What we learned from the Game Jam Summit 2022

During our Game Jam Summit, we welcomed experts from across the industry to share their experience and knowledge. Here’s what we learned.

Building games is no easy task. It requires a whole range of skills, creative thinking, and some real tough skin.

A few weeks ago, we ran the Game Jam Summit alongside multiplayer pro and YouTuber, BigFry TV. Developers had just under a week to create a killer prototype, using an ‘opposites theme’. We saw some brilliant games made by some talented developers, which you can check out here. And just wanted to say another huge congrats to all of our winners.

But during the event, we also invited the experts of the industry to share their experience and advice to all developers building games. Our aim here was to not just run a regular jam session, but to help the community learn and develop their skills.

So in this article, we’ve handpicked some key advice from each session. You can listen to the full talks here. But for now, here’s what we learned.

Top insights from the week

During the week, we ran multiple Q&A sessions from the industry’s leading experts. Each day, we covered a different topic around building multiplayer games. Here are a few of the highlights.

1. Ideas can come from anywhere

Coming up with winning ideas can be tricky, especially if you’re not sure where to start. But you can find inspiration from almost anywhere today. Even more so with social media and the internet at your fingertips.

“Look at the world around you. What’s trending? What’s popular? Social media is great for this. Instagram and TikTok have all of these trending hashtags. Take ASMR as an example. This happened a while ago, and we saw a ton of developers jumping on this.” Says Ioana Hreninciuc, CPO at Homa Games.

Following these trends on social media can help bring that extra layer to life to your game, or simply give you a competitive edge in an already saturated market. But it can also show you which ideas are best not to pursue, too.

“But it’s a good place to find out what you shouldn’t do. People may already be developing those types of games. Think about the pandemic — we saw so many ideas around Covid. We’ve seen them, tested them, and they didn’t work. So it’s good to see what people are doing and find a trend, but you’ll want to give it its own unique spin. And any obvious ideas, well, it’s either been done, or developers have tried it, and it didn’t work.”

2. Make your ideas meaningful

Finding that idea is half the battle. You’ll need to make them meaningful and unique if you want them to stand a chance. During the first session, Mark Terrano, Design Director & Founder of Mountaintop Studios took the stage and shared his thoughts.

“Start with what are the human needs, and work from there. What do I think somebody should know? How can I improve their lives? What do I want the takeaway to be? If I was to work on a game now, I would think of something on how can I overcome loneliness? Or how can I help people overcome feelings that AI is smarter than them?”

Coming up with a good idea that holds your game together is key. But it isn’t too hard. Any idea can work. You just need to find out how it connects with people. What’s the meaning behind your game?

“Sometimes I have a big cloud of ideas, all different and addressing something in life. Honestly, it’s not really a problem coming up with ideas. It’s about finding the best ones.”

Asking those tough questions can take what could be an already great game, and turn it into something memorable.

3. You’ll need to build a relationship to secure an investment

One of the topics we chatted about during the week was how to land investment for your game or studio. Interestingly, your game and pitch only plays a part in securing an investment. A big role in this is actually building relationships and trust with investors and Publishers. We invited Ben Cousens, Venture Principal from Lakestar, and Nick Button-Brown, Investor at Angel Group, to share their wisdom.

“It’s not that it’s a closed club. The chance of an investment closing increases if you know the team and the founder behind it. It’s unrealistic that you’ll go straight into an investment. Most of the deals or investments I’ve been involved with, I’ve known the founders for months, if not over a year.” shared Ben.

Building the right relationships takes time. You’ll need to make sure you’re regularly going to events and keeping in contact with them. But once you get to know people, it becomes a lot easier to find that investment you need.

“One of the investments we’ve done was an idea on a PowerPoint. The only reason we were comfortable investing in something so early was the team. And the fact that the size of the investment was correspondingly smaller.” Ben continued.

It’s not just the relationship that you have that matters, though. You also need to consider whether they’re someone who’s likely to invest early or if they’ll need something more concrete.

Nick said, “You’ve got to believe in the project and the team. Different investors will come in at different stages. Some will need to see a prototype and traction. Publishers, for example, will definitely need to see a prototype.”

4. You need to plan for multiplayer from the start

On day two of the event, we welcomed back Mark Terrano alongside Brian Etheridge, Publishing Director from Tripwire. They shared plenty of information and advice around building and launching multiplayer titles — but the biggest tip? Plan for multiplayer from the get go.

“Just getting multiplayer to work is a hard enough challenge,” explained Mark. “But making a multiplayer game is understanding how people get together and what they do. You need to figure out what features of your game support multiplayer.

“Some games feel like they have to have multiplayer. But it’s understanding what multiplayer adds to your experience. So take the loneliness of waiting around. It’s a terrible experience sitting in the lobby, not knowing if people will join. So invest a little bit more in play-while-waiting features. It’s something I would recommend anyone doing.”

