The Importance of Game Jams
Recently I had the chance to participate in Ludum Dare 21, a weekend event comprised of a solo-only 48 hour competition and a more relaxed 72 hour jam. Aside from it being an altogether amazing experience, with an astounding 599 games submitted, it got me to think about the importance of Game Jams at an individual level in this constantly-evolving, volatile industry. After a fortnight of reflection, I've come to an powerful conclusion: Game Jams are the best practice for Game Dev. Period.Hard Skills
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of jamming is the practice you ensure on your hard skills. It's 48 hours of focused practice. Not all of it is actual development time (especially if you take time to sleep), but the entire weekend you're thinking about game development. Thinking about how to program new features, or how to speed up your art production. Even if you don't finish the game on time, it's not hard to see how it can improve your skills. Even if you only learn to write one new function, or one new shader, you've improved upon your skillset, and now you have a (hopefully) cool prototype to continue building on.
Speaking of Prototyping
What better place to prototype new tech or gameplay ideas than in a game jam? If it's proprietary or you're otherwise not comfortable releasing it, don't. But now you've got a gameplay prototype to take to your company, or client, and say "Look at how cool this is. Let's build upon it for our next game."
We're all part of a living, breathing, rapidly evolving industry. A creative industry. Producers, programmers, designers, artists, audio -- everyone has to be creative and contribute to the development process. Unfortunately, practicing creativity is a counter-intuitive concept. How are you supposed to practice being creative? Easy. You practice it the same way that dancers practice it; the same way writers practice it; the same way directors practice it. Just do it. It's easy to set out on a project with all intention to create something innovative and new, then be completely distraught when it's no fun, or unreasonable to try to finish, or just not as innovative as you thought it would be. But that's cool. Because you've only spent a weekend on it. Imagine now if you made a game every weekend for a year, getting slightly more creative with each one. You'd have 52 games made! Not all of them would be all-star quality (or fun at all), but if you take all of those same thought patterns and experiences and apply them to larger projects...
Cool new stuff
If you don't have a particularly good reason to game jam, maybe you don't need one. Why not take the opportunity to check out a piece of new technology you've been looking at? There are dozens of freely (or cheaply) available engines out there -- why not take the opportunity to learn one? Sure, you might not have time to learn UDK or CryEngine, but maybe try out Cocos2D with a simple iOS game. Or Game Maker for good measure (this is an awesome hobby game dev tool). Hell, pick up LOVE2D and learn Lua, or flashbuilder and learn flash, or write a native game on Android 'cause it's cool.
You won't regret it. Ludum Dare 22 is in December, I hope to see you there.