How game jams can give you the edge when you’re looking to get started in the industry
Studios look for many things when interviewing prospective employees. Passion is tantamount, as is technical proficiency, and having a good degree behind you will go a long way to demonstrating your commitment to a development career path. But in all the years we’ve been creating Get Into Games features in
Edge, the thing that every developer we’ve spoken to wants to see above all else is a strong portfolio of projects. Some of these could be finished games; others might be smaller endeavours focused on the individual’s particular discipline – pieces of art or audio experiments, for example, or a proof of concept for a gameplay mechanic.
Building such a portfolio will take dedication, talent and – perhaps more than anything else – a great deal of your free time. It’s a daunting prospect if you’re already ploughing hours into a degree or a day job, but one way to accelerate the growth of a portfolio is to take part in game jams. These events, which take place under strict time constraints and often ask participants to work to a particular theme, have turned from unusual experiments into staple activities, offering both nascent and established game makers the opportunity to gain experience, try out new ideas, and work with people they may not have met otherwise.
Most jams will welcome a variety of skill levels, and participants will be either placed into teams or allowed to define their own groups before attempting to create something workable in a tight timeframe that might be as little as 24 hours. A huge number of events are now available to take part in, ranging from one-off local events to international jams such as Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, which take place in all sorts of locations across the globe and attract hundreds of entries. In a few short years, the prominence of game jams has enjoyed a huge surge.
“When I started out making games independently around 2008, it felt like game jams were in their innocent heyday,” Hohokum designer and Hollow Ponds co-founder Ricky Haggett tells us. “I held one at my house that a handful of folks came to, which was a fun toe in the water. Then I organised a much larger one at the Honeyslug offices to coincide with [developer and event promoter] David Hayward’s inaugural World Of Love conference. Loads of amazing people came – like Terry Cavanagh, Ed Key, Stephen Lavelle and Tom Betts – and it really felt like something good and special.”
Jams, Haggett explains, allow participants to practise creating a small project without being burdened by the pressure of it having to be your best work while still working within the constraints of an artificial deadline. They allow you to test and appraise your work practices and find creative ways to tighten up your approach to development and become a more efficient creator. And they create a space in which you’re supported by other developers – many with plenty of experience to share. “[There’s] a huge sense of camaraderie,” Haggett says. “The conversations around people sharing their jam work, and the released games themselves, feel hugely valuable. Jams are very much a part of the glue that binds the independent development community together.”
That sense of camaraderie, and the teamwork that engenders it, is an important asset in an industry whose indie success stories represent appealing, if unrealistic, paragons to those hoping to become the next Notch.
“I think too many people start out trying to do everything themselves, often with underwhelming results,” Haggett says. “Whereas if they concentrate on being great at one specific thing, and team up with people with complementary skills, they could probably make something incredible right off the bat. Perhaps a good
approach is to join a large studio, where being good at a single thing is more likely to be enforced, but where you can meet lots of amazingly talented people you might one day team up with to make a smaller thing.”
Increasingly, experience of this kind of teamwork is being fostered by university course leaders who are keen to capitalise on their students’ wideranging skills as well as those who are learning other disciplines – the university profiles over the next few pages reveals an assortment of innovative approaches to student collaboration from institutions across the UK, and game jams form an important part of that.
“We run several game jams each year, from [taking part in] international competitions like Global Game Jam to our own Three Thing Game jam,” says University of Hull senior lecturer Warren
Viant. “And several of our most successful teams have gone on to found their own indie studios as a result, while those that go on to join triple-A studios have plenty to talk about in interviews and a solid portfolio of – often crazy – games to show off.”
The National Film And Television School, meanwhile, uses jams to get its first- and second-year MA students to team up, and Brunel University London uses them as a way to hone students’ appreciation of ‘finishing quality’ in any project. “Portfolio pieces are the best way to show you are a designer – by actually making something, not just talking about it,” explains Brunel’s Game Design and Theory lecturer and director of digital games theory and design Kelly Boudreau. “Game jams are one opportunity to create games, or to get a great idea off the ground. And we’re pleased to say our team won this year’s UKIE student game jam in both the main category and the accessibility category. We’re very proud of them.”
It is Abertay University, however, whose reputation is most closely bound in with game jam culture. The Dundee institution hosts Dare To Be Digital, an international game development competition held annually, in which it invites 15 student teams from around the world to compete for a number of substantial prizes – including large cash investments and the BAFTA Ones To Watch award. But Dare doesn’t follow the traditional jam model.
“Many of these games began their lives in traditional 48-hour game jams,”
Dr William Huber, head of Abertay’s Centre For Excellence In Game Education, explains. “But we like to think of Dare as a model for a futurefacing, more sustainable game jam:
“I think too many people start out tr ying to do everything themselves”
FROM TOP Hollow Pond co-founder Ricky Haggett; Acidnerve co-founder Mark Foster
Haggett is working on Loot Rascals at new studio Hollow Pond. As one of the curators of club night and game showcase Wild Rumpus, Haggett often includes standout efforts created during game jams
ABOVE Haggett created Hohokum at former studio Honeyslug and was involved in the early game jam scene. LEFT With its clear focus, it’s easy to see how Titan Souls began life at a game jam
Fruitwolf is Foster’s latest Ludum Dare game, which he created with David Fenn and Angus Dick