We often hear that building and sustaining a creative community is hard. Perhaps that’s because of the principles it’s founded on.
The Jamaica Game Developers Society (JGDS) is an ongoing case study in the effort to build a thriving creative community. This group of 30+ gamers, writers, designers and enthusiasts is figuring out its path toward sustained growth. Here’s a quick look at what its version of community looks like when it comes together, and the founding principles it is using to grow.
For the past 3 years the JGDS has participated in the Global Game Jam every January. In this annual challenge, game developers across Jamaica converge in 1 space for 48 hours to make and demo their games, starting from scratch. Through steady work, they’ve seen some progress.
- 2017: 2 Jammers, 0 games, 0 corporate partners
- 2018: 20 Jammers, 2 games, 1 corporate partner
- 2019: 30 Jammers, 4 games, 2 corporate partners
When the community comes alive, here are five rules of engagement they’re committed to protecting.
1. Collaborate, Don’t Compete
“It’s not a competition?”
“So what’s the point if you can’t win?”
They’re not building games to win. They’re building a space for creative collaboration. In a country where winning is everything, this isn’t a very sexy motivator. The goal is that by making the deadline, everyone wins.
A narrative of collaboration creates confusion when JGDS members discuss partnership with potential stakeholders and target sponsors. The default for increasing engagement and building an audience for their brands is through a voting competition. This is appealing for individual glory but not always best for starting a community.
For game jams, the thrill is in the creating. Going from 0 to 1. When everyone participates by contributing based on their skills in a limited time without intentionally withholding help, the group reaches further together.
2. Have Fun, Be Nice
Jammers make work light by letting their personality come out to play. They are helpful, share what they can and get involved. It’s a great space to network and meet cool people who could become potential future collaborators. Working together under pressure can reveal what people are made of, and who you’d want to work with later on.
It’s already a challenge. They pledge to make it fun.
3. Communicate like English is Your 2nd Language
One of the hardest things to achieve when working toward a common goal is clear communication. A musician trying to design a mood piece asking for references from a software engineer writing code for a sprite’s movement may sound like he is speaking a different language.
That’s where English to English translation comes in. First Jammers have to understand each other’s needs. Unpacking the ideas in each person’s head and organizing them so they make sense is crucial. Then figuring out how to work together toward them is another thing.
4. Teamwork Is WORK
There is learning and unlearning taking place within the tight 48 hour window they have to build a game from scratch.
One guy had only built games on his own, and so it was his first time learning how to lead a team and lean on the strengths of others. Others found they had to adjust individual preferences to team strengths and not build what they were comfortable doing individually, but what they could do together.
Building a game with others is also about building teams.
5. Give 100%
Ultimately, a community belongs to those who show up, stay up and level up.
It’s a humming machine when participants do their best and are accountable for their roles and tasks. Being dependable is a shared currency for getting things done, and owning tasks and failures keeps the ship moving. Checking off boxes is great. But if building an asset is supposed to take 2 hours and a designer is plugging away and not seeing results, he waves a red flag.
This is not an admission of defeat, it’s an invitation to rethink the workflow and find an even better solution that benefits the team. Giving 100% does not mean wearing oneself thin pushing a boulder up a hill. It means unselfishly committing to finding flexible, smart solutions to help meet the group’s goal.
The ultimate outcome collectively and individually is to build, learn and grow. If everyone gives 100%, they all get more than what they put in.
What other principles are important in building a creative community? Share and let’s talk about it!
Kenia is a founder of ListenMi, an animation preproduction and design studio for diverse content. She enjoys developing creative products, services and communities. Give this post a👏 👏👏 if you’re thinking about this stuff, and share it with others who do too.