On July 6, 3 hours before the start of Game Jam China organized by China Indie Game Alliance (CiGA)—one of China’s largest gaming and developers’ communities—there were around 20 developers already sitting in the jamming venue for Beijing. Talking to participants they first met, people eagerly discussed game development skills and jamming expectations. CiGA promised free red bull and snacks—once the event formally starts, sleep will not be a luxury, but a sin.

Game Jam China is an intense game design and development event where participants are supposed to produce a game or prototype in 48 hours with other participants they choose to form teams with. The final work has to be a valid interpretation of a mysterious theme the organizer releases, and the format of the theme can be any media form including video, music, photo, or text.

This year, Game Jam China took place in 8 cities and 9 sites: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou (2 sites), Hangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu, Xiamen, and Shenzhen. The event produced games, behind-the-scene stories, and the Chinese indie game community’s first open attempt in blockchain games.

 A developer celebration

CiGA’s Game Jam takes place twice a year—one as an official regional site of the Global Game Jam, one as CiGA’s exclusive event for just China. From January 26th to 28th, 2018, the Global Game Jam had 42,800 jammers who made 8,606 games at 803 sites in 108 countries, including sites in Afganistan and Togo.

Global Game Jam (GGJ) participation map (from 2009 to 2018). The lighter the color, newer a country/region’s GGJ participation membership. See the original interactive map here.

At 6 pm, July 6, Simon Zhu, founder of CiGA and event organizer, released the theme for the Game Jam exclusively for China.

The CiGA Game Jam China theme. The two people in the image share one face. Image Credit: CiGA

When the event ended, developer teams around China can choose to upload their work to WanGa.me, a host server acknowledged by the organizer and community. Once a game is uploaded to the host’s website server, it’s content and prototype is protected.

The great gathering: CiGA Game Jam China 2018 (Beijing site). Image Credit: CiGA

To game makers, having players play the game is the ultimate goal. For indie games that don’t take commercial gains as a priority, Game Jam is also a national interactive seminar where top developers and emerging stars have dialogues and exchange thoughts. Good games will be selected by professional judges to attend China’s annual WePlay exhibition, one of the country’s biggest game shows.

Jammers and games

“I have been working to test games for some time, but I want to make a change,” said Li Zijian, a participant from Beijing.

He told TechNode that it was his first time at Game Jam. He is thinking of entering the gaming industry as a producer, and the event will allow him to see how well he could do. Though knowing someone who will be coming to the event, Li decided to form a team with “strangers”.

“My friend told me it’s going to be more exciting if I come to the event on my own—everything will be completely new. There will be people who have known each other before, but jammers don’t mind—this event is for fun. Just take care of your own game.”

Sun Simou, a fresh graduate from Beijing University of Technology presented a slime platformer game with two other members.

The slime game demo. A player will have to adjust a slime’s size by using things in the environment. Hidden achievements and levels were also designed in 48 hours. Image Credit: CiGA Game Jam China (Beijing site)/The Slime Team

“I’m not a new jammer. The purpose of my participation is clear: beyond just the production of a game, I demand from myself to program with the best I can do. As my jamming experience grows, I know what I want.”

Sun told TechNode that he had already secured a job offer from a game company. His team’s 48 hours were not all for coding. The team thought about topics such as schizophrenia but finally abandoned it as the team didn’t have an artist to properly present nuanced visual, audio, and even emotional expressions. The inspiration for the game came from member Xu Zilin’s idea of the paradox of integration and differentiation. The design of the game jumped to Sun’s head in the Saturday morning when he woke up.

“Integration and differentiation, I told myself—slime!”

The final year student Xu Zilin and another member Yu Jiahui, a third-year postgraduate student, are Sun’s fellow interns in a gaming company. Sun persuaded them to join Game Jam.

“Yes I got them in my team, and I got Zilin for love,” Sun laughed.

University students are active in practical events such as Game Jam, but there are even younger participants. At the Shenzhen site, there was a second-year secondary school developer. The youngest jammer this time was an 8-year boy who did designs for game covers, boss features, and characters at a Guangzhou site.

deParT prototype, a demo combining the concept of a male “Poe” character and a female “Triss” character for a theme “dear” if taking letter P and T out of the game’s name.  Image Credit: CiGA Game Jam China (Beijing site)/ Team 2

Meanwhile, 3 students who also finished their first year of study at China’s Northeastern University, formed a team with 3 developers they met during the event. The team produced a music game Switch Fever.

Music game Switch Fever (Image Credit: CiGA Game Jam China (Beijing site)/Team 19: the 1856)

“People I used to see at game events are apparently attending less now. From a young and passionate student to full-time employees and member of your own new family, your state of mind will change,” Sun told TechNode. As Sun’s team member and girlfriend Zilin said, the process of making a game can be exhausting. She hopes Sun will not have to work too hard.

“Time can be another problem,” said Li Ziteng, a jammer who taught a game development course for a semester at Binhai College, Nankai University. Ziteng told TechNode, some of his game guru friends were more than eager to attend Game Jam, but their workload didn’t allow for it.

Li Ziteng’s Pixel game Monster Slasher prototype. The monster’s body will grow another face once the original one is destroyed. Image Credit: CiGA Game Jam China (Beijing site)/Team 12: ZiTEN9

“The weekend and summer holidays are good for faculty staff and students,” Ziteng explained, and added, “My first game development attempt in given time was in Silicon Valley a few years ago. [Personally speaking] I didn’t do well. It was also through that event that I learned the importance of game programming and decided to jam more.”

Ziteng studied at the top art school Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He joined CiGA’s Game Jam alone and produced the game alone. “The whole solo experience was like a pilgrimage. You detach yourself from the real world, with no thoughts other than the game in your mind.”

Riding the blockchain train

Unlike other blockchain conferences where participants eagerly crave knowledge and learn about cash-out opportunities, blockchain concepts didn’t receive much excitement. Developers were calm and even suspicious when a blockchain-tech sponsor was introducing blockchain’s potential to change the way people play games.

At this stage, many blockchain games are showing similarities regarding crypto-currency-supported financial rewards and ownership of in-game equipment. Team 11 in Beijing, for instance, introduced a game that allows players to design their own level maps to challenge others and in return get crypto-currency rewards in the case of a victory. But the team also made clear that beyond their test in blockchain concept, it’s the game itself that they hope will impress players.

The web-based text adventure game Last Trip integrates blockchain (CiGA Game Jam site Shanghai). Every player who fails a level would become an NPC (Non-Player Character) that will interact with following new players. Image Credit: CiGA Game Jam China site Shanghai/Team Matrix

To most Chinese indie game developers, being professional is the key.

“A good portion of [early-stage developers] want to make really big games. This is not a good starting position for them. I can imagine what’s in their minds may be an AAA game [games produced and published by major publishers] like Diablo which shows high technical ability. Smaller games including those for sale on App Store can be an approachable starting point.[Entry level] developers can make them even without artists [or other special developers],” Ziteng told us.

Li Zijian said, “It’s hard to say whether blockchain’s role in games is good or bad. The gaming industry looks fun but it’s highly professional and exclusive—it’s the way you get people to play that truly matters, never a concept or a buzzword. A judgment can only be made once a game that offers an innovative playing model is available.  A crypto-kitty asset shows little attraction to players who play to just play.”