General Game Jam FAQs
What is a game jam?
A game jam is a creative exercise that lets you practice making a game from start to finish in a limited amount of time. Adriel Wallick, the founder of Train Jam, has described game jams as “practicing the skill of finishing.” It’s easy to come up with countless game ideas, but actually picking one and making it a reality is a worthy challenge!
For beginner jammers, you’ll typically have the most fun doing a game jam if your primary goal is to learn something new, whether or not you finish and submit a game.
Can I make a video game if I'm not great at coding? Or know how to do art? etc.
Absolutely! As far as game design lessons go: check out our playlist on how to make your first game which includes tips that are very relevant for game jams.
Extra Credits gets a lot of questions about which development program to get started with and the truth is, it doesn't really matter since different software is better suited to different types of genres. If you have a specific type of game in mind that you want to make (e.g. a 2D platformer) but don't know where to start, you should check out this interactive quiz which will help you find some good software to start learning.
Unless the jam instructions/theme specifies otherwise, remember that you are also free to make and submit a “real world” game (e.g. a board game, a tabletop game, a social game, etc.) where your primary materials are pen and paper rather than lines of code and pixels. This is a great way to practice game design directly without having to fuss too much about aesthetics and technical know-how. Just remember to make it a playable game still, not just a design document!
Should I have a team?
You can if you want to. For remotely distributed teams, we recommend 2-3 people to a team because it can be hard to coordinate/distribute work evenly with a bigger team when multiple time zones might be involved. If you're working with friends locally, 4-5 people is a safe maximum. Remember, learning how to communicate and cooperate with others is its own extremely important game development skill! It’s not good manners to boss around other people, or act so isolated that your team doesn’t know what you’re working on.
Can I contribute to multiple games in a jam instead of just one game/team?
Yes, you can! Some people and some skills, like music & audio production, are extremely well suited for this type of collaboration.
How can I meet other jammers?
We have a Discord community for the benefit of any jammers who want to find collaborators, share their progress, and ask for feedback. This Discord community is linked to on the game jam pages themselves.
Can I use assets I’ve already made before the jam starts?
Yes, BUT!!! The point is to see what you can make and finish within the jam’s designated time period. Plus, you don’t even know what the theme is—allow the jam theme to inspire what you’re going to make, instead of retroactively squishing in a pre-created game or assets to make it “count” as the theme. That said, if these “assets” in question are something that is very theme-neutral, such as your own custom engine, scripts, etc. that is all fine to use. This also applies if you want to decide in advance that you will use a particular game dev tool of your choice (unless the jam rules say otherwise). This should all count as “preparation” work, not as a cheat code to give yourself extra content development time.
Can I use other people’s work in my game?
Yes, but only if:
You obtained it legally (e.g. you downloaded free assets from the Unity store, you bought a font from a graphic design website, etc.).
The author/creator has given you their permission, in writing, to use their work in your game.
The work (such as music, art, etc.) has a Creative Commons license attached to it or is known to be in the public domain. If you’re not sure what these terms mean, spend a little time reading about copyright in advance, so you know how to identify and use this work. There are many, many websites and search tools for finding free (and 100% legal) art, music, and so forth. They are great to use in a pinch if you don’t have the time or desire to create your own assets.
In any case, it’s always a good idea to source and credit where the content in your game came from, if you didn’t create it entirely yourself!
Can my game have mature, dark, or otherwise not necessarily “family-friendly” themes in it?
Yes, absolutely, but please do take care to warn and prepare players in advance. A content warning (sometimes abbreviated CW, or TW for trigger warning) is a brief written description, probably 1-2 sentences, that is visible on the game description webpage and/or in the game itself. Example: “content warning: rapidly flashing lights that can trigger photosensitivity; mention of racist slurs; explicit descriptions of domestic violence.”
We also encourage jammers to avoid making controversial content purely for the “shock value”, e.g. for the sole purpose of upsetting or disgusting the player. Don’t be an edgelord.
I didn’t finish my game on time; can I still enter it into the jam?
There are a few different answers depending on your situation. However, you should always feel free to continue working on your game and publishing it on itch.io (or elsewhere) when you’re ready. Game jams are great ways to get started on bigger projects! You can still be proud of what you’ve made so far.
Ultimately, what guides our decision-making is based on trying to have everyone be on the same playing field (or should we say, jamming field). Everyone starts off with the same theme, and the exact same amount of time to make a game—it is up to each jammer, and/or each team, to decide how to interpret the theme and how to use their time. We will have a limited number of one-use “late submit” links available only for emergencies, at the sole discretion of the jam coordinator.
