GDC, or the Game Developers Conference, to use its formal name, is the world’s largest professional game industry event, with nearly 30,000 game developers from all over the world descend on San Francisco’s Moscone Center for a week of professional development, networking, and celebration of achievements in the year past. Announcements sometimes happen here, as do the annual awards shows for the International Mobile Game Awards, the Independent Games Festival, and of course the Game Developer Choice Awards.

But in addition to the main conference, there are other spinoff events happening all throughout the week, like the Game Accessibility Conference (which we discussed in an earlier post), the Game User Research Summit (hosted by the IGDA’s User Research SIG), and the International Conference on Game Jams, Hackathons, and Game Creation Events (aka, ICGJ ’17, the world’s only academic conference dedicated to game jams, run – fittingly enough – by the Global Game Jam).

Unlike the others, however, which contend with the main conference, and the plethora of networking events happening around it, ICGJ ’17 happens on Sunday, before the hectic week begins. So, fresh off the plane, I made my way over to GitHub HQ for a day of edification (and good food, which these events almost always have).

One of the more interesting talks of the day was a presentation by Xavier Ho of the University of Sydney on Evoking Inspiration for Game Jam Ideas (slides generously available here). He discussed the research behind how people came up with ideas for their game jam titles, finding that card-based idea generation toolkits and online random generators only saw use in the very beginning of a jam, and that compared to notebooks, whiteboards, post-it notes, or just pen & paper, they were underutilized.

Alexey Izvalov gave a talk comparing Game Creation Events and Engineering Hackathons on the Global and Local Levels, using the Global Game Jam and NASA SpaceApps as exemplars.

Richard Eberhardt and Mikael Jakobsson spoke about their work on “Recasting Player Two” at MIT. Recasting Player Two was a project where people from the community came together to look into new mechanics and interaction modes for play experiences for players who might be less directly involved with play (i.e. can you make a game fun for someone not holding a controller?). They talked about diversity not just in terms of theme, narrative and representation, but also in regards to how one interacted with games – and game accessibility.

And of course, there was the flagship panel of the ICGJ, moderated by Susan Gold (one of the Global Gam Jam’s founders). In the course of a sprawling discussion with panelists from Denmark, Brazil, Dubai, and Michigan, they tackled issues of diversity, its challenges, and its rewards in hackathons and game creation events.

Among the concerns were:

  • Awareness – Sponsors outside the US often don’t understand game jams or hackathons. Indeed, in Brazil and Dubai, there is a large misconception of game jams being weekends where people come together and play games!
  • Cost – Cost to participate in one of these events can be surprisingly high, especially for those not local to an area. The entrance fee was only the first hurdle; the availability of crash space was also noted as a concern, since otherwise, hotels and alternative modes of accommodation could be quite expensive.
  • Image – The industry has a bit of an image problem, especially outside the states, where hackathons/game jams are seen as full of nerds using computers.
  • Recruitment – Diversity needs to be couched not in terms of making life easier for a group one is trying to attract, but in terms of its benefits for everyone, or there can – and will – be pushback. Being more inclusive in advertising one’s event (e.g. calling for “creatives” as opposed to “veteran programmers”) can help, as can hosting workshops to help new participants learn to use the software.
  • Responsiveness: Make people comfortable – they’re going to be working themselves to the bone over the weekend, so making sure they’re looked after.
  • Representation: Diverse representation both in the organization team and on teams sponsors send is good, as it helps one to think about/consider issues that wouldn’t otherwise come to mind.

That’s it for the highlights of the ICGJ. Now, I’m off to the first day of GDC!