Global Game Jam 2012 : It’s a weird thing

It is weird how much creativity people can pack in together in a short time at a game jam, compared with the productivity obtained generally in the video game industry.

IGAD hosted a GGJ event for the first time last weekend with other ninety participants and 17 teams. I had a great time overall (although I found it immensely challenging this year – perhaps it was the pressure of not wanting to fall on my face in front of my students… and of course my colleagues. It might be wiser for me to go to a different location next year).

Our team came third with this game, although apparently it is not a competition (even though there is judging). In second place was Sophie in the Sky, and first place went deservedly to The Small Bang Theory, a team of first year IGAD programmers who had no artists and yet produced a very polished and complete game! In any case, such a jam is not about proving something to each other, it  is about just saying “hey, who cares how it goes, lets try and make something”, and everyone who took part should be proud of themselves. It is clearly important, however, to have even a token judging in my opinion, because without this the event would have no bite. It would be like a curry with no spice.

One external judge seemed blown away by the comparison of the productivity between a bunch of what could be characterised as “amateurs” and  his own professional staff. And indeed, having also worked in the industry office environment, I know what he means. Sure the crunch of a game jam, if you are intent on delivering a recognizable working game in two days, is quite intense and very similar to the crunch time of a professional project – only shorter. The difference is that you know it is going to end, and so the motivation to be productive is high and the carrot of being able to relax soon is motivational. In the traditional crunch of the industry, it is a different story.

It got me thinking that once again what people typically do in the video game business (5 day working weeks with an expectation to work unpaid overtime ‘when needed’) is completely and utterly irrational and a fine example of the failure of human beings in groups to make good, wise decisions. It only goes that way in the industry (and of course not only the video game industry) because of some kind of ‘cost accounting’ mentality. It’s irrational, and it seems that few people have the courage to actually do things differently.

Surely, I reason, there is a better way. If people can be so productive in a 48 hour chunk of time, why not leverage this and have a two day working week? Ridiculous? I think not. Maybe if that is too radical, make it three twelve hour days, with 4 days off. I can’t help but think something special would happen.

With clear goals for each week set, the motivation to reach those goals will be high – no one likes to fail. But additionally, people will be looking forward to some actual time to enjoy living. After all, a weekend is often spent shopping and looking after the house and taking care of personal matters and family and so on. A four day weekend on the other hand.. well that leaves time to relax and think. Time to get into a good relaxed frame of mind. Time to solve design problems unconsciously. Time to look forward to going back to work.

I hope one day I get the chance to run my own development company. If I ever  do, I will be sorely tempted to try this idea out. I suspect the results will be astonishing, but I admit I could not do such a thing risking anyone else’s money, because despite how logical the idea is, and the evidence of it’s effectiveness, I doubt anyone would believe in it enough to risk it.

Still, one can dream… given enough space to do so 😉

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