How quickly can a game be created? A month? A week? Less than 48 hours?
Game Jams have pushed this idea to the limit for years, bringing together teams of developers, who are sometimes strangers before the event, to dedicate their energy to one cause: create a game in the time allotted. They trace their origins back to March 2002, when game developers Chris Hecker and Sean Barrett hosted what would be called the 0th Indie Game Jam with a small group of developers in Oakland, California, but have now expanded to become a part of a large community of in-person and virtual jams spanning all genres of games.
Itch.io has become a host site for many of these jams, particularly the virtual ones, with almost 190,000 games having been created and submitted to jams across its website. Each individual jam becomes its own community, with forums connected to each jam page to allow individual developers to come together to form teams and trade advice for the creation of their games. In the larger community of itch.io, jams focused on everything from Visual Novels to TTRPGs have been hosted.
While most in-person game jams had been halted due to the pandemic, some are now returning. The Global Game Jam is one of these in-person jams that returned in 2022, hosting 680 jam sites across the globe between Jan. 20-30, 107 of which were completely in-person. Over the years, Global Game Jam had regularly seen thousands of games submitted to their jams, even during the virtual year in 2021, when 6,383 games were submitted under their theme “Lost and Found”, and over 5,800 games were submitted this year under the theme “Duality”.
Beyond the games submitted to these jams, game jams have been something much bigger to the individuals who have participated in them. For some, such as game developer Rob Pigott, the community that they’ve found has been just as important as the creation of the games themselves.
“The biggest things I’ve gained from participating in game jams are hands-on game development skills and genuine friendship,” Pigott wrote of his experiences in the three game jams he’s participated in, “I’ve met a lot of cool, talented people … and some of them I’ve gone on to work with on future projects or became friends with.
“They all helped me become a better developer as I learned how to code, implement assets, and work as a team to deliver something on a deadline.”
Above all, game jams have served as a way for new developers to learn new skills, which is especially important in an industry where previous experience is vital, and yet difficult to gain. Itch.io user ludowoods has seen this both in their experiences in game jams, and as a jam host themselves.
“I was juggling small solo dev work for a while,” they explained. “But I was a project manager for a nearly 20 person team and it was a huge learning experience in gathering a team, appointing leads, and ensuring that the deadlines were approved and discussed by all leads.
“The jam I run (My First Game Jam) is intended to make game development more inclusive as well as accessible, and I can say that a lot of jammers I’ve seen make their first game found a lot of genuine confidence to go on to make more ambitious projects.”