A Game Dev Newbie’s Insights on Game Jams

I can’t remember how many game jams I have decided to join. I have become addicted to the thrill of making art and games in a limited period of time. It’s fun, challenging, and even frustrating at times but when you get to finish a game, the feeling of accomplishment just feels so good!

I started doing pixel art back in October 2017 and somehow got into game development during the first few months of 2018. I was then introduced to game jams through Itch.io. I didn’t know you could make games in such a short span of time until then! I felt both surprised and intrigued by this concept. Before I knew it, I got involved with a lot of game jams and even created my own! I have successfully made artwork and even made my own games for nine game jams. These may not seem much but I am very proud of them.

So what have I learned as a newbie pixel artist and game developer who suddenly jumped into the sea of game jams like a fish begging for water? Here’s a list!

  • Don’t expect too much from your teammates.

I’ve only joined online game jams so far and this allowed me to make games with total strangers (some of which I have become friends with!). Everyone is different, including their priorities. Game jams are fun, but most of us have other priorities like work or school so you should expect some of your teammates to not have as much free time as you. Living in different time zones can also be a big challenge to deal with.

Do not expect too much from people especially if they’ve specifically stated their priorities and schedule during the jam period. On top of this, expecting too much from others can lead to you feeling really down if you don’t get to finish the game or get the outcome you wanted to have. That can be really frustrating for everyone involved.

  • Get to know who you’re working with.

Doing background checks are ok! Learn more about their craft and what they can do. Personally, I think getting to know your teammates will give you a boost on teamwork. Make friends with them if you can. It’s always fun to get former teammates to join you on a new jam, especially the ones you enjoyed bonding with.

  • Be civil. Learn how to cooperate.

If you plan on working with a team or forming a team for a game jam, you should always know the basics of being a proper teammate. Of course, it’s alright to be honest about how you feel but you should always be professional and think before you speak your mind. Do you feel like something’s wrong with your teammate’s work? Give constructive criticism. Don’t degrade and let them learn. In addition to this, you must be able to handle critique from other teammates and be willing to better yourself for the sake of the game.

  • You should expect the unexpected.

I know it’s pretty cliche but it’s the truth. A lot could happen during a game jam! It doesn’t really matter how long the jam period is. To be honest, things just happen and sometimes you can’t do anything to control them. Examples of this would be a teammate suddenly disappearing, assets taking more time to make than usual because of personal reasons, or even a flood drowning your PC! Always expect the worst but never lose hope. If it doesn’t work out, there’s always a next time.

  • Only take what you know you can do.

Know what you can and can’t do. Know how much time you can allot for the jam. Know your priorities during the jam period. Everyone has limits.

Taking on multiple jams at the same time can be tempting, especially if you like the themes or other concepts of the jams, but you should always think of yourself first. Can you balance all of these? Will you have enough time? Make sure not to lead yourself to a burnout!

  • TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!

Sleepless nights can happen, but don’t forget to hydrate, eat, or take a bath at least! Make sure to spare some time for rest. You can’t make a game if you don’t have a functioning body.

  • Always plan ahead.

Planning ahead will keep you sane in the long run, trust me.

You may be waiting for a theme but you can still plan ahead by discussing with your teammates to settle the times you all are available to chat, each person’s role, and how to spread workload through the jam’s time period. If you have the opportunity, making a game design document can also be really helpful. It will keep what you want to execute on track. Using an online mind map, board, or list makers can also help! I recommend Trello and MindMup for this.

  • Get into something you’re familiar with.

It’ll be easier to get inspired and enjoy the jam if you’re familiar with its theme or topic. This would cost you less time when trying to come up with game ideas as well.

Joining a jam that suits your interests can also introduce you to new friends!

  • It’s always ok to try something new!

I know I said you should get into something you’re familiar with but trying something new can be equally fun as well. There are lots of things out there to learn from and explore! If you have the time, make sure to try something new every once in a while. It can be a new art technique, game engine, programming language, creative software, or ultimately, a jam with a theme that’s different from the others you usually join.

  • Going alone can be fun as well.

It’s alright to go solo. Joining a team isn’t always necessary. Along the way, you might even discover something new about yourself that can help you in the future. Making a game all by yourself is also a really cool accomplishment that can give you happiness!

  • Learn. Adapt. Overcome.

Learn from your mistakes. Adapt in different game jam “environments” and situations. Overcome your weaknesses by trying to be self-aware and improving yourself through study and practice.

  • Lastly, have fun!

Please don’t forget this. Game jams are not made to stress you out. They’re a fun test of creativity and a great learning experience! I admit, I also tend to forget this sometimes so it’s always a good reminder for everyone out there.

Well, that’s a wrap! I hope everyone got to learn a thing or two from this. How about you? What have you learned from joining game jams?