14 Tips for a Successful HTML5 Game Jams and Hackathons

We love HTML5 games, and we love helping developers build HTML5 games.  One popular and fun format for learning HTML5 games is the Game Jam.  A Game Jam is like a hackathon for game developers.  Think food, laptops, snacks, and lots and lots of hacking.  In the end, each team will demo their game and there are usually prizes for "crowd favorite" or "technical achievement".

After running a few Game Jams, we've collected some best practices and tips to make your next Game Jam a success.  Big props to Vince Scheib and Mike Mahemoff for providing these tips.

- Publicize frameworks in advance and encourage attendees to come with 'hello world' games already under their belt so they can hit the ground running. Possibly include a super simple template of our own that isn't a 'framework', but just a tiny simple example.

- Publicize easy / free tools for e.g. audio & 2D drawing.

- Publicize source control and encourage teams to already know how to use it.

- Publicize game hosting tech (appengine, nodeJS) and point to relevant examples.

- Hold something back until the Jam - usually the theme. Generate a surprise theme that balances creative license and enough constraint to remove the 'blank page' effect.

- Have art resources ready. Some contests have run in two phases of 'prepare art' and then 'make games using only prepared art'. We probably can't do that, but we could get some of our designers to whip up material for contestants to draw from.

- Encourage rapid prototyping development practices! Games should be functional at 1/2 way point!!! They'll need the second half to polish. People always always always blow this and mis-estimate. Encourage frequent re-prioritization of what people are working on.

- Don't just have 'office hours', actively move around to help.

- Consider not doing, or doing in parallel, the tech presentations. Or, at a minimum, do them in a way to not distract people who are working.

- Run several wildly different categories for the contest. e.g. most original, best use of new tech, most hilarious. Don't have just "the best", or don't have "the best" at all.

- Plan for games to have more work done after the Jam, and how they will be publicized. Can teams update links, images, YT videos, etc?

- If the main aim is to prove the technology with some awesome demos, you're mostly concerned about the top 3 apps, so structure things to make those things great. (e.g. allow larger teams, make sure people can find each other before the event and in initial pitch session, run it over the whole weekend).

- Sponsorship is good. Bring prizes.

- The final demo is often the last time you will ever see an app running. People are just too busy. So (a) film it (b) encourage people to stick it on a URL. 

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