Creation’ challenge with worse quality than their cellphones. A crushingly one-sided contract contract presented for signing days before the project began. Matti Leshem wasn’t the only thing wrong, to be sure, even if he was the one to heat things to the boiling point.


Perhaps the worst thing is trying to get into Matti's head for all of this. It’s all too easy to imagine what he may have been thinking. He didn’t know about the strict and genuine documentary angle, so he went reality television. Since it’s already set up for reality television, surely all the developers have already agreed to and readied themselves for it. Since the developers are rookies though, surely they’ll need and will go along with prompting for the drama reality television runs on.


It’s all too easy to imagine. That doesn’t mean it isn’t utterly deplorable to ask questions like, “Two of the other teams have women on them. Do you think they’re at disadvantage?”


Reality television is one thing, because while it distorts reality by artificially manufacturing drama, it is in no way inherently misogynistic. Matti Leshem is something else entirely, because his methods very much were. Matti tried to pressure people into conflict, and succeeded in the worst way possible.


GAME_JAM is the first time a jam this big has ever been done, and firsts involve mistakes. Miscommunication is the archnemesis of any project, and you stave it off by talking and being patient.


Matti didn’t talk, and he wasn’t patient, making him a failure from the most generous of interpretations and professional of standpoints. He knew best, so he strong-armed his way in using his consultant position and made sure things were done the right way: Matti’s way.


If he’d merely pushed the reality television angle in conversation, it might not have been so bad, but the utter lack of integrity in chasing drama, any drama, sent things to hell in a handbasket so fast there was no chance of recovery.


With how thoroughly Matti has wrecked his personal and professional reputation, he’s going to have a lot weighing him down as he looks for a new job.


The New Rockstars


Even as it takes a sandpaper grinder to one’s faith in humanity, GAME_JAM is inspirational for the future of independent game development.


Again, this is the first game jam on his scale. Miracles weren’t expected. Better than the disaster it was, certainly, but that isn’t the point.


Indie is getting big. There was already money in it, but the important thing it’s gaining now is legitimacy. Mountain Dew endorsements are not something that naturally comes to mind when thinking of independent development. That’s racecars and rockstars.


There’s an odd, growing sense of celebrity to famous independent developers. Notch is famed as the creator of Minecraft. Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman are followed for their fight against cloners. GAME_JAM relied on the names of its participants being recognized to itself be notable. Comparing the indie dev scene to the music industry and developers to bands wouldn’t be inaccurate.


The term ‘selling-out’ is heard most often when talking about recording deals and sponsorships, yet was mentioned by Adriel Wallick in his own report on GAME_JAM. It’s also been thrown about in discussion over the Oculus Rift going to Facebook for two billion dollars, and it isn’t one we’ve seen often before in the video game community.


Corporations come off as faceless and overbearing, but they still bring something important to the table: Money. Beyond the basic need to pay the bills, more money flowing into the indie dev scene means there’s a bigger slice of the pie for newcomers to take a bite out of, making it easier to be recognized and succeed.


The greatest long-term effects of the GAME_JAM fiasco are liable to be increased progressionist press for video games, owing to the brave show of solidarity from the developers against Matti’s sexist pot-stirring, and on a less positive note, hesitance to try another large-scale game jam. On the other hand, the developers involved have already stated interest in having another go. Even if the corporations are leery, the small time game jams are still going strong, and sooner or later, they’re going to smell profit to be made again.


Here’s hoping that second go happens, builds on the lessons of the first, and ends as something to be proud of.


News From The Front


Most of the information we have so far is coming out of the blogs of the developers involved. Best information comes from first-hand testimony, and some of what they say is pretty inspirational in and of itself.


Adriel Wallick: Let’s Talk About Accountability

Jared Rosen: How The Most Expensive Game Jam In History Crashed And Burned In A Single Day

Robin Arnott: “GAME JAM” and the Power of Integrity

Zoe Quinn: Unreality: My Takeaways After Being On and Subsequently Walking Off a Reality Show About Game Jams



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