ScoreSpace: taking game jams to the next level

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Alexander Bergendahl7 min read
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In 2018, Khaalid Booker (KB for short) created the ScoreSpace game jam, an event where devs build games with a high-score feature in just 72 hours. It isn’t just any game jam though – the participants rate the games themselves, with the top three going to streamers for testing and feedback. ScoreSpace then works with the developers to port their games to mobile and finesse the gameplay, before releasing them as “ScoreDrops” where players compete for the high scores (and prizes) over 48 hours.

KB calls this a “competitive arcade experience”. “We’re the only game jam that does this regularly,” he says. And it’s helped him take ScoreSpace from a small event to a fully integrated game publisher. Some of the games they’ve published include Aureole and Bullet Knight, and, most recently, Twin Edge which also saw their publishing debut on Steam. This year is the first year they’re publishing games on the app store as well – with the aim to add at least one a month. So how did one person change a simple game jam into a successful business model?

Starting out

KB’s interest in game jams began when he was pretty young – the first one he went to was in the sixth grade when his computer teacher ran one in class. “After it was over he introduced me to a website called itch.io that hosts game jams all year round. That was it – I was hooked. I was also lucky that my school was in Culver City where IndieCade used to host their yearly indie game festival. So I was able to volunteer there for three years running.” KB learned a lot about game development and design in that time. And not long after he finished high school he started ScoreSpace, and began running his own game jams.

“One of the things that inspired me to make my own game jam was that I noticed most of them were the same. The only difference was the theme or length of the jam. So I decided to change things up a little.” One of the major changes KB made was to add in playtesting by streamers, which in turn draws more attention to the game jam and the games it produces. ScoreSpace is also the only game jam that gives devs the chance to get their game published once the event’s over.

How one person made it big

When KB first started out only a few devs came to his game jams. Now he has hundreds of entries for each one, and will soon run the 20th ScoreSpace game jam (register here). “It’s insane how much it’s grown in the past few years. I think a lot of that’s down to the way I’ve made it different to the usual game jams. And every year I try to improve the experience for the devs.” Those improvements might only be small – like bringing in more streamers to play the games or updating the jam page graphics. But they all add up over time.

“We also run our game jams regularly which keeps the momentum going,” KB explains. “So even if your game doesn’t place in the top three, they’re a great way to get better at your craft and learn from other devs.”

The game jams work really well for ScoreSpace as a company too. The process of jam to publishing has created a unique and easily repeatable business model. “As long as we can run game jams we’ll have great games to publish,” says KB.

It hasn’t always been completely straightforward though. In the past the voting system – where the participants choose the best three games – didn’t always work. “The popular voting system left too much room for tampering and caused problems with rating fairness. We now have a judging system in place which has been working really well for us.”

KB is also constantly surprised at how helpful the devs are to each other, even though they’re supposed to be competing. “I think that says a lot about the type of people we have working in our industry. And it’s also one of the reasons why individuals and small teams can create big things, fast.”

Running your first game jam

So what are KB’s top tips for organizing your own game jam? “Start by finding your unique selling point: what makes your game jam different to all the others? Then think of a catchy name. It’s a small thing, but it can definitely help sell your jam.”

Having a quality jam page is important as well. “Make sure it looks professional – shoddy graphics or spelling mistakes aren’t going to encourage top devs to choose your jam over another.” Good communication is vital too. KB recommends Discord – it makes staying connected and engaging with the devs super easy: “Everyone should know what’s going on at all times.”

And finally, get your timings right. Try to pick a time for your jam when there aren’t many others going on, so people don’t have to choose between them. Don’t make it too long either – you need to allow enough time for devs to do what they do best, but not so long that they start to lose focus. “72 hours is just about the right amount of time to make something that’s good quality,” KB says. “But it’s not so long that it takes the pressure off.”

Going to your first game jam

If you’re keen to take part in your first game jam, but not sure how you’ll get on, KB has some great advice. “Try to set those types of feelings aside. Remember that it’s a challenge, not a competition. Don’t worry about anyone else, and just try to make a better game than the last one you made – something you’re proud of.”

Most game jams have really helpful communities. So don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure about something. And also don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone – because game jams have a theme, they force you to get creative. “You might find you make something that otherwise would never have occurred to you,” KB says.

It’s also important to prepare properly for a game jam. Plan how you’ll use the time you have most efficiently, and remember to include a buffer towards the end to sort out any bugs. Get your basic concept planned out early. KB also says to remember the importance of gameplay above all else: “Always do gameplay first, graphics last – nobody likes a cute but boring game. Make something that’s fun. I see hundreds of games a month and the thing that always stands out the most is genuinely fun gameplay.”

Remember that winning isn’t everything

Try not to get put off if you don’t win. Of course, winning is great. But as long as you learn something while developing your game, you’ll be going away with something positive. “Most of the people who win jams are experienced devs. While you might not be there quite yet, you will catch up as long as you keep failing forward.”

KB’s last bit of advice for successfully taking part in a game jam? “Stay hydrated. Hydration is important.”

Ready for a game jam?

If you’d like to take part in the next ScoreSpace game jam, you’ll find all the details here. Be sure to follow ScoreSpace on Twitter as well to be first to hear which games they’re publishing next. And if you do take part in one of their jams, don’t forget to use LootLocker for your leaderboards – it only takes a few minutes to integrate and works with all popular engines.

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