Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

The creative sparks ignited by Global Game Jam

Game jams both big and small have been a stimulating bucket of creativity for developers everywhere, encouraging creatives to push themselves out of their comfort zone and create a full game in a limited time frame, anything from a day to just a week.

You have independent and charity-focused jams where you create for a good cause, while many companies have seen the benefit of this restrictive challenge to hold internal jams. Titles like Celeste, Superhot, and Goat Simulator can also pinpoint their origins to a particularly inventive game jam idea its developers chose to push into full development.

These events spark creativity, offer a break from longer term projects, provide a chance for newer developers to meet fellow creatives and put together their first title, and potentially set people down the game development path for themselves. They harbor the hobbyist spirit that has existed since the beginning of the industry, and remain crucial in nurturing and encouraging a new generation of developers to enter the industry.

Over the course of the 15 years since the inaugural edition of Global Game Jam was held in 2009, this event has grown to become one of the biggest such events in the world, with the 2023 rendition of the event bringing roughly 40,000 people to 800 locations in 108 countries.

The event once again gathered a new cohort of greenhorn and experienced jammers together to challenge themselves to develop a small game that will ‘Make Them Laugh’ over the course of a single weekend last January.

In its encouragement to include developers of all skill levels and create in-person hubs for developers to meet, one of the greatest benefits of Global Game Jam is its level of accessibility to everyone.

While it may not be the only example of a multinational, large-scale game jam in existence, it certainly is one of the more accessible examples of such an event. Many jams take place online only, often within closed communities, with expectations that participants already possess the skills needed to complete a project. As a result, support may not be readily available if problems arise. The physical presence of Global Game Jam helps people of all levels experience the joys and stresses of a jam together, all while learning new skills.

Hosting the event even outside of typical game development cities and hubs – provided a volunteer is able and willing to host – also encourages a more diverse network.

Even in large cities with a strong development community, these events can be invaluable for developers seeking out a chance to meet and work with their peers, and can cross social and cultural divides that may hold different development groups from meeting in typical circumstances.

This was the case for CJ Hostetter, co-host and founder of the Let’s Games Tokyo branch of Global Game Jam in Roppongi, and one of numerous venues for the event based in Japan’s capital. This was the fifth rendition of the event at the branch, with 39 attendees creating 13 games over the weekend with people from around the world on January 26th-28th.

“I’ve been participating in Global Game Jam since 2013, and when I moved to Japan in 2017, I thought it would be a good idea to join some jam sites and we joined the CRI Shibuya in 2018 and 2019,” explains Hostetter.

Alongside hosting, they worked in a two-person team on Hello World, a bitsy game where you can hang out at a pixel-version of the venue.

“In 2020 my partner and I were looking for a Game Jam site and we saw that CRI said it would be no more, and there were no other nearby sites or they were all at capacity. So I could either not do Global Game Jam or I could host one, and I picked the most high-effort.”

Crucially, this is a multilingual venue, where one of the stated goals is to “build bridges between Japanese and English-speakers to make bilingual game dev a reality,” something at the forefront of the mind of Hostetter and their fellow co-hosts while running the event.

“We aspire to be a 50/50 bilingual site,” they note. “We’re not there yet, we’re like 30% Japanese speaking and 70% English speaking, but about 50% of people are also bilingual. There’s a spectrum of attendees who are English-only and only want to pair with English speakers, Japanese-only and only want to pair with Japanese speakers, and then a middle ground of people with varying language ability.”

Although places like Tokyo Indies exist for indie developers in the city to meet and for people across the language divide to connect and create together, a jam is the most direct place for such people to collaborate directly on creating a game. While not designed as a networking event, a key goal right down to the way the venue organizes its event is encouraging people to branch out and connect both sides of the Tokyo indie scene.

“What we do at our site in particular is, during icebreaking, we assign people cards for different teams, and we make temporary teams,” they explain. “They’re semi-randomly assigned – ahead of time jammers can indicate their risk tolerance, such as saying they’re an English speaker but want to try working with Japanese speakers. We typically pair monolingual speakers to a group, and then everyone with a high risk tolerance we pair up with two people who have a low risk tolerance so they have at least two people who can speak their native language.

“We make these temporary teams and then we say to them, ok, the theme is revealed, pitch your game to us,” they continue. “What’s the hook, what’s interesting about your game, what’s the gameplay going to be like? The teams will pitch it, then we say, well, the exercise is over, if you want to keep the same team, by all means, [but] if you want to switch teams, you switch.”

According to Hostetter, many of the participants keep the same teams, with an encouragement to split from typical friend groups to meet new people and foster an environment where people know they can be safe around others, and can meet and work with new people including those who don’t share a native language.

The results, with over a dozen games from bilingual teams of whom many had not met before working alongside returning jammers, speak for themselves.

In many ways, hosting Global Game Jam in an environment like this feels like the greatest affirmation of the event’s overall goals. Speaking to in 2019, event co-founder Gorm Lai noted that the event “genuinely intents on bringing developers closer worldwide.” The aim is also to foster an ultimately-global jam community that can keep in touch on platforms like Slack so they already feel a part of a community when attending events like GDC.

