Tips on Having a Balanced Game Jam

I’m really excited to participate in #LD38 this weekend. Game jams are great opportunities to learn and try something new. They can also be huge invitations to get competitive, jealous, and overworked. Here is my advice won over multiple jams on how to maintain a balanced life while having a hugely successful game jam.

First, set some real goals.

If you’re interested in staying healthy and maintaining a balanced life while doing a game jam, it’s not realistic that you’re going to win a judged competition. So let’s give that up. Phew! But here’s a secret – there are still tons of possible successes to be had and celebrated without “winning” the jam. Here are a few sample goals to choose from:

  • Make friends with other game makers in your city
  • Create something new
  • Try out a new development tool
  • Get that idea that’s been sitting in your head for months out into the world
  • Gain followers on twitter
  • Take a creative risk
  • Learn a new skill

These are totally valid goals for a weekend, and completing any of them will signal a successful jam. Also, I guarantee that none of them take a full 48 hours to complete. It’s possible to shower and still send a tweet.

So along with not needing to “win” the jam, here’s the other secret about game jams: You don’t have to finish your game.

Absolutely, if you’ve never finished a game before or struggle with finishing projects, it can be fun to challenge yourself to finally do so. But it is possible to have a successful jam without finishing your game. It’s possible take a creative risk and not finish your game. It’s possible to make friends, create something new, use a new development tool, test a new idea, gain twitter followers, and take a creative risk ALL without finishing your game! Or while finishing a really crappy game! And if those are your goals, then the jam will be a huge, out of this world, gigantic smashing success.

So the main key towards living a balanced life while doing a game jam is “do not judge your success based on the end result.” Focus on your process over your product.

OK. Now a few quick and dirty tips to help your process be as successful as possible.

  1. Define your goals. Choose from that list above or pick your own. I want to make a prototype I can further develop later on into something to use for Wide Open Games (not a fully-finished game). I also want to gain TEN followers on twitter (including my time spent judging and commenting on games).
  2. Let go of trying to “win” the jam.
  3. Forgive yourself when your game doesn’t turn out how you had hoped or envisioned. It won’t.
  4. Sleep! I’ve spent too much time in the afternoon straight up undoing the terrible work I’ve done at 1 am that morning. It’s much better to go to sleep before you’re too tired to make good decisions. Being able to think straight is your friend.
  5. Take breaks. Go for a walk or just get away from your computer for a while. Set a timer to remind you stop working if you need to.
  6. Eat. Do not skip meals. Eat at least as healthy as you’re used to. Making games takes energy so fuel yourself!
  7. Remember your goals. Remember that it’s OK to end up with a broken, unfinished game that looks nothing like the masterpiece you designed on Friday evening.
  8. Reach out on twitter with the jam hashtag for advice if you’re stuck! If nobody answers, feel free to email or tweet me directly!
  9. Celebrate your success.

Thanks so much for reading. I hope that’s helpful, and I’d love to know what other tips y’all have for game jam success. Please let me know in the comments, and happy jamming!