How we messed up and how we succeeded: Malta Global Game Jam

Poster by Iella
Tomasz Kisilewicz — Lead Artist at 11bit Studios in 2019

The Good

The Pub

We experimented with a Pub Quiz last year and it was honestly a really good addition. The held it at the legendary “The Pub” in Valletta, renowned last stop for legendary actor Oliver Reed and it provided an opportunity for jammers to interact before the jam. Sometimes joining teams and showing off their knowledge and answering the very odd games questions that our quizmaster Daniele devised (fact-checked and verified of course, he is a researcher after all). This year, we can’t have The Pub, however, we’ll try and set up a Mozilla Hubs space to do some pre-jam interaction, but Mozilla Hub quiz doesn’t have the same ring to it. (Although Hub Quiz? Maybe?)

David Melhart MC-ing the Game Jam pub Quiz

Group Formation

Part of the fun of the Game Jam is meeting new people and trying new things, but we know it isn’t easy to do that. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. So in order to help people find a group they can click with we do some guided brainstorming on the theme. This helps people see whose ideas they like and puts them in a position where they will need to communicate and exchange ideas.

Brainstorming session to break the ice during group formation. Photo: Daniel Karavolos

The Expert Panel

We get caught up in the details of the game, we haven’t slept in a while, but never fear, the expert panel is here! Each year we invite our experts in to see what the jammers are doing and provide some encouragement and advice. They’ve been through this before and can help teams scope their games, provide ideas on game mechanics tweaks, and offer encouragement. It also give the jammers some one-to-one time to ask industry professionals questions (usually about games).

The expert panel consisting of Kari of Machinegames — Julian and Andrew of Anvil Game Studios and Antonios Liapis of the Institute

The Bad

Funnily enough, it seems the bad one are strongly related to physical logistics, so that is some good news (maybe?).

Wifi

Something. Always. Goes. Wrong. With. Wifi. In this case it was that we had made guest accounts, but they were per device and people were connecting multiple devices so we ran out very quickly. Understand your Wifi, have spares, and if possible have tech support available.

Badges

Remember that brilliant idea about the badges we mentioned earlier? The concept behind the badges was that we would have 3 different badges to facilitate interaction: Jammer, Crew, and Random.

#Random badges to help identify those looking for teams. #Crew for the volunteers. #Jammer for all of the participants.

Tables

We ran out of tables and chairs. When crunch time came and everyone was at the location, suddenly it became a Mad Max post-apocalyptic world where tables and chairs were the only valid currency.

These jammers later sold their foldable tables and retired on a distant tropical island sipping mojitos in their mansions. Photo: Jeremy Grech

The Ugly

After getting pumped from the three great keynote we were ready to ride the wave of excitement onto the announcement of the theme. We opened up Slack and clicked on the video link. Only to have it turn out to play the theme announcement of 2017. Frantically we shouted: “Call Sicily! Anyone in contact with Jammers from somewhere else in our time zone?” When the panic subsided we finally found the 2018 video right there in front of us. So let that be a lesson to all organisers: Don’t Panic. Ever. (Or note down another Jam Site’s contact details so you can call them when you’re panicking?) Or save the keynote on your PC clearly labelled as soon as you can. Just don’t share it with anyone.

The Checkered Flag

As organisers our focus of the Malta Global Game Jam is the experience of making the game and of going through the stressful development cycle together. At the end we do an Arcade Mode where everyone plays each other’s games and we have a winner by popular vote. There is no judgement about whether it is the best game, it is just the game that the jammers enjoyed the most on the day.

Arcade mode initialized! — Photo Matthew Spiteri

And they lived happily ever after

Once our kind volunteers helped with the clean up and we closed the venue we went home and passed out. In sleepless delirium (definitely absent of all rational thought) we smiled to ourselves and nodded thinking: “Next year let’s do that again, it wasn’t so bad.”

Team being handed the coveted Popular Vote prize at the end of the Jam. Photo: Daniel Karavolos
Volunteers hard at work with registrations
Photo Matthew Spiteri

TL;DR:

  1. Get to your speakers early
  2. Have activities to bring people together — guide them to find groups (e.g. through brainstorming activities, teambuilding activities, or games)
  3. Make it easy for people to show they are looking to join a group (e.g. through clear badges)
  4. Plan for more tables and chairs that you think are required
  5. Have an arcade mode so people can try the games they made
  6. Decide whether you want you want to be a competitive or collaborative site

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Jasper Schellekens

Jasper Schellekens

Jasper Schellekens is part of the top-ranked Institute of Digital Games at University of Malta. Leading innovative research from Game AI to Game Philosophy.