Now, on to the hypothetical scenarios:
Situation A: You didn’t finish your game on time because you didn’t manage your time well. Maybe your design scope was too big for what you could reasonably accomplish. (For example, maybe you went to a movie and dinner on Saturday night (4+ hours), but still insisted on keeping a feature that takes 4+ hours to design and build.) This situation is extremely common in game dev, even for experienced designers. Time management is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to most of us—we just keep practicing at it. We cannot help you in this situation. Learn from your experience and decide if you’d like to keep working on your game anyway for its own sake.
Situation B: The game is finished, but you had problems uploading to itch.io before the submission period closed. First off—please please please, remember that playtesting and exporting is a valuable part of your game jam experience, and you should absolutely schedule in ample time to do that. Waiting until the last 15 minutes to create your itch.io account and start uploading is a very bad idea. (Not to mention, we ask you some questions you have to fill out when you’re submitting your game!)
However, we know that emergencies can and do happen even to the most well-prepared folks. If this is you, please send a message to one of the game jam Discord moderators, describing exactly what happened/how you’re planning to address it. If you are not on Discord, you may send an email to our contact inbox, but please don’t contact us in both places at once.
Situation C: Your game is finished, and you did upload it, but after the deadline passed you just now realized there’s a bug that needs to be fixed (minor or major), and you want to fix it. We have previously tried a relaxed policy with letting folks edit their games after the submission deadline passed, but found that a lot of jammers weren’t abiding by our request to contact us first before making those edits, which ultimately compromises the purpose of a limited-time jam since we didn’t know what kind of edits were being made and why.
We believe that ultimately our current policy—locking submissions from further edits for a few weeks afterwards—will encourage more jammers to stop working on their games early enough that they can do proper playtesting and debugging well before the deadline.
We encourage you to make a separate build of your game if you want to keep working on and expanding it, so that it is clearly differentiated from the game jam version.
Situation D: You waited too long to contact us about your issue. The best time to let us know about a problem is as soon as you become aware of it, or even before the problem happens (e.g. if you anticipate an unusual circumstance outside of your control that will interfere with your ability to submit on time). We will start playing/assessing the games very shortly after the jam ends, so don’t purposely wait to send us a message—it’ll be too late.
Please read Situation B for info on how to contact us.
Why was a game removed from the jam?
This is an extremely rare occurrence (less than 2% of all games submitted) that happens for one of these reasons. If you believe your game was removed by mistake, please contact us.
Someone submitted a game that was clearly made before the jam even started. The publication date on the game page tells us this immediately. There’s probably a term for this behavior already, but if not, we’ll just call it “spam-jamming.” It’s not good etiquette to submit a game you already made to a jam that you’re not actually participating in, because you’re looking for some pageviews and downloads. Usually these games also look unusually polished and have a much larger design scope than something you’d see made in a weekend.
There is literally no game attached to the entry. Maybe you started an entry, submitted it, but forgot to keep working on it and upload the finished game file? Sadness :( Don’t forget to actually attach your playable entry!
The game doesn’t fit our community standards.
On itch.io I noticed that I can sell my game; is that OK?
To make it easiest for us (and your fellow jammers) to play your game, we politely request that you make the game “free,” or to only enable the optional “tip jar” that players will see and can interact with when they download the game. In our experience, jam games are usually enhanced/upgraded with more content and features after the jam ends before they are put behind a mandatory paywall.
Please be extra-familiar with copyright rules if you are using non-original assets in your game and you are planning to sell it.
FAQ regarding the game jam episodes of “Games You Might Not Have Tried”
The reason why we at Extra Credits attempt to play/assess everyone’s game jam entry is because we want to make an episode that features our favorite, most thought-provoking and creative entries. This episode usually goes up within 2 months of the jam’s conclusion.
If your game is selected to be included in one of these episodes, you will receive an email from us within 1 month of the jam’s conclusion, with additional information on what happens next.
If I submit a game in [X format], can you play it?
Unless the jam rules specify otherwise (always defer to them first, as some future jams may be themed to encourage different development tools), in general we can always play games that are:
Compatible with Windows 10
Compatible with web browsers
Use other file formats that are widely accepted and accessible (e.g. PDFs for tabletop games)
We usually have difficulty playing games that are only exported in the following formats:
We generally cannot play games that are only exported in the following formats:
Any unique hardware requirements, such as requiring players to use a Raspberry Pi, a hacked console, an emulator, etc.
