There are plenty of game jams and contests out there, lasting from 10 hours to a month, or even longer. Some require nothing more than what you already have (a computer with tools to work with, and internet connection), while others require you to be physically present.
Ludum Dare is among the most popular and best known. It happens worldwide, is held consistently every 4 months, and there are no special requirements beside the will to commit yourself to participation.
Two events are happening simultaneously, the compo (single dev, 48 hours, strict rules) and the jam (single or team, 72 hours, relaxed rules). For more info check out Ludum Dare’s Rules and Guide
If you have been pondering participation for a while now or if you shy away from it; and especially if you’re new to game development – the following list is for you. And even if you participated before maybe you just get an idea for a new approach.
1. The community is awesome.
You wont find disgruntled gamers here hating your game, feature or random bugs. It’s a safe place for new developers to test the waters and get feedback from people who understand how hard game dev can be (especially when done in less than 72 hours with little sleep).
The community is also very lively and you don’t have to try too hard to get your game some attention.
2. Ludum Dare encourages feedback
I haven’t participated in too many jams/competitions, but out of those that I did – Ludum Dare is the only one actually encouraging feedback giving. The way the voting works and how games are ranked through out the voting period (which lasts a month); it ensures that everyone who takes the time to play and vote on roughly 20 games gets an equal amount of votes back (and often much more than that).
My experience is that roughly 60% of users leave comments alongside their votes, and while many of these are congratulatory high-fives you will get enough feedback to understand what exactly went wrong with your game and what were its strongest points.
3. Exercise your time management skills…
This is true of all the jams/competitions. You get a strictly defined amount of time and you have to spend it smart in realizing your project. Short jams like Ludum Dare shine here, because if you fail to complete the project the loss is insignificant (unless you let it hit your ego). It was just 2-3 days and you learned a lot about yourself and various flaws in your approach.
4. …And exercise your improvisation skills
Improvisation and compromise are friends of any creative endeavor; but due to the extremely fast paced nature of game jams they become your best friends. Planning is all nice and well, but a little creative improvisation keeps you and your project flexible, and is a skill worth developing anyway. You will want to cut corners where ever possible just to make it in time. This is especially useful for people (like me) that love to get hung up on details.
5. You’ll get a working tested prototype
This is my favorite thing about Ludum Dare. It lets you test run that idea you’ve been pondering for a while now and see exactly how viable it is. Not too long ago I really wanted to make this complicated non-standard dating sim with meaningful choices dictating the play. For Ludum Dare Gabriel and I made One Outcome – a short dying experience. This was more of a way for us to test how the development of something dialog-rich would go, rather than test an idea with the players; and how to integrate Chat mapper files with Unity.
The game was made with relative ease, but the testing of it was among the most annoying fun-sucking things I did in my life.
I did proceed with the dating sim anyway, and eventually ended dropping it a few months later, as all the dialog just gets too tangled. I didn’t enjoy testing any of it, not one bit.
6. You can push yourself well outside of your comfort zone
Try something different. Never made a SHMUP before? Why not try now, it’s only 2-3 days worth of effort and you might even like it.
But aside trying something different, the strict deadline will most likely push you well outside of your comfort working zone. You’ll be astounded at how much progress you can make in just a couple of days. Just don’t delude yourself. You can’t keep up that exact rhythm for long, no matter how passionate you are about a project (and you shouldn’t anyway!). But you can create a lot of what you might have thought implausible before.
When you step outside of your lizard-brain dictated comfort zone, good things happen. It’s a worthy practice to incorporate in your every-day life anyway, and Ludum Dare is a great place to start.
7. Case study: Yourself
You can learn a lot about yourself through the process and especially how good of a game designer you are. You will asses your skill level better and gain valuable information on any future game you make.
I found out I’m really good at creating atmosphere, but that my design skills, while thoughtful in some places still need a lot of work. Also it seems that my idea of fun is not really fun to the majority, but I sort of suspected that 🙂
Especially if you haven’t been into games development for too long, you will move one step forward to setting better deadlines for yourself. No more “I’ll make a feature rich MMO in a year” nonsense.
At the very least you might learn that game jams are just not your thing.