A hackathon is a well known activity among engineers and programmers. The basic idea is to be given a small amount of time to accomplish making something from scratch with very little regulations. That concept has expanded far beyond the idea of ‘hacking’ though. There are film festivals in which teams have to make short movies with given themes or characters in a very short amount of time, and of course there are game jams. A game jam is simply the same thing, but for video games.
In a game jam, teams bring a healthy assortment of programmers, designers, artists, or possibly other talents, and create the best game possible under the constraints, especially time. Just last month was the biggest example of them all, the Global Game Jam. For this, one weekend in January was set aside by regions all around the world for a global theme to be announced with about 48 hours to make your game.
The top 3 sites for this year’s Global Game Jam were Cairo, Egypt with 1294 registered jammers, Curitiba, Brazil with 586, and New York, New York with 447. It seems strange that cities in Egypt and Brazil would have more participants than anywhere in California, Japan, South Korea, or many countries in Europe, all of which are generally considered more condensed gaming regions, but it goes to show simply how widespread game development really is. Having been a participant of the New York site myself, everything was extremely well done.
Hundreds of people get together, get into ice breakers with the people around them and state what they are looking to bring to a team. It can be anything from simple play testing, to extremely advanced programming skills. After teams are formed, the next two days are filled with hard work in every square foot of the site. Coders are coding, artists are drawing, and everyone is talking out the little intricacies. There are even workshops to help real newcomers get started. When all the titles have been submitted, everyone gets to play the games in one room set up to feature them all. It becomes a celebration of a job well done. But the question remains, why wouldn’t more people in higher tech areas of the United States, such as Los Angeles, Seattle, or the Silicon Valley, have a Global Game Jam site like New York?
Some great games came out this game jam, as they do in most, thanks to the hard work of experienced indie developers and newcomers alike. Sometimes teams go on to perfect the games they began at these jams and release them with hopes of success. Some well known examples of this are Goat Simulator, SuperHot, and Snake Pass, one of the already confirmed titles for the Nintendo Switch. With Steam, Itch.io, and other great services to place a new game, it has become easier than ever for indie developers to make their titles viewable to the world, especially one made at a game jam.
While these game jams are more for newcomers and indie developers, there could still be a greater contribution by more renowned companies in the video game industry. Tech companies often host hackathons at universities as a way to scout out for future programmers, engineers, and other positions. Instead, game developers and publishers could host their own jams to find themselves new talent. They could even have competitions to award prizes of a small budget, the promise of publication, or perhaps internship positions.
Obviously, the top video game developers in the world are always hard at work, putting together their next great title. Can you imagine, however, what could be accomplished if some of them actually participated in these game jams themselves. It would be interesting to see what game about “Waves,” the theme of the Global Game Jam 2017, Hideo Kojima or Gabe Newell could make in just one weekend. Not only could it be something they could possibly release later, but it could give them great ideas for future projects as well as give young developers the chance to work and learn from masterful designers in the field.
Unless you are someone searching on forums or indie developer meet up groups, you wouldn’t even know when game jams, even the Global Game Jam, are actually happening. They are not covered by most video game journalists. This is a shame, as you could witness the next Jonathan Blow or some other game design prodigy at one of these events. The gaming community of fans, developers, indie developers, sponsors, and others could all work just a little bit harder to make game jams much more popular than they are right now. To get things started, IndieCade and Itchi.io are presenting the Resist Jam from May 3rd to the 11th. Go ahead and check it out for yourselves and realize what these events could bring to the industry we know and love.
With more media attention for large game jams, the more people will become aware of them and raise attendance and popularity. This will ultimately lead to more games, always with the possibility of something truly special coming out of it. It could be a successful title, or maybe a team that will go on to start a brand new studio. With high end names, like Ubisoft, Bethesda, Blizzard, or countless others getting involved, it could be both beneficial to the attendees and to the companies themselves. Considering Microsoft was one of the hosts of the recent New York Global Game Jam site, and IndieCade is sponsoring the upcoming Resist Jam, the trend seems to be moving in the right direction. It’s up to us to keep that train moving. Game jams are the ultimate place for developers of all shapes and sizes to get together and help push game design to the height of creation. The sooner that is realized, the better.