Brian added, “One thing we commonly see is not considering multiplayer early enough. It should be considered from the start. Otherwise, you’ll run into all sorts of problems which’ll double the work. Build the game with multiplayer in mind from the ground up.”

That isn’t to say that it’s impossible to take your game to multiplayer. You just need to have a reason to add it in. Adding multiplayer elements and social features can engage and retain players for longer, and build a much better experience than without.

“You can bring people and your friends back in with multiplayer components. We were just chatting about World of Warcraft. For most of us, the reason why we got into WoW is because our friends invited us. The social aspect of multiplayer is probably the biggest thing,” Brian said.

5. Prepare for too many players

Your multiplayer game relies on dedicated, secure servers to run your sessions. Setting up and organising your servers is one of the most critical parts of building a multiplayer title. But is often easily overlooked. Our very own Junior Mba and Mohamed AbdAllah, alongside Tripwire’s Publishing Director, Brian Etheridge, chatted about what you should do when preparing to launch.

“For the most part, it’s dealing with the demand of players and how many servers you have available. In terms of Gameye, we try to anticipate how many players you’ll get ahead of time, plus a few extra. You’ll never know how many players you’ll get. A YouTuber could pick it up on the day, and boom, suddenly an influx of players which your servers just can’t handle,” Junior said.

“This happened to us on Chivalry II,” Brian said. “We did all of the prep work up front, but something went wrong with another tool. We had too many players, and anything could go wrong. You need to test, test, and test. We ran 11 live tests in the lead up to the launch for our multiplayer game. But even so, we bumped into an issue. Don’t leave it to the last minute,”

We’ve written plenty of guides and articles around this topic. Gameye’s CEO, Sebastiaan Heijne, wrote a step-by-step guide a little while back, which we’d recommend you check out.

6. Make sure the tools you use offer the support you need

Multiplayer is definitely one of the more complicated types of games you could make. There’s a lot to consider during your development. And you need to make sure whatever engine or tool you’re using works for you and your setup. As part of the jam, we chatted to Mark Val, Head of Growth at Photon, and Florian Rival, CEO at GDevelop, to get their input.

“At GDevelop, we have as many resources as possible for the developers,” Florian explained. “As a developer, you want to start with an example, press play, run it and see how it works. And then encourage your community to play through tutorials and share their experience. You need to have as many examples and tutorials as possible. It’s what we aim for and what good game engines should have: lots of training and templates at the ready.”

“You should seriously look at the documentation as well,” Mark said. “Do they have good guides to get started? Any samples to show how the service works? And say, once you have that sample, is this something a developer could dissect in the code and see the structure of the templates? And then, of course, comes the support. How easy is it to get in touch? Do they have an active community and forums? Even something as simple as a discord server. That’s what we’re doing on Photon. You want to be engaged in a community and have the people and support you need to bring your game forward.”

Your engine will power your game, and is arguably one of the most important tools you’ll need. It’s important to know that whatever engine you choose, it’ll cover all areas of your game dev journey — not just the technical ones.

7. Keeping your game alive isn’t just about content

And finally, on the last day of the event, we welcomed three speakers to the stage. All of which chatted about how to keep your game alive post-launch. Here’s what they had to say.

“One of the ways developers prepare for Liveops is in the content creation in the runup to their launch. And you hear a lot of studios in the runup saying, ‘Oh, we have a month’s worth of content, or weeks worth of content’. Broadly speaking, that works. But there’s also a gameplay element which needs to be considered. When you’re engaging with your communities, it’s important to have a simple mini-game or activity that your players can remain engaged with, supporting the broader Liveops.” Ben Cousens, Head of Business Development at Zebedee, said.

That isn’t to say content won’t add to your game. DLC, event packs and season passes can bring a new breath of fresh air to your game. But it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Alexander went on to talk about how game systems (like leaderboards, guilds, and more) are crucial to keeping your players interested and loyal.

“You should also understand what your audience is doing in the game. In my first studio, we thought content was the main driver. But what we should have been doing was building more systems to encourage players to come back.” advised Alexander Bergendahl, Co-Founder and CEO of LootLocker.

“Being really clear, honest, and transparent. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re not over-communicating. It’s about treating your audience like adults.” mentioned Dan Banefelt, Creative Director at YAGER.

In fact, communication is key. Being honest and engaged with your players can help create a sense of community. It makes them feel a part of the journey and your project.

“You’ve got to be completely straight with your audience. So say you’re launching or soft-launching, tell your audience to expect bugs and be patient. You know if something is going wrong, just tell them what you know. Covering up or hiding what you’re doing, you’ll just get seen through.” said Ben.

We’ll have more jams coming soon

It was one hell of a week. We can’t say thank you enough to BigFry and his crew, as well as all of the speakers who took the time to share their wisdom with the community.

We’ll have more jams coming out soon. Follow us on Twitter to keep an eye out for any announcements. And if you have any questions for the Gameye crew, then get in touch. We’d love to have a chat.