Global Game Jam 2019 Recap
Now that the 2019 Global Game Jam has come and gone, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the game that my friends Ben and Sarah and I made: Decapod Découpage. You can read more about it on my portfolio — that's where the link in the previous sentence goes — or you can play it on itch.io. Rather than talk a lot about the game itself here, though, I figured I'd rather talk about what happened after the Global Game Jam. Or, in other words:
What happens to a tiny indie game after it's been released?
The Lifecycle of a Game Jam Game
Part of the Global Game Jam's requirements is that you upload your game within 48 hours after the game jam kicks off. That requires some diligence and an awful lot of faith in your internet connection. Fortunately, we were rewarded for our faith in both of those qualities, and our game made it up with some time to spare.
After that, we took a much-deserved week off. And since then, every now and then, we'll tackle a few bugs and nice-to-haves that we've been tracking on our GitHub repo's issue tracker.
Those fixes feel good, of course, but after a certain point, I'm left asking myself: what's going to happen to this little game?
So what did people think of it?
Releasing a game — especially a small, free game made during a game jam — is sometimes kind of an anticlimactic experience. Here's this thing you worked really hard on, that took you through creative and emotional peaks and valleys, and now that it's done...what happens? Does anyone even get the chance to see it?
We lucked out with some exposure to our game, which I'm very grateful for. Andy Baio's social news aggregator, belong.io, somehow picked up on our game, and that drove a good amount of traffic to our itch.io page. We also heard from some friends and Twitter folks about the game, which was really cool.
But for me, the most gratifying part of my brief journey with this game was taking to the Portland Indie Game Squad's Global Game Jam showcase event last night. We had at least 50 people come through and play our game, and the feedback was really wonderful to hear. Lots of people loved Sarah's art style, Ben's music, and the expressiveness of our hermit-crab protagonist, and a few people praised the writing and controls as well.
Personally, I was just pleased that we managed to demo something that, despite some tiny bits of polish and bug-fixing, is largely the same as our Global Game Jam submission — and people still had a good time with it.
Also, I can't overstate just how grateful I feel to have an organization like PIGSquad here in Portland. The fact that more than 200 (!) people came to check out everyone's Global Game Jam games was just a really cool and humbling thing. As an indie game maker who doesn't do this full-time (but has always yearned for the day where that becomes feasible), I'm lucky to know lots of other great hobbyist developers, and we chat about the things we're making and the challenges we're solving from that sort of technical, inside-baseball perspective. But to see the audience in-person that supports this work was really affirming for me. I hadn't really felt a sense of community around playing these indie games until yesterday, and so, yeah. I'm just glad I could be a part of that.
One thing I love (and sometimes, if I'm being honest, I also hate) about game jams, just like hackathons or any other fixed-time-limit creative challenges, is that there are no guarantees. You might make something great; you might make something wretched. What matters, though, is what you choose to put into it, and what sort of perspective you bring with you.
Our team made sure to chat before the jam about expectations: what do we want to get out of this? What are our personal goals? What's something new we each want to get a chance to try doing this time around? I think that expectation-setting session was vital to us getting through the grueling parts and shipping something we all felt great about.
It's easy to litigate something you've made and needle it for all the things it's not. For instance: Decapod Découpage doesn't have an ending. It doesn't really have an established notion of progress, either. It's more of just a free space to explore, chill out, and think. It's a lot more like a tiny slice of Animal Crossing or one of my favorite tiny indie games of recent years, Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day at Your Old Apartment. And I got the sense from watching people play our game that we managed to convey that essential experience within the game itself. So, in that regard: mission accomplished.
One last note before I close this out:
If you've never made a game before but always thought it'd be fun, please consider going to a game jam. You don't need to know how to program or draw or animate or what the hell a kanban board is — you just have to bring some inspiration and a willingness to learn by doing. If you're in Portland, I've had really good experiences with the local indie community, and even if you're not near a hub of indie-game makers, itch always has a massive running list of game jams you can hop onto and meet people through.
So yeah! Consider giving it a shot. Games are good, and the more people we have making them, the better off we'll all be.