About Jam Today
The value of game-based learning is becoming clearer and many serious games are being developed but little attention is given to how to implement them in learning environments and how to ensure there are significant learning outcomes. Recent studies have also shown that quest-based learning approaches are especially useful for educational contexts. With JamToday, we aim to use game design principles not just to create useful and meaningful games, but also to explain and design the context (such as the classroom or curriculum) in which games can be most effectively implemented and used. This approach is supported and complemented by work on Digital Competence and Open Educational Resources, and the concept of ‘Creative Classrooms’, that proposes a systemic approach to sustainable implementation of ICT-enabled innovation for learning.
In this sense, the task is to help turn educators and learning professionals into educational designers with the help of game design knowledge and practice. Equally, this means that for learners we can help to turn them into game-based thinkers and from only being ICT users to becoming ICT practitioners, with a corresponding ability to express themselves in videogames as a medium. In this way we seek to enable learning professionals better to understand and design the social and material contexts of learning and to modernise curricula, learning outcomes and the professional development of teachers.
About Game Jams
A game jam is a gathering of game developers who develop a game in a short span of time, usually between 24 and 48 hours. In many ways you can compare a game jam to a hackathon; an event where people gather for a fixed time period and work together on a project. Developers team up in teams of 5-6 people and all participants work on a game related to the same assignment. Teams are free to choose their own development environment (Unity, Flash, C#) and are only constrained by focus of the assignment itself. The time constraint adds the pressure of a deadline and encourages creativity.
During traditional game jams, participants only get the assignment on the starting day. This keeps them from planning too much in advance. At a game jam with an applied subject area (like health or education) it is important to hand out the theme information a few weeks in advance. You need to give participants some time for planning, so they can delve into the topic and maybe even do a little brainstorming. The full assignment is still only handed out on the first day.
Example Game Jams
Global Game Jam NL 2013
Dutch Game Garden in cooperation with knowledge institutions HKU, NHTV, NHL, Saxion and HVA. Over 600 participants (ranging from students to companies) participated.
Patient Safety Bootcamp
A game jam Dutch Game Garden organized together with AMC Hospital, TNO and Taskforce Innovation Utrecht. Instead of only 48 hours the bootcamp lasted a week. Four applied game companies made prototypes for games that help doctors in residence to make less mistakes during operations.
Canvas: The Game Bootcamp
A three day bootcamp where six game studios from the Netherlands set out to improve the Business Model Canvas by making it playable. In cooperation with Business Models Inc.
As the organizer, you are responsible for the preparation, execution, evaluation and transfer of the game jam. This toolkit has been designed to help you with each one of these phases. Every phase has a module with a description of the activities you will likely need to carry out. Some modules also have detailed attachments; real-life examples and templates of files that you can use for your own game jam. In preparing a normal game jam, you will start about three months in advance with the preparation. Although you may already have some experience, it is wise to start your journey in Module 1: Initiation.
Most jam organizers will be knowledge institutions or network organizations. If you want to organize a game jam, it is important that you have a strong outreach to possible participants for your game jam, and a network where you can find sponsors and the means to incorporate the games in learning environments.
It is almost impossible to run a game jam on your own. Most game jams are held over a weekend, though this is not compulsory. During the weekend there are a lot of things that need to be done, some at the same time. Volunteers can help at the registration desk, with communication and with organizing the teams. Volunteers can be students who are not participating in the jam, or people from your own organization who want to spend their weekend helping making innovation in the field of education possible.
The participants of your game jam can be companies or students. A team of jammers consists on average of 5 people. As in "real" game development, a good division needs to be made between skills. We see that teams of 2 programmers, 2 artists and 1 game designer usually work the best. People are encouraged to sign up as a team and not as individuals; given the time pressure, you get the best results if you work with people you know and the tools with which you are most comfortable. People that sign-up as an individual will of course be able to form a team on the first day of the event but in creating teams be sure to create the ideal mix of skills mentioned above. The level of experience is not that important, but when new people are working together they must understand the same coding software otherwise the team will spend a day looking and getting used to the software and not focusing on making the game.
When companies join your game jam, it is a good idea to let every company adopt a student. This works for both parties: students learn a lot from working with a real company and the company will get a fresh and different view on their own process and procedures.
Most jams have a theme, and for the first year of JamTODAY the theme is ICT and Learning. And every jam has an assignment. Although the assignment comes with some background information and should be clear and easy to understand, it is always good to attract thematic domain experts to your jam. For example, when planning a jam on games for the safety of patients during surgery, we had surgeons and doctors in residence with us during the jam. These experts could give the teams valuable input on procedures and the language used in hospitals. For JamTODAY, you can look for experts in the field of ICT and Learning but also look at experts in transfer of learning, upscaling classrooms and disruptive thinkers and entrepreneurs. The experts will not take part in the team but act as mentors and sources of "just-in-time" information.