If you really cannot export/upload your game in one of the preferred formats listed first, we strongly encourage you to attach a YouTube video demonstrating gameplay to your itch.io game page. In fact, that’s generally always a smart thing to do (if you have time), in case there are ever any issues with us being able to run your game. (Also, sometimes jammers like to make very technically challenging games, which is fine to do, but if that’s the case for your game we like being able to watch a complete let’s-play of it so that we can appreciate the ending even if we aren’t able to get there ourselves due to our own limited time.)
An important side note: always make it easy for people to check out your game by including clear gameplay instructions, preferably in-game, and making the installation process as simplistic and no-fuss as possible. Not everyone who plays your game is as tech-savvy as you might be.
What criteria do you use for deciding which games get selected for a GYMNHT episode?
Keeping in mind the natural limitations of a game jam and the wide diversity of skills and personalities represented in a jam, we generally try to apply the same criteria we use for all our other GYMNHT episodes, which you can read about on this page! The short answer is “does this game do something interesting, and does it feel reasonably polished?”
It is also worth mentioning that we honestly feel that very many games submitted to the jams have fulfilled this criteria in some way, but due to the time limitations of the episode itself, only a handful of games are mentioned in each video.
Our best advice for accomplishing this is to (1) have fun with this—no really, a game jam is supposed to be fun, and if anything you should be competing with yourself and not against other jammers, (2) play to your own strengths, and (3) seriously, don’t over-scope the design!
Want to use public domain clip art instead of your own “programmer art” scribbles? Go for it! Do you excel at writing? Really focus in on that—but don’t accidentally set yourself up to write a novel, when what you really want to aim for is a minute of gameplay that embodies a particular setting or emotion.
Let’s also define that complicated word “polish” in practical terms for Extra Credits jams. The “polish” of a game is not represented by just one element, but by the entire composition of the game. Audio design, dialogue, menu interface, gameplay controls, etc. can all play an important role in establishing “polish”—aka, the sense you get, as a player, that every element has been consciously chosen and deliberately designed. Any glitches/bugs that may exist don’t significantly detract from the experience. A game might feature very impressive graphics, but not feel particularly interesting or satisfying gameplay-wise. To the best of our ability (we are human, after all), we try to examine each game holistically.
How to Jam & Make Your Game Stand Out!
Have fun with this!
Go into this jam with a healthy mindset -- “Learn something new” is a great goal to have in a game jam! When the unexpected arises, you’ll be able to take it in stride without stressing out.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you join a team, be extra communicative. Game jams are a good way to practice healthy “group project” behaviors, like making design decisions together (and knowing when to make compromises). If you need to leave a team for any reason, tell them (don’t go silent) and do your best to help them get the assistance they need to finish the game.
We do not recommend jamming for 100 hours. The level of polish that games end up having is the same range we would expect to see from a 48-hour jam, just stretched out over a longer period of time for your own personal relaxation and sanity. Do not crunch! Sleep, eat, play, and live!
Don’t spend time comparing your skills/your game to what other people are doing. Everyone else is too busy working to notice! In Extra Credits jams at least, we find that about 50% of folks are first-time jammers. Don’t beat yourself up. Focus on what you CAN contribute and learn!
Avoid naming your game the exact same thing as the jam theme. The reason for this is that at least a dozen other people are doing that too.
There’s something to be said for not getting too creative with naming; that is, don’t use your game’s name to “add in” a feature or narrative/story that doesn’t exist. Made-up example: someone makes a platformer and names it “Game Jam Dating Simulator” in an attempt to get more views/downloads, but the gameplay is, well, a platformer--not a tongue-in-cheek dating sim parody of participating in a game jam. Quite possibly, the name of your game is the only marketing you will ever do for it. You can get creative without being misleading.
Put your control schemes in-game, on your Itch.io game page, or preferably in *both* places.
Don’t require players to use an external controller as the only method of interaction. Optimize your game for controllers if you want but remember that all players have access to a keyboard and mouse--not everyone owns PC controller(s) or wants to get them out just to play your game.
The most popularly used keyboard buttons for PC games are WASD, arrows, spacebar, shift, and E (for interaction with a game object), and of course, the humble mouse click. We’ve played a lot of games that not only did not include any control schemes, but which used other mysterious keyboard buttons we never figured out. If you’re going to use less common keyboard control schemes, at least include instructions for the player.
Compared to other types of game bugs, it takes no time to fix a spelling or punctuation mistake. An overwhelming number of jam games leave them in anyway. Pay extra attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Ask a friend and/or another jammer in the community to proofread. A single typo can break a player’s immersion.
