Tips for a Successful Game Jam

by Jenna Hoffstein

The Global Game Jam is once again upon us!  With thousands of people across the world all jamming together, it promises to be another amazing weekend.  Here are a few thoughts to help you get the most out of it:


48 hours is not a long time, and many teams make the mistake of trying to do too much.  A well-scoped game is a completed game!  Your team should talk about the smallest possible version of your design - the bare minimum to get something playable - and start from there.  This should be something that you can confidently complete by Saturday.  All other features can then be prioritized and tackled from there, so that when you need to put pencils down on Sunday you're guaranteed to have a demo that folks can play through, regardless of how far you get into the features list.  This approach helps prevent you from getting to the end of an exhausting weekend without anything playable to show for it.

Global Game Jam '13 Game: Secret Surgeon

Global Game Jam '13 Game: Secret Surgeon

Try Something New

This is less about successfully completing your game and more about getting value out of the weekend.  A game jam is the perfect place to experiment with something new for a few reasons.  First, it's a very short time period, so if you try and fail you've only lost a few days of effort (which hopefully were valuable in other ways!)  Second, you're surrounded by other jammers and odds are good someone can help you out.  You could try a new programming language, a new art style, or new technology.  Last year my team made an augmented reality game, and this year we're working on a game for the Oculus Rift.  I probably wouldn't have the time or the know-how to tackle these projects on my own, but working with a team at the Global Game Jam lets me pursue some awesome new technology!

Have a Complete Design

I've seen a few teams spin their wheels because their design didn't have all the pieces it needed.  If your team is stuck, think about the answers to these questions:

1. What does the player do?  These are the player "verbs".  Does the player run and jump, or maybe tap something in time with a rhythm?

2. What is the player's goal?  The player might be trying to get to the end of a level, or achieve a high score, or defend the towers.  There's the large goal - the win condition - and smaller goals that get the player through the levels.

3. What is preventing the player from getting to the goal?  Let's take golf as an example.  If we just considered the goal of getting the ball in the hole, I could pick the ball up and simply drop it in.  The rules of the game prevent me from doing this however, creating an interesting and challenging experience in the process.  We can break this down into a few categories:

  • Actions that require skill: To succeed at golf I have to hit a tiny ball with a stick into a hole that is quite far away.  This requires a degree of physical precision that is very challenging.
  • Obstacles: I have to watch out for sand traps and water traps between myself and my goal.
  • Restrictions: The rules of the game say that I can't simply pick the ball up and move it with my hands.

4. What helps the player get to the goal?  This isn't required, but adds in some fun.  Powerups of some kind can be discovered or earned by the player to give them a temporary boost or benefit.  


Best of luck to everyone participating in the Global Game Jam and let the games begin!