November 9th - November 29, Core and UpSync are hosting a $10k Student Hackathon open to all students, and you should join! Read on to learn more about the value of game jams and how you can succeed in one. A special thank you to Core Games for writing this article for us.
Game Jams are events where developers make a game inspired by a specific theme in a limited time. Jams are about creativity through constraints, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Ludum Dare is an entirely online event, while Global Game Jam is all about building in-person community (in non-COVID times). The Core Games Student Hackathon lasts for three weeks and includes students from all over the world. Some jams are for bragging rights, and some for prizes. What they all have in common is they get you making games – fast.
Why Game Jams are Great
Game jams build your portfolio. By the end of the weekend (or month, or hour) you’ll have a game with your name on it. If you really love the idea, you can always expand it. Superhot, Surgeon Simulator, and Towerfall all started as jam entries.
They force you to get better at prototyping. The best games emerge from dozens of rounds of playtesting. The better you are at getting a quick-and-dirty version of your game running, the sooner you can make it better.
Restrictions breed creativity. Sitting down and thinking “what game do I want to make” is intimidating. A theme or prompt focuses your creativity and lets you explore an idea you might not have thought of otherwise.
You’ll build relationships with other game jammers. Many game jams encourage teams – and if they do, we suggest you do so! Even if you’re flying solo, they are a great way to meet like-minded devs and build your network.
It’s a great opportunity to try new things. Have an idea that’s been kicking around in your head forever? Now’s the chance to let it out. Some jams go even further with “sweeteners”, which are additional goals on top of the prompt. These can be a great way to push yourself to try a new engine or a different style.
How to succeed in a game jam
Create a design doc. No matter how great your idea is, write it down. Outline the core loop and key features. If you are on a team, list responsibilities for each team member.
Scope, scope, scope. Once you have your design doc, chop it in half. Even in longer game jams, what separates the successful jammers (those who complete a game) from the rest is time management. Narrow your design to the best idea and only what’s necessary to convey that idea.
Aim for done, not perfect. You can always return to it later, but your goal during the jam is to finish. It’s ok to hardcore a few things if it lets you get your feature set done.
Playtest, especially with people not on your team. Do it early and often. Asking a stranger to playtest your game is always revealing, and helps you fix problems early in the project.
Get some rest. Remember to eat. Going 72 hours straight without sleep might seem enticing, but you usually pay for it in bugs and mistakes.
Have fun. Embrace mistakes and enjoy the journey. Your game will turn out better if you do.
How to Start Jamming
There are several places you can find game jams no matter the time of year. Itch.io has a massive calendar of events. Game industry events usually attract jams, such as Train Jam that whisks devs to Game Developers Conference. The Core community constantly has game jams running, including the Student Hackathon and Survival Game Jam going on now.
Into Games also share the latest opportunities they find on the website, and you can follow them on Twitter to keep up to date. Pick the times, themes, and communities that most excites you, and jump in. You’ll be glad you did.