In general, if you want to have more captivating writing in your games read a wide variety of books, magazines, blogs, news articles, etc. to increase your vocabulary. Write short stories, journal entries, social media posts, etc. to develop your own voice and tone as a writer.
USER INTERFACE DESIGN
Text should always be readable. Don’t experiment with very fancy or weird-looking fonts unless you know what you’re doing; there’s a reason why “boring” fonts like Helvetica and Georgia are very popular in design (they’re readable!). If you have long paragraphs, dark text on a lighter background is easier to read with less strain on the eyes, rather than light-colored text on a dark background.
There are many free websites that help you generate a color scheme for your game. Use them! They’ll help you avoid making accidentally harsh color choices, such as combining red and green, and they can even help make your game easily accessible to colorblind players!
There are established principles of UI and graphic design that countless developers use repeatedly across games in every single genre. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel for your own game. Reference design ideas from other games --they’re based on common principles.
As much as possible, add text/subtitles to accompany spoken dialogue. Even if all players of your game had absolutely perfect hearing, not everyone has functional computer speakers or headphones.
If audio/music is an important part of your game, include a note about enabling volume and/or using headphones.
LEVEL DESIGN AND GENERAL GAMEPLAY
Err on the side of the player being able to finish your game. One amazing level is more memorable and satisfying than 2-10 okay ones.
That said, we’ve observed that jam games that do successfully implement 2+ levels, almost always have extremely short levels designed for gameplay that lasts seconds, not minutes.
If you purposely want the player to fail/die/restart multiple times, this should be fun to experience, and not inherently frustrating. We see a lot of platformers and action games that are difficult because the levels seem haphazard (e.g. platforms that are spaced too far apart to complete a jump unless the player-character is standing on the exact correct pixel). This is not “true” difficulty and is something that would have been caught and remedied if any playtesting had happened (don’t underestimate the value of playtesting for this exact reason).
“Difficulty” can be intellectual, social, mechanical/physical… if your goal is to design an intentionally difficult game, don’t limit yourself to only one definition of what level difficulty looks like.
GAMES WITH COMPLEX MECHANICS
Introduce each mechanic and gameplay instruction one at a time. Don’t require the player to read a wall of text as their only introduction to start playing and learning the game. Most if not all your “vertical slice” might just be just tutorial stuff, and that’s 100% okay. You want the player to finish your game and not immediately give up, right?
TABLETOP/BOARD GAME/PRINT-AND-PLAY GAMES
To give people a quick idea of what your game looks or plays like, snap a photo or two of a game in progress. If you're writing a TTRPG, include some art pieces to get across the mood of your game. Just small visual flourishes like fonts can also do a lot of work to set a tone. You don't need to be an artist, but a good layout can attract people to read your rules. Your game might be the cleverest thing in the entire world, but if it's a brick of text on a word doc, very few people are going to look at it, let alone try it out. UI and UX is just as important to a tabletop designer (sometimes even more so) than a video game designer.
Order of Operations: Go grab a few tabletop rule books and read through them. Take note of what order information is presented in. For the most part, you're given the theme, win condition, and then how to achieve that win condition. RPGs tend to start with character creation rules, play rules, and then whatever the GM (game master) needs to know. They tend to be ordered that way to get the players into the game as quick as possible. You don't have to follow that format, but if you do, think about why you're breaking that pattern. If you want a view of a REALLY well laid out rulebook, download the rulebook for Gloomhaven. The back of the book has an amazing visual index!
Get heckin' crazy! It's still a game jam, and it's a great time to experiment. Is there stuff you can do with dice other than rolling them? Cards? Scraps of paper? Potato chip crumbs at the bottom of the bag? We don't know! Make something wild! You don't have the time to make something refined or to playtest as much as a regular tabletop game should get, so just throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what eldritch worms slip through the gaps.
Conversely, if you want to increase your chances of having people test it, make sure it only requires materials most people can reasonably get their hands on. Do not use authentic eldritch worms as player pieces (for multiple reasons).
PDF files are the best. That's less a tip, and more just a fact. Whatever lets people access your game with the least amount of trouble, that's what you should format for.
I FINISHED MY GAME! NOW WHAT?
Tell the world about it on your social media channels! #extragamejam
Commit to playing and leaving (constructive) feedback on at least 1 other game submitted to the jam. Stick around in our Discord to exchange playtesting comments.
Decide what your “next steps” look like. Do you want to keep working on just this game? Create a schedule for adding new features and improvements. Do you want to learn or practice your mastery of a particular game dev skill or software/tool? That’s also a great goal!
Celebrate that you made a game! You put some art and creativity back into the world. Thanks for being you and expressing yourself through game design!