Game jams for beginners
Should I do game jams? The short answer is YES, absolutely, participate in some game jams. There are a lot of benefits. I’ve done quite a few jams and they were great but I’ve also discovered that they’re not really for me anymore because I find them quite stressful. So let’s get into the pros and cons.
They can be a lot of fun. It’s a challenge to make a game. And whether you meet the challenge or fail, you can have fun along the way. In fact, I hestitate to use the word “fail” because everyone’s experience and goals are different. Your goal doesn’t have to be to “win” the jam (and usually, there are no prizes or anything). Jams are low stakes. Free to enter, usually no prizes, just a bunch of people are doing something fun together for a few days.
You learn a lot. Game jams can push your out of your comfort zone and get you to try new things. You’ll hit snags that need to be solved on the fly. Tutorials can only take you so far. You are actively learning by actually doing the thing you want to learn and I believe that is the best way to learn anything.
You’ll meet interesting people. It’s nice to know that you’re not alone. Participating in a jam instantly makes you a member of a community. Like much of life, you get out what you put in, so you need to participate and engage with your fellow jammers to get the full benefit. You’ll make connections, meet new people, maybe even make a friend or two.
They take you through the entire development cycle. Do you tend to start projects and not finish them? If so, a jam can benefit you by forcing you to experience what it takes to finish and publish a game. Creating a menu, adding gameplay instructions, uploading your game to a website – these are all super important but often overlooked or underestimated by beginners.
That said, there are some downsides and jams are definitely not for everybody. Here are some things to consider.
Think of the timeframe for the jam. Some jams last for a weekend, some for a week, some run for months. Arguably the most famous jam, Ludum Dare, has a 48 hour and a 72 hour competition that run over the weekend. Now, if you’re an absolute beginner and you’ve never made a game before or are learning a new tool like Unity or Game Maker then a 48 hour jam might not be for you. It’s hard enough to make something in 48 hours if you’re an expert. If you don’t even know how to use your tools then you might have a bad time. On the other hand, it can still be fun to participate, even if you don’t finish and you might still learn a lot. For beginners, I suggest finding jams with a longer time time frame like a week or month.
Think of the rules. Some jams have strict rules about working solo or only using assets you made yourself. Others let you use anything you want and to work in teams. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and pick a jam that has rules you like and that helps you work toward your goals. Maybe you’d prefer to work in a team. Or maybe you’d like to choose a jam that forces you to work on your art skills.
Think of the scope. You’ve probably heard the advice to make a small game. Everyone’s definition of small is different and depends on skill level. You need to be honest with yourself and think of something that you can actually accomplish within the rules and timeframe. If you try for something too big then you’re likely to not finish and end up disappointed or frustrated. Big projects can be overwhelming and even experienced developers will frequently overestimate what they can accomplish. That last 10% where you have to make some menus and upload your game will take longer than you think. Keep it small.
Some parting words of advice:
Failure is okay! It’s low stakes. There are literally no consequences. Maybe you tried to make something that was too big and only finished 20% of it. That’s okay! That’s valuable experience. You now have a much better idea of what it takes to build something and you’ll be better at scoping your next game. Maybe your final product didn’t live up to your expectations. That’s okay! Your next one will be better, I promise. Whatever happens, think of what you accomplished and take that experience forward into your next attempt. Be kind to yourself.
Remember to rest! Jams can be stressful. You might tempted to sit at your computer for 24 hours without sleep or rest. If that works for you, fine. But I personally think that you’ll have better results if you take some breaks, get enough sleep, and take care of yourself during the jam. Remember, it’s low stakes – don’t sacrifice your health for a make-believe prize.
Participate! You’ll have more fun if you interact with your fellow gamedevs. Game development can be lonely. Use the jam as an opportunity to meet your peers and share what you make.
Don’t compare yourself to others! Look, there’s always someone better. Don’t compare yourself to them in a negative way. Don’t put yourself down or feel bad because their work is better in some way. They’ve probably been doing this a lot longer than you. Do the jam for yourself and your own goals. If you do compare your work to others, try to use it as a way to push yourself to achieve better results. Rather than think “I’ll never be that good,” think “Wow! That’s great! I’m going to try that next time!” You might even meet them, talk to them. More experienced developers can be great mentors.
So, participate in jams if you want to and for your own reasons, be kind to yourself, but remember that they’re not for everybody and that’s okay! If you’re beginner, start slow and pick something with relaxed rules and a longer timeframe.
There’s always a jam going on. Take a look at the itch.io jam calendar to find one and jump in.
Thanks for watching everybody! See you next time!
Published May 16, 2021