Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned From Game Jamming…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 5, 2013

While I agree with Chris Hecker that indies need to set their sites beyond game jams once in a while, it’s still a very useful exercise IMO and can teach you a lot about game development.

Sam Coster counts the ways Game Jamming teaches you to be a better game developer.

As I’ve said before, a properly handled Game Jam experience – whether formal or informal – is a powerful exercise and tool. You go through the entire game development cycle in micro,  from design, implementation, testing, iteration, and release, all in a matter of hours rather than weeks. If you have a weakness as a game developer, a game jam may expose it. If a game jam can teach a guy like me,who worked as a pro in the mainstream games industry for about a decade, quite a few things, it ought to be especially useful for new and aspiring indies.

One interesting thing I learn from these experiences is the true cost of features. When “puttering” on a longer project, it’s easy to forget how many hours of work got sucked into a particular task. When I get sucked into something I enjoy, the hours can slip away without me recognizing them. When I’m suffering from distractions, it’s easy to pretend that if I was “distraction-free” the task could have been done in a fraction of the time it took. But when every hour – and indeed, every minute – counts, you can’t let that happen, and when a “quick feature” ends up taking two or three hours, it brings painful awareness. Learn from it, and use it when planning and estimating features in the future.

This works both ways. Sometimes I also get impressed by how much I can get done if I really focus.

Speaking of focus, this is perhaps one of the best lessons to be learned from a game jam. It’s very easy for games to become cluttered with features and “cool ideas.” But often these don’t serve the core focus of the game. Sometimes, they even detract from the game. The harsh limitations of a game jam can really help you learn how to focus on what is really important in a game. As the minutes tick away, the focus comes in sharper and sharper relief: In the amount of time remaining, what is the most important thing you can do to make the game a success?

I think this is exactly the kind of attitude indie devs should have every day of development on a commercial project.

The most important lesson of all is just to do it. There is very little that unifies indie game development – we all make games for different platforms, different audiences, with different passions and business plans and a hell of a lot of different personalities. But one thread that unifies us all – perhaps the only thread that unifies indie game development – is that we don’t need to seek anybody’s permission to make a game. We just do it. It’s how things ought to be. You don’t need a publisher’s approval, an education, or a special license (before you start selling, you technically don’t even need a business license). The tools to make games are often out there and free. All you need is drive to learn and to do. And each time you do just that, you’ll get better.

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