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Thoughts on game jams after Galway Game Jam 19

I was recently asked to provide a blurb about the event, which lead me to write a bit too much. So, I thought I would drop my thoughts on game jams here on my blog in case anyone else was interested.

Galway Game Jam 19 – “Wild” / “Wild Galway” – hybrid jam

At Galway Game Jam 19, we ran a hybrid game-making event – the first time we’ve had one since January 2020. We also had another first – a collaboration with Ardán and CREW. This is the first time Galway Game Jam has gained any external interest from local screen industry organisations, in nearly a decade of jams, so we hope this experience will be the first of many. Our game jam went very well, with excited jammers delighted to be jamming in-person again (and some for the first time).

Game jam normally have a theme or limitation. This time we had two. The official theme “Wild” and the Ardán theme “Wild Galway”. Participants could decide which theme they wanted to follow, and choosing the Ardán theme would also put their game concept forward to the Wild Galway Games Initiative. This initiative has interesting potential for the collaboration between game developers and Ardán to create an experience that will positively affect tourism in Galway. I am excited to see how this initiative progresses and would love to see more things like this.

The hybrid setup worked out nicely thanks to the PorterShed at Bowling Green for the venue. We had jammers in the venue and jammers participating remotely throughout the two days of the event. Ardán helped us by providing novelty donus from Dungeon’s and Donuts – our favourite game store donut shop. Our jammer showcase brought our remote participants into the room via a large screen, which each team used to present their games at the end of the jam. We live-streamed this to our Galway Game Jam twitch channel so all the remote jammers could participate be included.

The Magic of Game Jams

Game jams are short, focused game-making events. It is an opportunity for you to be creative, connect with people, and collaborate with people.

Game jams challenge us to create a game, generally to a theme or creative limitation, within a given deadline. The duration of game jams can vary from hours to weeks.

During a game jam event, there is a shared sense of purpose – a shared journey through the creative process from start to finish. This experience builds a sense of community, encouragement and a spirit of cooperation.

Game jams are informal learning opportunities – a low-stakes environment to experiment with a rapid turnover time. The work you do at a game jam, and the results of it, are added to your skillset and portfolio. You can use what you have learned in your next project. Often such learnings can apply in professional contexts or further individual creative efforts. You can learn what is possible for you to achieve in a short time. You can experience what it is like working with other people in a creative situation. You can experiment, work with different tools or try out different roles on a team.

Game jams are personal challenges. You can make a tiny game or prototype in only a few dedicated hours. You can test what you are capable of achieving.

The outcomes of a game jam are often little unpolished prototypes with potential. The games made at game jams and the experiences of collaborating, can be used by their teams to decide if they will work together on other projects, or even to pursue the development of their game jam demo into a full game release. Spooky Doorway and their Darkside Detective game series are a shining example of this process at work. I had the recent pleasure of hearing that a 3D artist and game design graduate who attended the last three Galway Game Jams has been hired by Spooky Doorway. In just under a decade of Galway Game Jam we can see how important it is to keep supporting our local game development communities.

For many game development professionals, their first experience of game development starts at a game jam. Game jams are these special pockets of creative effort and community that give us humans a lot of what we look for in life. Making this experience something fun, welcoming and inclusive is what drives me to keep them going.

What can be done to improve the local and national game industry?

There could be many more such success stories if there were game development prototype grants available from the Irish Government. We could look to similar grants in France, Canada, or UK and see how that has affected their game industry. Though the game industry is different, we could even look to other media sectors within Ireland as examples.

While the recent game development tax credit is an excellent addition to Ireland’s game industry business landscape, this mostly suits established businesses (of which there are a few). Anecdotally, there are many individuals and teams currently operating in Ireland who, for their first game, depend on using their spare time to develop their computer games while holding down a day job. For actual research on this you can look to Dr. Aphra Kerr’s published works.

A simple prototype grant could have huge potential to grow the national game development industry from a grassroots level. We cannot rely on individuals spare time projects gaining world-wide recognition. We need to support people, give them a funded runway to take their game idea and develop a project – without having to fear paying rent casting doubt on their ambitions. If Ireland wants to compete in the global game industry, it needs to offer these supports that pay for people’s time. Our national third level education system will continue to produce high quality talent only to watch as they leave Ireland in order to find work, instead of becoming part of a growing industry in Ireland.

Whenever a game development or prototype grant gets rolled out in Ireland, game jammers will be ready to take the next step into the industry!

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