Editor’s note: This post is about the differences between being a game jam super star and running a video game studio. As some people pointed out on social media, the topic “why making great games
during jam is not enough to run a company” is often true and deserves its own article.
People have been gathering to make games for ages. But the movement called Game Jams is spreading all over the world and becoming a ‘normal activity’. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people gather in the same place, physically or virtually, to create, during a day or two, something rare and unique: a video game.
Because of the exhilarating nature of game jams it’s easy to imagine your team perfect and unstoppable. It’s very common to see groups of people, who sometimes didn’t know each others few hours before, finishing a jam and talking about starting a company together based on their game project.
What game jams don’t prepare you for
24 or 48 hours is a very short amount of time when you have to make a game. So you’ll have to focus on the finish line and nothing else. Naturally you won’t be able to see the realities of game development.
During game jams things are easy and dirty. You open a SVN / Git / Google drive repository like and ask everyone to upload stuff in it. Very easy.
In a real game studio you can’t work like this1. You have to understand and adapt your development habits to gain production time. You have to work on a set of tools (or find the bests existing ones) to help you being more productive. You have to explain everyone the do and don’ts of production.
Running a studio is all about methodology. Every person in your team has to know what they have to do, how they have to do it, when they have to do it, and how to share their work with the rest of the team.
Team communication is really not as easy as it seems.
When teams are focused on making a game in a short amount of time they (often) don’t have time to think about conflicts. Strangely, when you are part of a company with a distant deadline, conflicts arise more easily.
Game jams can’t prepare yourself, as a leader or as a team member, to conflicts. Game studios (independant or not) are often founded by friends. This can give a fake impression of invincibility; Nothing will ever break friendship. It’s wrong. If there is a thing in this world able to f*ck’d up 20 years of friendship it’s running a company together.
Don’t believe that, because you can make awesome games together in 48 hours, you will make games in 1 or 2 years as easily. Because of external and internal reasons it won’t ever be as fun, on the long run, as crafting small things.
During game jams, all you need is a couple of people (friends or not), a computer or two, a weird idea and you’re set up to rock the video game industry2. At the end of the jam contest, after 48 hours spent working on your game, you may or may not have a game. It may or may not be an interesting / cool / nice game. But the contest is over, and there’s nothing more to do.
When you run a game company priorities are not the same. You sure want to make an awesome game because your team is the best. But you first have to be sure that your A-Team will be able to survive during game devlopment. Strangely people have bills to pay and need money to eat. Weird right? When you run your own studio your priority is to be sure your team will be able to finish the game it is involved in. And finding money to pay everyone and avoid them to be forced to find another job should be your obsession.
Game jams can’t prepare yourself to finding money. Even if it’s a jam where the winner wins some cash you will have to deal with finding money to buy software licences, dev kits3, plane tickets to go and show your game at game events, entry to be allowed to actually enter game event you bought a plane ticket for… etc.
At a certain point you WILL have the feeling to spend more time trying to sell your upcoming game than actually making it.
Also note that failing to make a good game during jams is not a problem. It becomes a problem when you are running out of money while your game, planned to be released in a year, is finished at 60% and you feel your team demotivated and ready to release a shitty game just because everyone is tired.
Game jams can’t prepare you to deal with the business aspect of running a company, and most of all, they can’t prepare you to deal with broken dreams.
What you can learn during game jams
How other people work
Jams are perfect to meet new people, new talents, and learn more about their working needs and habits.
In the great Internet era we’re living in, it’s very easy to work with people remotely. Sometimes you will never meet them. Imagine a sound designer you work with but you never met. You will ask her to make sounds and SFX, listen to what she did, and add it all to your game. If the sound designer has enough expertise, she will never ask for your help. So there won’t be any reason for you to see tools she uses or how she uses them.
During physical game jams, the sound designer will be next to you. You will see how she works and what she needs to work. It’s the perfect place to be directly confronted to other people needs and learn more about them.
Sometimes you will meet other people doing the same job as you do. Seeing how they do things or just talking with them on specific details will teach you way more than any book or website.
All this knowledge is essential and can make you gain a lot of time in your everyday job. Knowing how other people work can help you anticipating their needs.
Embrass the power of Poo-Poo-Code™
When you have only 24 or 48 hours to make a game you can’t mess too much with coding style, code optimization, or consistant performances4.
The goal is to ship a game, not a semi-working-but-perfecty-crafted game.
The difference is important and can teach you a lot about your programming / work habits. In an everyday game making job it’s easy to lose yourself into constant optimization even on a non working feature. Programmers tend to try to always think a step ahead and find how to produce the cleverest code to avoid problems. However what they often need is to only know if the feature works (or if it fits with the gameplay).
Due to their nature, game jams allow you to make dirty thing. You will often write Poo-Poo-Code™ and sometimes it will even be mandatory. Embrass the Poo-Poo-Code™ and you will probably realize that being too punctilius on code quality when you don’t exactly know how to do things can be a waste of time.
Shipping is essential
When you work for more than a year on the same project with the same team, it’s important to see what is happening in the outside world. Game jams are ideal for that.
During jams you will discover other people, other talent, but you will also prove yourself that you are able to release a game. Not THE game for sure, but you can do it.
Working too long on the same topic can be very frustrating and sometimes it’s easy to even doubt in your capacity to actually make a game. Game jams can help you to keep faith in your everyday job.
In the end
Don’t be too naive: running a company is a hard task and it requires you to throw yourself in it. Game jams represent just a fragment of what you will have to achieve if you decide to run your own studio. But game jams are also essential to stay sane and to improve your own skills.
Do game jams, just don’t believe everything you will see there.
In fact you can. You can do what you want. I’m just trying to encourage you not to do things like this. ↩
I hope, after reading this post, you know you’re not set up at all to rock the industry… Even if in this job sky is never a limit, during jams rocking contest is the best you can do. ↩
Less and less true. ↩
Please note the use of “too much”. ↩