Global Game Jam: 10 reasons to participate

Every year, at the end of January thousands nerds around the world will meet to participate in the extraordinary event. Global Game Jam is a truly global gathering focused on game creation. PC games, mobile games, any games. Every gamer, who has ever dreamed to develop their own game, should go to, sign up, find a site and start a party on Friday evening. Forty-eight hours later the world will welcome a shining new game that everyone can play.

If you have any doubts if this is for you, read the following reasons to participate in GGJ:

global game jam
Splash screen from the game we made on KrakJam 2015

1. You create a real game!

The most important element of this event. On Friday afternoon across every time zone, a theme is published. Some of the themes from previous years include:

Themes are always general and encourage interpretation, sparking the creativity needed for fast and intense work. Firstly, we do some brainstorming within the groups before writing down basic mechanics and outlining the game before finally starting production. Graphic designers are composing, coders are coding and writers are writing the script (if one is needed). The work continues and, before anybody notices, the deadline is over and you need to upload compiled game to the server. Congratulations, you have just created a real game!

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Game on during KrakJam

2. It’s an event for nerds like you

Most people on a Friday afternoon go to reset their minds at a pub. Nerds on a Friday afternoon are resetting their computers so they can enter a tavern in Witcher 3 with clean RAM. Everyone does what they like. Bear in mind that the Global Game Jam is for nerds like these. I’m an avid gamer, who explores the infinite possibilities of virtual worlds. Besides I’m watching the Developer Diaries, I learn from The Art of Game Design, check the industry reports in Poland and in the world, read ludology articles and participate in conferences like GDC. Thing is, it’s not enough just to play games, you need to be vividly interested in game development. During the year, there are plenty of other events focused on other aspects of the video game world.

  1. Play upcoming games at GamesCom, E3 or TGS.
  2. Cosplay and present yourself on any anime, comic, game convent around the world – ComicCon, EuroCon, Comiket.
  3. Listen to the great lectures about game dev on Digital Dragons or GDC.
  4. Go to live concerts with music from video games.
  5. Find a local gamer gathering on
global game jam

3. No experience or educational qualification is needed

Jams session are an improvised music experience, one in which everybody plays an instrument. However, the best aspect of playing with other people is when you are able to create harmony. Following the music analogy, most rock stars are guided with this phrase:

Fake it, till you make it

The same is with GGJ. It’s not important if you are a noob or that you started playing yesterday. It doesn’t mean anything if you have four bachelor’s degrees, a doctorate and three books published. Everybody meets on equal terms in the same location, one in which improvisation skills and eagerness to create game are needed. Answers for the following questions will be helpful, to understand what does it mean:

  • Do I need to have coding skills to participate in GGJ? No.
  • Do I need to have graphics skills to participate in GGJ? No.
  • Do I need to have music skills to participate in GGJ? No.
  • Do I need to have writing skills to participate in GGJ? No.
  • Do I need to have any skills to participate in GGJ? No.

It’s enough to feel the rhythm, just like a music lover who participates in a jam session for the first time. Play basic sounds on a drum and at the end of a day, you can play solo on the scene. GGJ works the same way. If you are able to feel what it is going on in a game, then this is enough to create a game of your own. Start with pen and paper, these are the best tools to draw the rules, construct the mechanics and playtest the prototype. It’s worth mentioning that you can create a paper-based game. Here are the GGJ rules to create a board, card and other non-electric games.

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My team on Global Game Jam 2014 in Perth, Australia

4. You can participate in any place on Earth

Every year the list of participating locations is increasing. Those are hundreds of campuses, universities, companies, institutions, social clubs and private homes that are turned into creativity workshops, and the best thing is that you can participate in any one of them.

I know, because in 2014 I went to Perth, Western Australia. I found the event on the GGJ locations, wrote to the organizer and, after I had received confirmation, joined the event. I’ve had doubts about my legal status, and whether it’s possible to participate on my travel visa? Would it be considered as (voluntary) work? Anthony, the organizer, helped me with this issue and gave me this reply: Global Game Jam is like going to a music club overseas. It’s not a job and it’s not specially regulated by local law.

Every year I try to get to new places and develop an original project with local game nerds. Until now, it was:

  1. GGJ 2013 in Krakow, Poland.
  2. GGJ 2014 in Perth, Australia.
  3. GGJ 2015 in Krakow, Poland.
  4. GGJ 2016 in Poznan, Poland.
  5. GGJ 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.
  6. GGJ 2018 in Sydney, Australia.
  7. GGJ 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Keep in mind that I’m not an expert in international laws. Your visa in a specific country can constrain you from some activities. Consult organizers and local government to be sure, what is allowed.

global game jam
This is Reunion Island (part of France), where GGJ is also organized | Vicente Villamón (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If nothing is limiting your participation, you can buy a plane ticket even now and join one of many locations in the world.

Video game rock star | © Double Fine

5. Meet people (from the industry)

Most games in the world are created by teams. Even when some series are signed with names like Sid Meier, Will Wright, Tim Schafer, the production behind the game itself involves tens or hundreds of talented artists and coders. GGJ is nothing other than indie game development, and you should do it with a team. Ask your friends around or, like me, go with the flow.

I remember when, in winter 2013, the employees of Polish State Railways (PKP) were protesting and I couldn’t make it to Warsaw to participate in GGJ. I’ve managed to take a bus to Krakow, where I joined KrakJam. There I met Bartek and Michał, two programmers, who coded our game HeartBit. The same thing happened when I flew to Australia, I didn’t know anybody there except the organizer. Anthony needed some help with the tables and cables, so I volunteered. There were so many of us that we were able to do all the work in an hour. We needed to do something before the jam started, so we grabbed the Munchkin card game and we had plenty of laughs. After this gameplay session, I knew who I wanted to work with.

