Game Jams: Building Worlds of Play in Just 48 Hours

Give me 48 hours and I’ll give you playable worlds you never imagined possible. That is the power of a game jam.

Ask any game developer about their experience at a game jam and their face will light up with both excitement and exhaustion. That one-two punch of delight and fatigue is emblematic of what makes game jams such an important tool for the process of game development…and an exciting way to generate games for brands.

In the past five years of my time at Playcrafting, game jams have become a core part of the work we do to excite and empower both our developer community and our corporate partners. They unite developers of all backgrounds under one roof (virtual or otherwise) to build games that share a common theme or purpose. For those of us who are eating, breathing, and sleeping games for fun and for work, we know game jams like the back of our hands. For everyone else, it’s time to discover the powerful creative and constructive force that is a game jam.

Get to know the magic of game jams and how they’re adapted to create games for brands and technologies on the cutting edge.

What is a game jam?

A game jam is an event uniting game developers to create short-form games and prototypes in a short amount of time, often a weekend, a week, or a month. Multiple teams come together to each ideate, build, and test an interactive product with a specific design constraint. That design constraint is often based on the content of the game or the technology used to build or play it. The content of the game includes its gameplay, story, characters, theme, and aesthetic. The technology used to build it includes the game engine, programming script, asset development software, and production methods. The technology used for gameplay includes the platform it’s built for (iOS, Android, home console, PC, VR/AR, etc), peripheral hardware, and more.

The thrill of building at game jams is a uniting force for the developer community.

There is often a competitive aspect to a game jam as well. Top projects and teams can be selected for prizing and future opportunities. Or the jam could just be for fun with the goal of completing a playable project in a short period of time.

Who participates in a game jam?

Active and aspiring game developers are often the participants in a game jam. I’m using the term “developer” in the broadest sense – this can include programmers, designers, artists, musicians, and other roles that contribute to the creation and completion of a game. The level of experience (if any) required of a developer is based on the goal of the jam itself. For game jams that are just for fun or to try something new, aspiring and novice developers often jump in. For game jams that require more complete and polished resulting games, use of specific technology, and/or are paid gigs, more experienced developers are required.

How do game developers use game jams?

Game developers use game jams in a bunch of different ways, depending on their goals. For larger game development studios, game jams can be used internally to workshop ideas for the next project the team will build out. 

Renowned game studio Double Fine uses game jams at the core of their process for designing and building the games millions of people around the world love to play.

In general, game developers often use game jams independently as a way to add new skills to their arsenal, meet other developers, challenge themselves in a short period of time, or just to have fun.

What makes game jams so special?

Game creators are problem solvers who love a challenge! To be a game developer – like being a gamer – is to crave the excitement of overcoming obstacles and being able to look back at what you accomplished.

There is something really powerful about uniting developers under one umbrella with a shared challenge to overcome. It innately fosters a sense of community, creativity, and collaboration. Developers are forced to think quickly on their feet and at their computers. The jam itself is a thrill as time ticks down to the end. It’s like taking a test, but with a high score being a playable game.

Watch the fun unfold across the country as 5 Bose AR game jams united hundreds of developers to launch games playable with spatial audio.

At the end of the jam, all participants are able to see and play how their games compare to that of the other teams. There’s a shared camaraderie in the feeling of having crossed the finish line and a sense of discovery in how all teams used the same parameters to create different games.

How can brands use game jams?

Brands can leverage game jams to generate games that extend and enliven their messages in a whole new way. Combining the raw on-the-ground power of game jams in the development process with the direction of a brand can often have surprising results. And when it comes to independent game developers – those working solo or on smaller teams – game jams provide unprecedented access to their immense talent and creativity. 

Game jams offer the opportunity to connect with creators that [brands] usually wouldn’t have access to. Independent game developers don’t typically make themselves available for corporate projects.

Kati Nawrocki (Studio Art Director, Dots)

Brands often look for the Next Big Thing to connect to customers and grow their reach in an authentic way. But it’s not always clear how a game can do just that. 

Independent game developers are untapped allies that are here to guide you. Getting your brand or technology in the hands of game creators can often show surprising results that no exec can concoct in a boardroom. Game jams provide an opportunity to see many applications of your mission all in one place. 

In just 48 hours, Schick Hydro‘s mission to “protect and defend” took on a life of its own through 4 unique arcade games.
Indie developers showed the future of sports games by building NFL video games only possible on Verizon 5G. Top games from across the country took shape in one weekend game jam.

Sanding Down a Square Peg to Fit a Round Hole

You may not initially think of indie game developers as a perfect match for rising and renowned brands of the world. We beg to differ.

Game jams are a unique way to meet game developers where they’re at and speak their language. They provide unprecedented access to creators on the front lines of digital entertainment. But it’s important to do so in a way that respects the process of game development and the people making it happen.

Game jams are, quite simply, the jam.

Dan Butchko

Want to see what Playcrafting can do for you? Let’s chat!