Background and inspiration
One of my colleagues came up with an idea to have the teams actually release their games on the App Store at the end of the Game Jam. Instead of doing our usual monthly Game Jam, we decided to invest into an amazing four days of Game Jamming.
What better way the measure the outcome of these games than actual customer feedback, and willingness to play the games.
We called it Super Duper Game Jam. (Normally, a Game Jam is 24-48 hours, but to release a working game, additional time is required.)
*(If you’re not familiar with Game Jams, I recommend reading the article about Game Jam on Wikipedia)
Participation was as usual voluntary. We engineered end to end teams to ensure that each team had equal opportunity to release great games. Each team of max. seven members had programmers, game artists, testers, data scientists and marketing. Finally, each team also had a marketing budget of $120 that they could spend as they saw fit.
It was then decided to measure the outcome based on:
- Number of downloads
- Five-day retention
- Google app store review score
One last thing is the “theme”. If you give teams unlimited options, there is a lot of time spent on finding out what to do. By having a simple theme, such as “innovative card game” or “match three puzzle game” it’s much easier to focus, and teams quickly find a direction. Since I’ve done both the unlimited option and themed Game Jams, you get better results with the later.
The outcome was totally astonishing. The energy, creativity, commitment and motivation was through the roof. Some people worked until late in the night, while others stayed the whole night. Since the company is Agile, all teams understood the importance of using the MVP concept (minimum viable product) and keeping things simple. Fun, innovative games were developed, and beautiful marketing materials were designed.
All this resulted in five released products in four days. Three of these were single player games, one multiplayer, and one proof of concept for an entirely new market that the company may potentially enter.
Personally, I think there is one even greater outcome than the once stated above. During the Game Jam, each team member had to learn (or at least understand large parts of) the entire cycle of game development. Here are examples of questions everyone had to understand:
- How do I plan my work for a four-day product development cycle?
- How do I make sure not to put too much work into the wrong thing?
- How to keep quality just right?
- What will make our players come back to the game after five days?
- What is the best way to spend marketing money?
There are many additional questions, my point is that we probably learned more about our craft during these days than any training could have possibly offered.
These are my biggest takeaways from our Super Duper Game Jam.
The power of true autonomy: If you’ve heard Dan Pink talk about what motivates us, you know many studies show that autonomy is one important pillar to high motivation. During a Game Jam, teams experience true autonomy where no one tells anyone what to do. Teams are faced with a complex problem to solve as they see fit.
The learning is that it works, people were super motivated and committed to create great products. People were working all night, selling their product internally, and loudly letting everyone know how great it’s going to be.
The plan was to close the Game Jam at four on Friday afternoon. At three people were asking me to prolong the Game Jam. When I proposed we could work until six, everyone was super happy and suggested that eight was an even better option. Imagine that, people asking for longer working hours. I Just need to figure out how to achieve this during regular production.
The efficiency of rapid Prototyping: When faced with a complex challenge as developing and releasing a game in four days, rapid prototyping is your best friend. All our teams have taken the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) concept to heart, and used it extendedly to deliver on time during the Game Jam.
The key here is not to work too long with anything. Work a little → evaluate → learn –> do it all over. With this work style, you’ll improve upon the product in small increments. You can adjust immediately as soon as you learn an increment is heading into the wrong direction. Hopefully, you will soon reach a releasable version. Then just make it better and better until the moment you must release it. This provides the safety of knowing we can release at any time and focus on improvements, instead of stressing over meeting the deadline.
We measured outcome on three factors: downloads, review score and five-day retention. Number of downloads and review score is easy to measure. Retention however is not as easy. My mistake was not to properly define retention. Is five-day retention when someone starts your game every day or just once on day five? Is retention when the game is opened or when an actual game is played? These and many other factors were not properly considered.
My advice, set up clear rules for how you’re measuring the data. Get help from a data scientist if you can, and try to keep it simple if possible.
Our Super Duper Game Jam was an incredible experience. From the energy, commitment, learnings, to the outcome are all astonishing. Many of my colleagues were amazed by the performance, and wanted to understand how to translate that output into regular production.
I guess that that is the next thing to figure out. How do we create a work environment where creative people can flourish? An environment where highly motivated people create great products. How can we tap into the energy of a Game Jam?