Last weekend was OrcaJam, the annual gamejam event that I organize. Last year I made a blog post about the administration side of things, and I thought I’d do the same again this year!
This one is more of a blog post to other event organizers out there, and is more behind-the-scenes. I’ll make some follow-up posts with some content of what was actually created during the weekend.
I almost didn’t hold an OrcaJam event this year. I wasn’t really feeling into it and I couldn’t motivate myself to start planning. I was secretly hoping that the event would manifest itself somehow; maybe last year’s attendees would just spring up with a plan and a venue. No such luck.
At a game-dev meetup in August, it occurred to me that if I didn’t announce OrcaJam right then, it probably wouldn’t happen. I called upon the most powerful force known to developers: A SELF-ENFORCED DEADLINE.
Setting the deadline to a mere 30 days in the future was enough motivation and encouragement to make things happen. Organizing the venue, food, ticket prices, and everything else went very quickly – without headache, without waffling on decisions, and while maintaining a certain energy level about the event. Momentum feels really good.
Last year I listed the biggest failings of OrcaJam, and I wanted to be sure I touched on each of them this time around.
- Internet/Venue. The hotel we rented last year was not capable of supporting our internet habits. The very-square and confined-feeling hotel conference room was uninspiring and even made me feel a bit claustrophobic. This time around, we partnered with InHub – a collaborative co-working environment that doesn’t use their awesome facilities on weekends anyway, and had plenty of internets. Win-win!
- After Party vs. Pre-Party. Last year people had to leave early, and the Sunday night festivities were not enjoyable by all. This time around, we met at the pub before the event (as well as the after-party), giving people extra opportunity to socialize and get to know one another.
- Catering. The hotel we were at last year did not allow outside food. This was a pain in the butt for people just wanting to bring their own snack, AND it was very expensive hauling in their overpriced buffet. This year we went with simple Subway sustenance (some of the cheapest catering I’ve seen) and chopped our own veggies and fruit for platters – again, made possible by our move the InHub. The private venue even let us bring our own keg in for the afterparty!
- Rants/Talks/Presentations. Last year the talks/rants slipped off the schedule and we didn’t have much time for presentations at the end. This year there was tons of time for announcements and quick talks each day, and was a nice reprieve from the code-marathon.
I think I took care of all the biggest downsides to the previous OrcaJam!
To break up the endless march to coder-exhaustion, I held a mini-board-game-party every night at 8PM. About a third of the attendees participated, and fun was had by all! I think I’ll bring this feature back next year.
Last year was 60 people, this year we strove to halve that. It’s easier to get to know people, manage size and size related issues (seating, garbage, food, etc.), and took less advertising efforts as well. We made it up to 20 registered attendees fairly quickly, and the final 10 trickled in in the last weeks. I do definitely prefer the small size, but could probably aim for 40 people next year.
Another big improvement was price-point. Last year we relied on sponsors to get us most of our funds, and charged a $10 ticket price to prevent flaky attendees ruining our plans. Attendees were flaky anyway, so $10 wasn’t enough of an enticement – plus the low ticket price gave some people the impression that it was a silly/low class/outreach/student event of some kind. This year we pegged the ticket price at $50 per seat (which seems to be a standard price in Western nations), and we only had 2 complaints on price. This lessened our reliance on sponsors and made our flake-rate drop dramatically.
Though our internet was devoted to us, the router couldn’t handle the strain. At it’s peak usage – Saturday night – it needed reboots every 30 minutes (probably overheating). When it was working, it was working fine and fast, though! Just need some better hardware for next year.
Socialization was still a problem. Imagine – you are a local developer with a day-job, family, or you live out of town. You can’t make it to the friday-afternoon during-work-hours mingle, and you have to get home or catch a flight before the after-party. There’s no time to socialize! I might have to re-rig the schedule a bit for next year.
The discount I organized at a nearby hotel – same rate as last year (down from $90 to $70 per night) – turned out to be their standard book-online rate. They also didn’t bother to record the event name, so a few people had some confusing phone calls. I’ll have to try to get better rates next time.
Finally, there is clean-up. Even the other co-organizers left early this year, and by 10PM it was just myself and two others finishing up a few games of RockBand. I didn’t finish cleaning up (all by myself!) until about 2:30AM. :C Might be worth hiring someone next time!
Two things genuinely surprised me this year. Feedback for the website, and our Five Minute Game Challenge.
Last year hardly anybody mentioned the website at all, and I didn’t bother to do much more with it this year; just updated a few dates and images and that’s about it. But the feedback this year was tremendously positive (despite having less people show up? crazy!). If anyone else out there is looking to do a game jam, be sure to cover the bases I tried to:
- Transportation (international and local)
- Lodging (discounts & directions)
- Weather (what to expect/wear)
- Food (restaurants/groceries)
The Five Minute Game Challenge made a return this year as well. Last year it started as a joke mini-event, and two other people joined in and attempted the challenge after I failed (only Chevy succeeded, and barely so). This year, the FMGC took on a life of it’s own, and (to me, anyway!) was the highlight of the entire weekend.
Six individuals attempted The Challenge and most of them succeeded. Unlike last year, where everyone used FlashDevelop and made basic avoider-style games, a few of the games this year were written in various IDEs and actually really good. One of our attendees even wrote a song in five minutes!
One of the games in particular went on to another 20 minutes of graphical polish and still completely blows me away. My own game makes statements about mankind and could be an art game (with an ‘innovative’ mechanic). Chevy’s game is an insane bullet-hell shooter that ends in your own intentional suicide.
I love it. I absolutely love it. If I could hold an entire weekend of 5 minute game challenges, I would. I’m afraid it’s simply too intense, however; it must be taken lightly and in small doses. Lest my brain asplode from awesome. I’ll do a whole other post after this on how awesome the games were (and videos/downloads where I can).
How I Survived
Last year I was completely dead to the world – I could hardly stay awake, and my brain felt absolutely exhausted – even with getting plenty of sleep. I was there in spirit form only. I wasn’t sure how to solve that; I made sure everything was planned in advance, I made sure everything was taken care of, and I made sure I stayed in bed for regular sleeping hours. Didn’t help.
My brain was always going a mile-a-minute, checking and double-checking everything. I guess it didn’t help that it was my first big game dev event, maybe it was the pressure?
This year, I decided something very early on: Despite hosting and organizing a game jam, I wasn’t going to be making any games. I was going to be there to socialize, organize, and keep the machine oiled.
That seemed to do the trick! I slept much better, I didn’t feel constrained by time, and I often found myself sitting idle, without a thought or a worry. It was those moments that I allowed myself to make games.. but I was sure to keep thinking that it was only temporary, and I could stop whenever I wanted.
I ended up making two games! :D
Anyway, I hope this helps someone else organize their own events in the future. All in all it was an awesome event, and even more of a success than last year. Woooo!