Public Domain Jam Wrap Up

The Public Domain Jam really kicked off when the Gender Jam, which I was looking forward to entering, was cancelled. It'd been a while since the last time I'd entered a game jam, and after the Cyberpunk Jam (the previous itch.io hosted jam), I was already starting to think about how I'd host my own.

I already had the idea in mind: Chris Remo had recently had a bit of a rant on the Idle Thumbs podcast about how stories just don't enter the public domain any more, and how that means people will never get to do their own takes on those stories. That, combined with the complete over-saturation of zombie-or-Cthulhu-based-survival-horror games on steam, made the choice clear - a jam about getting away from bad Cthulhu rehashes, and back to the stories that have stood the test of time.

While I won't go TOO much into stats and numbers, far and away the biggest source of traffic for the PDJam was compohub. We're talking 80-90%. Compohub has been the central calendar of the game jam scene for as long as I can remember. It was partially abandoned by its creator but it's now run by Leaf, who also runs itch.io, so it should be getting more streamlined in the future, but until then - if you're hosting a jam on itch, put in the extra effort and make sure you're on compohub as well. If you're doing a game jam, and it's not on compohub, it's going to suffer.

Once the page was ready to go, I posted the jam on reddit.com/r/gamejams, /r/gamedev, on the Idle Thumbs game jam forum, and sent an email out to every indie games press or personality I had an email address for. I'm lucky enough to do web development for a day job, so I have a mass-email system already set up (I use campaign monitor, but you can also use mailchimp – they're both fairly cheap).

From that point, things were a blur of responding to people on twitter and email, and one of those people was Nicky Case, the massively talented creator of Nothing to Hide (and now, Coming Out Simulator 2014). When Nicky proposed donating $1000 to the winning game, well, my jaw hit the floor. Since then, Nicky got behind this jam in a way I'm so grateful for I can barely express it. I don't think it would have been nearly as successful without his input.

When I started the jam, I had a vague idea of how the creative commons cc-0 license would work, but a lot of it was put together ad-hoc by Leaf, and the rules were structured around that. Leaf, Nicky and I were all in different time zones, so this phase of setting up the rules and organising the systems behind the jam was a constant stream of emails and waiting to hear back.

Because the jam was put together piece by piece, and the rules decided on as they became necessary, there were a LOT of questions about the jam, the prize, about public domain, creative commons, and legal implications WELL beyond what I was able to answer on my own. Both Nicky and the Creative Commons twitter managers helped out with this, but if you're hosting your own jam, for god's sake keep it simple.

The day the jam theme was announced was the single biggest spike in traffic the site had, completely eclipsing even the prize announcement. The dual-theme system for the jam was necessary, to discourage cheating/starting in advance. I can't say whether having that focal point gave us more or less entrants, but I'll say this - without that theme announcement, there absolutely wouldn't have been that traffic spike. Good themes and constraints are necessary for game jams. They build anticipation, and give people the jumping-off point they need.

Copyright is a messy business. I'd expected a few questions about whether or not a source would be public domain, but the volume and depth of the questions was something that I wasn't really capable of answering. It was something I feel was specific to the nature of the PDJam, and the nature of public domain and copyright in a global competition.

The source of much confusion was the prizes - were all entries required to be cc0? Were only cc0 entries eligible for the Loom SDK licences? These questions arose from dividing the prize pool, which could have been explained better.

If I could offer any advice beyond getting your jam on compohub as soon as possible, it'd be this - end your jam after the weekend. You can push yourself over a weekend, but not everyone can pull an al-nighter in the middle of the week. Extending the jam didn't give people two days on top of the existing seven, it doubled the time people had to make their game, because WEEKDAYS DON'T COUNT IN A GAME JAM.

No time is great for everyone to finish, but late entries were surprisingly easy to deal with through itch, and the jam closed with 61 entries. It's nothing compared to a Ludum Dare, but then what is?

Graphics seemed to play less of a part in the rankings than you would think. Perhaps this is because it was a jam about stories. The games that were in the top 10 were ranked highest for polish (3), fun (3), sound (2), staying true to source material (1), and theme (1)

Itch doesn't have a "coolness" rating like Ludum Dare, to show who rated the most games and gamify the process of rating games (although it is known more ratings boosts you on the homepage sorting). On average, each person played and rated 15 other games. That's a pretty great indication that people weren't just in it for themselves, but to learn from others.

This was reinforced by the fact that 41 out of 60 entries chose to release as cc0. I have to say I'm proud that this jam pushed itch.io to support cc0 as a release option for future games and game jams. It's clearly popular enough that people are willing to use it if it's a project they don't expect to make money from.

The quality of the games submitted was astounding. When I put together a list of games I thought were interesting to send to press, I missed many of the games that ended up being fan-favourites. There were games I was completely fascinated by, games that I couldn't comprehend, and games that held promise beyond the scope of what was possible in a jam time frame. Who knows, maybe by the time the next PDJam rolls around, we'll see some full releases based on jam entries.

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