The judges are the people who are going to evaluate the results of the game jam. They will consider whether or not the games fit the assignment and are they fun to play, but also consider how complete the game feels to them and how much potential it has for further development. Domain experts can be part of your judging team, but you can also include high profile members of the games industry, a sponsor or a client.
Some sponsors will give you money to cover your costs and others will give you materials you can use during the jam. Sponsors for location costs, catering (eg Red Bull) or software (eg Unity, Microsoft, GameMaker) are very useful and can cut your costs considerably.
A client can make sure that the games that are developed during the jam can be developed further to finished product. The client has money to keep a team working for the months needed to complete the game. A client that can implement the games into the learning environment is preferable.
Press can help you gather participants but also create public support for your game jam. After the game jam is finished, press can disseminate the results (and hopefully someone will invest in one of the games) and help in making sure the right people know what you have done.
A game jam is a very creative process and for outsiders it gives a quick look into the world of game development. You can invite your own partners, network, investors and other sectors to let them see what games can do for them. The best moments for visitors are during the kick-off and at the end of the jam when the results are playable.
There are some legal aspects you need to take into account when running a game jam. We have already done some groundwork for this, so you can focus on organizing the best game jam. A general checklist has been created to help you to identify the contracts you need and we have made some sample contracts you can adapt for your own location.
You will need a short document for formalizing the commitments of both the organizers and the sponsors, in kind or in cash. You will also need to make a contract for participants (be they companies or students) and maybe a disclaimer if you work together with third parties while organizing the game jam.
After a game jam, there will likely be some discussions about developing a game further and this can raise new issues. For example, perhaps only three team members want to continue the development but what happens with the profit they make when the game is released; do the original team members then get something in return? We have written down some legal points for this situation, with a case-based explanation dealing with the (legal) possibilities for both organizers and participants. of developing a game jam project further after the game jam.
Another thing to take into account is if your location needs insurance during the game jam. What happens when someone’s PC is stolen or breaks his leg when slipping over a pizza? Many insurance companies have special insurances for events.
Funding & Finance
A game jam can be organized very cheaply, with only a small budget. In most cases the location is the biggest cost during a game jam, so it is better if you can get this for free or at a low cost. Be sure to let the team members bring their own hardware and software (people are used to working on their own computer, so it also saves time). Other big costs are for catering, marketing PR, hours of management and legal costs. On average a game jam will cost you between 5.000 and 20.000 (depending mostly on hours of management being included or not). To cover your costs, look for sponsors. You can also ask participants for aparticipation fee but if your target audience is companies you may have to pay them directly.
Promotion for a game jam works in two ways. Firstly you will need to promote the game jam in your network to gather participants. This can be done by mentioning the game jam on your website, in your newsletter, on social media and maybe even by sending out a press release. If you know a lot of game companies or students, it is wise to contact them directly. Promotion also helps to create an understanding for the general audience into games and game jams and how this is helpful for innovation in areas other than entertainment.
Transfer to learning environments
Your work does not finish with the game jam itself. It is then important to oversee the implementation of the prototypes made during the game jam in learning environments. JamTODAY offers help for this in many ways. First of all, we have a Gamescope tool for non-experts to determine if an applied game actually does what it has to do. Gamescope helps with dissecting a game with some well-aimed questions to analyze and view the games critically. After using the Gamescope tool, you can use our evaluation framework that is mainly focused on the relation between the actual game and the learning sector. The framework looks in more detail at game transferability in learning sector, coherence with the assignment and motivation.
After evaluating which games fit the assignment the best, and as such can be used best for learning, we can also offer a train the trainers workshop. The games need to land in education (primary, secondary, tertiary or lifelong learning) but we need to train the people who are going to use the games in their lessons.
Not every organization has experience in hosting game jams. Our self-assessment tool will assess not only the impact of your game jam but also the level of experience you have in organizing a game jam, your network capabilities and the phase in which the game industry is in your country. There are questions like: How fit are you as organization to host a game jam (i.e. how many people within your organization have experience with developing games); what kind of organizations do you have in your network; how familiar you are with game design and game jams and what dissemination trajectories do you have? After the game jam is completed, you can also have a look at statistics (like number of participants, number of games) and the way you organized the jam. The assessment makes sure you think about what you have done well or not-so-well so that you can improve your jam the next year.