I have participated in quite a few game jams over the years and now I want to share my experiences with you. I participated in both online as offline jams like Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam. Game jams are fun and can be a great learning experience but they can also be stressful and tiring.
If you are a first-timer it might be new for you to be working together in a team or you use for this jam a different game engine you normally would. Other reasons for doing a jam is to improve your overall game development skills like speed, planning, iterating, and working in a team under a short deadline.
The game you make will likely not be marketable but it’s not about the product, it's about the process. But there are successful indie games like Titans Souls that were prototyped in a game jam so it is possible to end up with an idea that is a sellable game after some post-jam polish. Through my experience, I have gathered some general tips and advice for people starting to jam.
Prepare in advance
Before the jam starts download and install all applications you might use during the jam. If you are working in a team you can decide beforehand what engine your team will use. Also, be sure to check if your OS got the latest updates installed because you don't want to do it during the game jam. Github is a great way to collaborate, you can set up the repository and show a team member how it works who is not yet familiar with it if there is still time. If you're doing an offline jam, get groceries, and buy other stuff you might need before the jam starts to save extra time.
When deciding on a game idea, keep it simple. Design your game around one mechanic and focus on making it feel good. Introducing too many features only makes you code base complex and can introduce bugs. Also, don't worry about how your code looks, just code dirty, after the jam you can make it nicer if you want to, but for now, focus on how the game plays.
Short and Sweet
Make a short game and show everything good it has to offer right off the bat. The people who are going to play the game have a lot of games to choose from. Most people who play your game won’t even finish it. Focus on giving a good 10-20 minute impression.
Keep it simple
Don't make the game too difficult. When you are making your game you test it all the time and become a pro at your own game. Players who play your game for the first time don’t know anything about it. Make the first part of your game super easy so everyone who tries it will get a good impression of the game. Everyone needs to pass the first couple of minutes of the game with ease and without frustration.
Make sure to wrap up your game an hour before the closing date So you have enough time to upload the game to the jam site. Because the jam site can slow down all the people trying to get their game uploaded at the same time. You can add a description, images, and team information, etc. to your game page during the jam so you don't have to do it at the last moment.
Don't forget to rest enough and don't forget to have fun. A game jam is not only for making games, you also meet new people that may become your friends. Don't forget to stream or post your progress on social media because jams are great for exposure too.