Especially in an event like this Tokyo incarnation, with a city including many solo indie devs and international devs moving to the country without a network of peers, a chance to meet and make games with other people can make the development process feel less lonely, foster friendships, and ideas.

It’s an event with broader benefits beyond networking, too. In Newcastle, a branch of Global Game Jam is held at Northumbria University, where the event has broad educational benefits even without directly tying itself to the curriculum of games development or computer science degree programs at the university.

Indeed, although host and Northumbria University lecturer John Rooksby doesn’t want it to feel like a lecture, the event offers a chance for students to use skills learned with engines in class, try new engines, and get into the process of developing a full game from start to finish for what will be the first time for many involved.

“I think the main thing that students get out of the event is self-efficacy and belief that they’re able to start on something and, assuming they do actually complete it, are able to put something together even if it is quite simple,” explains Rooksby, a computer science lecturer at Northumbria University specializing in digital health, human-computer interaction and web development, and software engineering.

He founded the university’s rendition of the event in 2019 shortly after joining, as both a first-time host and participant encouraging students, alumni, and people not affiliated with the university to take part. While participant numbers have varied over the years, roughly 20 people participated in the most recent 2024 edition during the final weekend on January.

The unique setting gives the students a chance to apply lessons into a practical setting, while others take the chance to try something new.

“For our game programming classes we teach Unreal, but at the Game Jam, a lot of students like to use Unity,” he explains. “Some like to take it as an opportunity to apply the skills they’ve learned with one thing and work with something else they also want to familiarize with, using their transferable skills. We don’t want to end up in a situation where we’re ‘teaching’ the Game Jam and what to do, or instructing them what to do, but it always ends up quite interesting to see what the students come up with. We use Java for students beginning to get into programming and a few years ago we had one team using that, but we’ve had students use Phaser which we don’t teach at all, and we’ve had some come and do board games.”

Once again, it’s also a chance for the students to integrate and interact with the development community in a city home to numerous studios of all sizes like Ubisoft Reflections.

“Last year we had a talk by a games company before the Jam itself kicked off and they provided some goodie bags for anyone who participated, with baseball caps and some literature. We’ve had a few companies come and drop off literature, say hello then vanish, which is always positive.”

Ultimately, the environments fostered by these hosts are a benefit to those who do ultimately participate. Whether they’re independent developers or employees at a larger company, the benefits of stepping away temporarily from a larger project for a chance to work on something smaller and feel accomplished with its completion is refreshing and exciting.

Ryan Mandseth, a 3D tech artist and animator based in Tokyo, notes the benefits in having a space to step into something new in between working on larger projects for their employers.

While far from his first game jam, having participated in such events ever since he was a junior in Edmonton, Canada before moving to Tokyo, he participated in a larger team of creatives assisting with art for their game, Thief King Showtime.

“I wish so dearly that more companies had a bit more money to throw at creative endeavors like this,” he sighs as we talk about his experience with the event. “I wish companies had more money to throw at their devs in general, but I remember something I read years ago where companies like Riot would just do a jam for their employees, where they’d just stop working for a while and let people make something stupid, goofy, or creative. These companies sometimes pull ideas for side projects from these, but also it refreshes people, it gets them to experiment and play in a way that the daily grind doesn’t get to do.”

He notes that across most teams at the Lets Games Tokyo venue there were numerous first-time devs and multilingual teammates, but it encouraged further communication even if it took an extra step and brought large groups together. More importantly, it was a chance to create and meet new people, challenge them to make something new, and feel proud of the final product.

“What I get a lot out of Global Game Jam is that my communication skills are now through the roof!” Hostetter exclaims as they speak about the joy of being involved in the event over the past decade.

“I guess that’s kind of a brag, but what I mean is that I’ve met so many people through this event, and some of them are incredible, impressive communicators that are very good at saying what they want and what they’re expecting out of me, then I’ve met people who are not so great at communication or are neurodivergent. I realize from meeting so many different people with so many different ways of thinking and processing things that if I have a bad first interaction, I don’t sweat it until the second or third time. We’re all nerdy, we all mess up social interactions. It’s a huge shift that’s also changed a lot of my own personal relationships in my life.”

For hosts, for participants, for everyone involved in this yearly tradition, it truly is a Global Game Jam. Any team creating something in such a short span of time will have regrets because the time from idea to implementation and experimentation is short and you always want to do one more thing. Mandseth admits that his team benefited from the Warioware-style structure of his team’s game, as it allowed them the time-saving opportunity to avoid refining to perfection every new mechanic provided it didn’t break the game.

Yet even factoring this in, Mandseth expressed regret at not being able to include even more gameplay in the finished title. Initially, there were plans to reuse content from the rest of the game alongside new ideas to act as an introductory area introducing the game to players, an idea scrapped due to time constraints.

But as he looks back on the experience, he immensely enjoyed the overall experience. To him, the event remains satisfying no matter the result. It’s a chance to create and meet people from everywhere, forcing joy from the constraints to something that everyone can be proud of.

“When everyone asked how it went I told them afterwards that I’m so glad I went to Global Game Jam,” admits Mandseth. “What I regret is not taking Monday off, because I did not get to rest!”

Popular Articles