Author: Christian Facey, Founder & CEO, AudioMob
Game jams are a brilliant idea - as a creative exercise, they’re hard to beat.
Giving developers a theme, a limited time frame, and freeing them up from the pressure of release-quality polish is a fantastic way to provide a space where interesting ideas can flourish.
But as it happens, game jams can bring a great many more gains than that - including valuable learnings we’ll share below.
Here at AudioMob, we recently hosted our own game jam, and we sincerely were impressed by all of the teams that entered games. The winning game - Yup Studios’ Dirty Drifters - is packed with smart ideas, and well worth checking out.
We’d asked teams to explore how audio ads can be integrated or immersed into game designs, all without interrupting players, or demanding the creative vision for a game. We hoped we’d see games that made audio ads part of a game’s creative and commercial potential, and that’s absolutely what we got.
Why did we host a game jam? We’ll, there are a lot of reasons. Primarily, we wanted to see what creative and independently minded game makers would do with our tech, while seeing diverse working examples of the different ways AudioMob can be a positive part of games; examples that can inform how we better serve developers going forward.
Of course, we also got fascinating content to share and write about - across our social media, blog, PR efforts, and posts exactly like the one you read now. We also wanted to grow our contact pool by connecting with an ever more diverse range of game companies.
As it turned out, we got those gains and a great deal more.
GAINING BY DOING
AudioMob might have come a long way in the past 12 months - we’ve seen our tech power high profile mobile releases like Big Brother: The Game, and deliver striking results to already popular brands.
And yet hosting the jam furthered our understanding of a great many parts of our business; how we sign up developers and distribute our plug-in, the way we structure our support for studios working with our technology, how we more meaningfully serve our community through platforms like Discord (which you’re welcome to join).
We had all those things well underway, of course. But the jam let us refine what we offer, and how we support an ever more varied range of studios.
Jams are certainly hard work - and that’s perhaps particularly true in the socially distanced year that is 2020, where we had to maintain so much online presence to support and serve our teams without being in the same room. Jams take a huge organisational effort, can consume many hours, and need tight and carefully planned structures. They can absolutely test your strength of character when, with 24 hours to go, you still have no idea if and when you’ll actually see any functioning games - and what those games might be like.
But in the end, all that effort is worth it; and not just because of the directly useful gains. Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, we’ve never met our teams - but they all did an amazing job, and they really do now feel like part of the AudioMob family. It seems impossible we’ve only been in contact a few weeks. They are core members of our community, we’re so grateful for the effort, energy and enthusiasm they put in, and they made amazing games. It might not be a direct business gain, but running a game is tremendously rewarding and encouraging, and we really hope to support and encourage our teams going forward - because many are sticking at further developing their games, and we want to see them succeed.
NEW JAMS FOR A NEW ERA
A jam is worth nothing if the teams don’t get direct gains. Certainly, the experience of making a game is always an education, and our developers also got to explore a new monetising approach and technology as fairly early adopters, and with full support from our team. We made sure the judges came from a variety of perspectives, and we provided feedback to all the game makers, straight from those judges. And, of course, there were the prizes.
But what does a jam need to be a success for participants and hosts? Here’s some key learnings from our experience.
- Jam’s don’t have to be highly compact anymore. While the 24-hour or 48-hour jam might be the most famed format, we made ours almost a month long, making sure we didn’t replicate or encourage crunch. That meant a more lengthy support commitment from us, but it also took the pressure off our teams; and let entrants and hosts be more thoughtful; we had time to support our teams meaningfully, rather than scramble to fix problems.
- Don’t put too much pressure on your teams. Another gain of running a longer jam meant that our teams could have ‘jam-life balance’; fitting their jamming comfortably around work, study, family, friends, health and more. And at a period when locally the impact of COVID-19 had a renewed presence, that was more important than ever. Importantly, make it very clear to your teams that you support them in putting other things before the jam. Wellbeing is everything; reflect this in the rules and plenty of your jam communications.
- Involve people from across your company. Whether in managing and organising the jam, supporting the teams or judging, try to get somebody from every department involved. It means more complete, exhaustive support for your teams, of course, but it is also an important way to make sure learnings and gains from running a jam dissipate across your organisation; and that the jam process has a chance to ‘test’ all those departments.
- Offer meaningful prizes. We gave away cash, and we’re sure that will help our teams further develop their games. But we also included things like introductions to publishers; help that should really mean your winners can accelerate their journey as game makers - be it as individuals or studios.
There’s plenty more advice - you need thorough and legally watertight rules, you should brace for sinking a lot of hours into managing a jam, and you need to pick a theme that compliments your aims for the jam. Decide on the scale of the jam you want well in advance; do you want a small number of teams you work with closely, or hundreds you hardly have contact with? We’d say that while large scale was tempting, we feel we likely got a great deal more from a personal, friendly jam.
We’ll leave it at that for now. Reach out to us if you want to learn more about running a jam - or to be introduced to the teams, or to learn about AudioMob.
One last tremendous and heartfelt thanks to all our teams. We really hope to see them all succeed in the game industry - because they deserve to.
And we hope to see you run a game jam yourself soon. If so, let us know!