· 6 min read
6 Tips for Running a Game Jam: a Guide from AudioMob
Editors Note: AudioMob, an advertising platform dedicated to non-interrupting audio ads, recently ran their first (of many) game jams. Here’s what they learned from the experience.
As 2020 came to a close, we ran a game jam that encouraged highly creative development teams to explore integrating a new audio ad format into mobile games.
The jam was an amazing experience for us, one in which we learned a lot. Hosting certainly took a significant investment of effort and time. But it was worth it, bringing us and something we’d recommend any game tech, service, or publishing company consider doing. With that in mind, we wanted to share what we learned, in case you were curious about what happens behind the scenes (or were thinking of running one yourself!).
Running a game jam was hugely rewarding, of course. We got to see brilliantly creative teams unleashed on our technology, and we’ve got to help some youthful talent use our jam as part of a move to take their fledgling studios and turn them into true commercial operations.
What we did and why we did it
At AudioMob, we’ve created a technology that lets developers and publishers monetize their mobile games by placing audio ads within them. In short, an alternative to video ads, letting the user play on as they hear about a brand. As such, we asked our teams to explore how audio ads can be integrated or immersed in games in ways that make them feel part of a given title’s gameplay and aesthetic. The results sincerely blew us away, with teams integrating audio ads into games that used a radio dial as a key mechanic, that placed the audio source as an asset in the game-world, or that even playfully subverted the idea of the ‘commercial break’ to provide a way to play while hearing an ad.
And, of course, we must give an enthusiastic hat tip to our brilliant winning team Yup Studios, and their fantastic entry Dirty Drifters. If you want to see the rest of the games, you can check them out here.
The benefits of a jam
So, what did we get from running a jam? There are some obvious gains; the PR value alone likely offset the cost of devoting time, giving us a wealth of content for our own channels and the press. But that certainly wasn’t our prime motivation for running a jam. We wanted to see how creatively minded teams would work with our tech, while gaining working examples that show how AudioMob can be implemented in ways that complement a game’s creative vision. And we certainly got that; our jam absolutely demonstrated the value and potential of what we do.
Beyond that, the jam gave our infrastructure a thorough real-world test. We already had a system and process established for how we sign up large developers and publishers, distribute our plug-in, provide support to fast working teams, and foster a community around our forward journey. But our jam let us test and refine all those things. Running the jam equally thrust us into the same focused working environment as the teams, meaning responding and supporting in real-time as promptly as possible. And supporting the effort via the likes of social media demanded that we created assets and content as rapidly as possible. We’ve also found some game developers that may become customers, evangelists, or both.
How to get your jam right
As with any type of event, you’re going to need to do a lot of prep work. Again, all those things were well underway before the competition took place. But as a tool to level-up our effort, the jam delivered fantastic results.
So, what do you need to do to get the most from a jam, for your entrants, and your own business? Here’s what we suggest.
1. Make it worth entering
This sounds obvious, but be sure to ask yourself why any team would devote time, effort, and resource to your jam. That’s particularly important when teams today have hundreds of jams to choose from each year. We found that giving a jam a highly specific function and theme (in our case audio ads and integration) served to attract the right kind of team, making for a perfect pairing of entrants and aims.
2. Jam’s don’t have to crunch
The classic 24-hour or 48-hour jam format might be what most of us think of when imagining the defining game dev competition, but 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; giving them time to be thoughtful and iterate on their designs. The end result? Better submissions, and more overall gains for all involved.
Although, it really depends on what you’re hoping to achieve, and what the task is.
3. Jams are about focus, not pressure
The longer jam format almost meant our teams could have ‘jam-life balance’; in a year like 2020 in particular, nobody wants a jam impending on work, study, family, friends, health, and more. Ultimately, make it absolutely clear to your teams that you support them in putting other things before the jam. Well-being comes first; reflect this in the rules and plenty of your jam communications.
4. Involve a breadth of your colleagues
Try to get somebody from every department or role at your company involved. That helps provide more complete, exhaustive support for your teams, of course. But it also offers a valuable means to assure that learnings and gains from running a jam dissipate across your organization; and that the jam process has a chance to ‘test’ all those departments.
5. Offer ‘priceless’ prizes
We gave away some cash because we know that will have a tangible impact on fledgling teams. But we also offered prizes such as introductions to publishers and mentoring with industry experts – rewards that go beyond monetary value.
6. Make sure your legal team are on board
Beyond that, you’ll need to treat it like any other business operation; make sure you have watertight rules that legal agree with, be entirely transparent with teams about the process, plan early, and have a clear sense of why you are running a jam.
And don’t forget to enjoy it. Producing and running any event comes with plenty of challenges, but it is so worth overcoming those to be supporting and experiencing the wonderful process that is the creation of games. And that’s a process all of us should have some familiarity with – because, without the making of games, there’d be no games industry at all.