How To Organise Your First Game Jam

Organising a game jam can have you feeling like this guy…

Running Your Own Game Development Competition

A game jam is a great chance to socialise, put your skills to the test and most importantly make games! However organising a jam is much different to taking part in one. There’s is an extra level of responsibility, but don’t let that put you off as it’s really simple. I’ve hosted 5 game jams and have taken part in around 12 in total. Below I use my experiences co-running Plymouth Game Developers to provide you with information about running your own jam.

What Game Jam Should I Take Part In?

So you want to host a game jam? Great! The first task is to decide when and what jam. You can either find a jam using this calendar, or create your own. This step is important as certain jams attract more developers than others. Traditionally, the Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam acquire the most submissions globally, and are the perfect place to start.

Plymouth Game Developers

In Plymouth, Summer has always been a bad time for us. The majority of our community are students that usually return home for the non-academic months of the year. April also tends to be quiet due to end of year deadlines. The trick is to know your community, and understand when will work best for them.

Where should I Host A Game Jam?

Next, you need a location that developers will be building games from for the next few days. Always try to choose a nice centralised location, with good travel links and shops near by. Consider checking if the space offers overnight access too — with rooms to allow developers to sleep in. Most importantly the venue should be comfortable. Comfy chairs with tables that offer space for multiple monitors and towers underneath accounting for leg room are vital. Also what are the limitations on the number of people that can legally attend for fire safety regulations?

Plymouth Game Developers

Before forming Plymouth Game Developers we held game jams at the University in a dry, dull classroom. In January we moved the Global Game Jam to ThinqTanq and this month the Ludum Dare will be held at the Devonport Guildhall. Both of these new venues offer a much higher quality of jam!

Power! Power! Power!

What Are The Technical Requirements For Running A Game Jam?

You’ll need to check that your venue has the technical requirements to host the event. Most import is power supply. Make sure you stock up on plenty of tower extension leads because usually developers bring a desktop and at least one monitor. Think about the layout of the room, are you going to have to have a wire trailing halfway across the room? If yes, make sure you make it safe! Also there is PAT testing for electronics in the UK, check with the venue if this is a requirement. Finally WiFi, ensure it’s fast. There’s always that one guy who needs to download Unity at the start of the event.

Plymouth Game Developers

This is where organisation is important and failure to overlook this key aspect of preparation could halt proceedings. In our experiences having a mixture between students and outside visitors has required special measures. This has included temporary WiFi codes, yet quite often the WiFi has been so bad that it didn’t really matter. We have also had to be creative with our room layouts to prevent daisy-chaining extension leads.

How Can I Get People To Attend My Game Jam?

When inviting people to your jam, it’s important that you attract people that you can trust. Ultimately if anything goes wrong, then it’s you that are responsible. It is unlikely that someone will electrocute themselves, trip up or steal equipment but it’s something that could happen. Hopefully though, by this point you have a community who are a good bunch of folks that just want to create games. Get your jam known to them by using an event ticket service such as Eventbrite or Attending.io. Platforms like these are trusted and allow you to promote events across your social media channels, some venues will also require a guest list. Consider writing articles about games made by the community to help drive more interest to community run events. Remember, many game developers aren’t stereo-typically the most outgoing individuals. This may sound mean, but in our experience (myself included) it’s a reality. Therefore make the promotional material appear as approachable as possible. Don’t give developers an excuse to not turn up.

Plymouth Game Devs

The community has been growing down here for around 3 years now. By having close ties with the academic institutions we have gotten to know many professionals in Plymouth. Typically between 20–30 developers attend per jam and we have found that this is manageable between 2–4 people. Here are two of the successful articles I’ve written to attract interest (article one, article two).

Let people do their thing and have fun!

What Happens On The Day Of A Game Jam?

So the big day is finally here! What should you do now? Firstly, ensure everyone has found the venue and allow time for a meet and greet before a presentation. Things to include are health & safety, keeping an eye on valuables, points of contact and rules. Afterwards get everyone set up and start making games!

Plymouth Game Devs

Living in the UK, we are normally unlucky enough to present the introductory talk at 7–8pm. This is due to most global events aligned with US time. People usually go home after the talk and come back refreshed in the morning. Luckily the Global Game Jam is forward thinking and starts at different times across the world.

What Should I Do During A Game Jam?

I should point out that there is no reason why you shouldn’t take part in the jam yourself. Normally participants just get on with game making and don’t require you to watch over them all of the time. However it is good practise to at least regularly check up on everyone. Praise developers for what they’re doing, bounce ideas and just make sure nobody is destroying themselves. Game jams can be a gruelling exercise and a select few will forget to eat/sleep, give them a nudge. Also help those struggling with their game, sometimes ideas don’t come to fruition but that doesn’t mean they should quit!

Plymouth Game Developers

In the past I’ve been guilty of not engaging our guests enough, largely due to my introverted nature back then. We get people engaged with the global community by displaying a Twitter live feed using the game jam hashtags. We want to encourage people to share their stuff online as they build it and the live feed helps that. Finally, make sure that the organisers carrying out the night shift, liaise with the day shift and vice-versa. Just generally keep on top of how things are running, are their any issues etc.

We made a thing!

How Does A Game Jam End?

So the jam has finished everyone’s made cool stuff, what do you do now? Consider ending your event in style by hosting a mini present and demo session. People love talking about what they’ve made especially when they have gone through hell to make it! This often involves hilarious stories of features created from bugs and ideas from sleep deprived brains. Also try and capture feedback, this could be in the form of a follow up email, or just by talking to people. Feedback will be useful for helping you plan your next event!

Plymouth Game Devs

We’ve taken it one step further in our community by hosting whole evenings dedicated to game jam events. Our theory being that people are too tired after a long jam and would rather go home. However we’ve also had success and a better turnout by hosting the demo at the end of the event. For feedback we ask three simple questions using Typeform:

  1. What did you think of the event? (1–10)
  2. Would you recommend Plymouth Game Devs to a friend? (Yes/No)
  3. Are there any particular events/topics you would like to see Plymouth Game Devs cover?
  4. Any other comments?

Conclusion

Hopefully by reading this you should feel confident enough to run your own game jam. I should stress that it is vital that you work with your venue to ensure that you don’t need any insurances, PAT testing, guest lists, etc. Again don’t let these things put you off! There are people and organisations out there that want to help you out, so go make games and have fun! If you have any questions let me know below.