Quite often, professionals participate in the jam. For them, jams offer an opportunity to get some fresh air and put the commercial projects away for while. This is going “back to the roots” and having pure fun while creating a game. At the same time, jams offer a perfect occasion for people looking for a job in game dev. Cooperation in the jam creates bonds and, like in every industry, helps people to find their dream job.

global game jam
Surgeon Simulator is one of the GGJ projects that became a commercial success

6. Your game can be a hit

It’s not important if your team is assembled with game amateurs or game dev veterans, the chances to create something original and awesome are the same. The remarkable thing with games is that there are no strict rules telling you that the hit game needs to be like Call of Duty, Need for Speed or Angry Birds. The indie games phenomenon proves, that bold ideas can be a hit.

All games created during the GGJ need to be uploaded to the public server and they are licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0:

You are free to

  • Share, copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt, remix, transform, and build upon existing material
  • The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

Under the following terms

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if any changes have been made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
  • NonCommercial — You may not use the material for commercial purposes.
  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original material.
  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.

The organizer, the Global Game Jam, Inc. holds the rights to promote the event with materials from all uploaded games. Nevertheless, authors retain the copyright and they are able to do whatever they want with the project. After the jam, they can decide to continue the work and release a commercial edition. Digital distribution, common devices to play, and low production costs are the reasons that many teams can achieve commercial success. The most renowned example is Surgeon Simulator 2013, created to the heartbeat sound theme and bought by over 2 million gamers.

Another nice example is Super Time Force. CEO of Capy, have told about this project on one of the GDC.

The list of all awarded and published GGJ games.

global game jam
We are the champions! KrakJam 2015

7. Check if this is for you

Every true gamer has this dream of creating his/hers own production. When you start to dig into the game developing details, you soon realize how big and complex process it is. Of course, the biggest games are produced over a number of years, cost over 500 million USD and involve hundreds of specialists. However, this is the level required for people working in game dev on regular basis, and who are willing to create the biggest titles on the market. One of the points of GGJ is to test yourself as a developer:

  1. Cooperate with others to settle on one idea for a game, based on a theme.
  2. Draw the prototype on paper and test it.
  3. Choose priorities with team and divide tasks for coders, graphics etc.
  4. Create a playable version for testing.
  5. Improve and test.
  6. Eat pizza.
  7. Implement graphics, music and sound.
  8. Look for bugs that crash the game from the very beginning.
  9. Panic! There is only one hour to the deadline.
  10. Compile the playable version up to the very second before files are uploaded to the server.
  11. Eat pizza and present the game to other jammers.

Forty-eight hours is enough time to create a playable prototype and show your bold game idea in action. If players like it and your team want to continue, you should try and make a commercial version. On the other hand, this weekend experiment shows exactly how game dev looks on a daily basis. Deadly deadlines, tuned optimizations, arduous debugging, countless iterations and moreover the ruthless economy rules and lurking competition is a standard in the industry. One thing is sure, after the jam, you will either hate it or love it. As an active gamer, you will appreciate more the hard work of devs. If you continue to produce your own games, I wish you all the best! There are many niches, waiting for great titles.

Concepts from Mad House – game we did in Australia

8. An important global scale event

The first edition was organized in 2009, where 1650 people participated. Every year more and more gamers join and the numbers go up to tens of thousands. Sponsorship and loads of free tools and assets from big companies like Unreal, Unity, Intel or GitHub is a key factor. Often a big streaming platform like Twitch or Mixer is also participating so you can see live how the rapid game creation looks like.

At the end of January, social media and Twitter especially will turn their colours to violet with the official hashtag #GGJ and #GGJ + two digits of the current year i.e. #GGJ19. The more crazy and original idea a game has, the more gamers it is likely to interest. Also, projects in their development phase who are already gathering followers have a greater chance of success. Once developers are looking for funds the Global Game Jam media buzz can be helpful.

global game jam
It’s for free! | © Penny Arcade

9. This is for free

A true gamer invests money in games and hardware. Indie dev beginners invest their time. Money only appears when the project is commercially successful, and Global Game Jam is no different. Local site organizers are dev studios, universities and non-profits who bring gamer communities together. They handle the place, permits, power and heating, as well as the phone number for the best local pizza restaurant. Participants just need to sign up, choose the site and turn up, though sometimes organizers will ask a sign-up fee to pay for the above costs.

In my experience, most sites are fee-free. However, even if a small administration fee is needed it pales in comparison to the satisfaction of game creation, which is tremendous. Also, it’s worth asking organizers about the food supply in advance. Usually, they order meals or prepare some snacks for everybody. My personal recommendation is to buy a massive pack of trail mix; nuts and dried fruits are nutritious, and good for a tired body.

global game jam
Me, Michał and Bartek – team behind Heartbit

10. It’s pure fun

GGJ is not a tournament. It doesn’t count if you created the best-looking game or if you had the most outrageous game concept of all. It’s about creative collaboration. It’s a weekend experiment, designed to show that not only playing games is fun, but game developing is too, it’s an adventure full of challenges, obstacles, unexpected twists and packs an awesome grand finale when your game is published.

Do not hesitate, pack up your computer and head out to GGJ. After you finish, tweet me a link @nerdontour, so I can check your masterpiece for myself.

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