[In this article, originally published in Game Developer magazine's 2012 Career Guide, the publication's own Patrick Miller outlines how you can flex your game design muscles by taking part in high-speed game jams.]
Ever try to make a game over a single weekend? Game jams are a great opportunity to make quick-and-dirty game prototypes, play with new and unconventional design themes, and network with fellow enthusiastic developers.
And since you can participate in many of these jams remotely, you don't have to be limited by your local developer scene, either. In a game jam, a bunch of people, who often have never met each other, and who sometimes have never even made games before, get together to work on game projects. Most game jams have a loose theme for the developers to work on, and a time limit, but that's all the structure you get! This is a great way to meet developers, gain some skills, and learn about team dynamics without the threat of losing money or getting a bad grade. It's a great way to experiment, and to learn by doing.
Global Game Jam
The Independent Game Developers Association's Global Game Jam is the largest game jam in the world (in fact, it's getting added to a special edition of the Guinness Book of World Records). It takes place every year in late January, and last year's jam saw thousands of developers in 242 different locations across the world make over 1,500 games-just over the course of a weekend! Don't be intimidated, though; everyone is welcome, not just professionals, and you're encouraged to come and find a team at the venue rather than bring your own. If there is a school near you with a game-development program, odds are pretty good they're participating in the Global Game Jam, so be sure to search the official site for local jams.
The Toronto Game Jam (TOJam) aims to foster collaboration and experimentation among developers by hosting a three-day programming marathon for hobbyists and professionals. Attendees bring their own computers, tools, and sleeping bags to collaborate with their peers and make the best game they can-from scratch-over the course of a weekend.
The event is not a competition but rather an opportunity for amateur and professional developers to test their skills in a fun environment while surrounded by like-minded peers. Since the first TOJam in 2006, the event has produced well over a hundred complete games. The next TOJam will take place in May 2013.
Experimental Gameplay Project
The Experimental Gameplay Project is a long-running game jam headed up by the indie devs behind World of Goo, Crayon Physics Deluxe, and many other games. It's a virtual jam, so all you have to do is submit a game by posting a link on the EGP's web site that follows three rules: Your game must be made by one person and in less than seven days, and it must be built around the EGP theme of the month. Recent themes include "Rotation," "101 Things," and "Economy."