Game Jams! Popular challenges to create indie games within a time frame, sometimes with themes and restrictions, have not been around for as long as some people might think. Take Ludum Dare for example, the longest running online game jam! Ludum Dare is a quarterly game jam that happens in two distinct parts: a ‘jam’ and ‘compo’. The compo portion of the game jam is significantly more intense than the jam version - you only have 48 hours to make your game, you are required to submit source code, you cannot work in teams, and you have to create all of the assets yourself. The 72 hour jam version not only gives you more time, but also lets you work in teams, use pre-made assets, and doesn’t require you to submit your source code. Both parts of the Ludum Dare share a theme, voted for by the community.
Even this jam, the longest running online game jam, has only been around since 2002! Over the years the game jam has grown, creating an entire community based around making games in this short time frame. After the jam, developers are able to rate the other games entered and provide feedback. This made Ludum Dare particularly alluring for developers looking for feedback on their work. Nowadays, the jam gets thousands of entries every time it runs, and the website also hosts a spin-off of Ludum Dare called MiniLD, which is run by members of the community each month.
Ludum Dare, for a time, was the only online game jam you could find. Today however, game jams have grown in popularity to the point that you can find tons of them running at any point in time. Game jams vary in time limits, anywhere from 24 hours to 3 years, and come with varying themes and restrictions. Some game jams may focus on the color pallete you need to use in your game or the resolution of your game, while others have diversifiers that you can choose from instead of set themes. Others require you to use a specific engine, or to make games that are only text based, for example. Game jams come in a wide variety, so it is pretty easy to find a game jam that you’d enjoy yourself.
Additionally, there are a ton of recurring yearly jams like the LowRezJam, GBJam, Asylum Jam, ProcJam and many more. If a year seems to long for you to wait, then as well as yearly game jams, there are monthly jams such as the Bitsy Jam. Others are one offs, created by people who have an idea they think might be good for jams. The sudden boost in the number of game jams seems to coincide with Itch.io and GameJolt introducing easy to set up game jam systems. These pages made setting up a game jam a similar process to setting up a game on their respective websites. Anyone could create a jam about anything they wanted, and the games would then be uploaded to their respective websites. This made game jams super easy to run - people didn’t need a place to host the games, nor did they need to create a whole website with the information on it and an integrated voting system.
Around this time, as tons of game jams sprang up, myself, along with a few friends, created indiegamejams.com - a complete calendar of every game jam that has been set up correctly and completed with information. This calendar was created to replace CompoHub, an older website of game jams that didn’t seem to find every single game jam created.
With so many people creating different game jams, themes, and restrictions, the people that entered these jams became more diverse. Jams have become a way for developers to get inspired by a concept, to try out ideas and see how they work, and to challenge themselves to create a game under stringent timeframes. Game jam titles don’t always stop after the jam deadline has closed - many are continued to create full games.
The Ludum Dare has a dedicated steam group to show off all of the games made for the jam that became full Steam releases. Titles like Titan Souls, McPixel, and Rude Bear Resurrection are shown along with tons of other games - all completed and released. Party Hard started off as a jam game for a GameJolt official jam, which the development team continued on to create a steam release, a spin-off, and a full second game which is currently in Alpha. Indie studios have actually started to run internal game jams to create concepts quickly and see how well they worked. Snake Pass by Sumo Digital Ltd started off as a jam game at one of these, and now is one of my favorite games of this year. The sheer volume of fully polished and released game jam games is quite surprising when you actually start looking into the history of these games. Not all of them are completed of course, but a significant number of game jam games each year are continued and worked on until release.
Being able to be inspired by some aspect or restriction of the jam and being forced to create and finish something playable in such a small amount of time creates unusual and interesting games that are often not what developers would normally make. The base code may be jumbled and rushed, but these concepts and ideas can be incorporated, added to, and made into a full game. Game jams are now a cornerstone of the indie gaming community. Many game jam developers enter a number of different jams a year, while others enter specific jams or dip in and out of ones that look interesting. Sometimes, developers are able to find other people through game jams to team up and work with during the jam, and other jams have mentors that can spread their knowledge and guide individuals into the fast paced jam setting.
Game jams are an important part of indie gaming and one that I am ecstatically happy to be a part of as it continues to grow. More and more game jams are popping up at physical locations, creating tutorials and guides along with them, and drumming up sponsorship. The future of game jams and game jam games has endless possibilities and it’s always entertaining to see where game jams and their games will go next!