Do game developers and journalists really understand one another? Develop finds out
Around a conference table sit a number of games industry piers, hunched at computers and wired on caffeine.
The small hours are upon them, as this gathering of creators from different companies work together coding games far later than is sensible. They have less than a day until deadline, and are living off convenience foods and takeaways.
This is, of course, a familiar setting. It’s a 48-hour game jam, and eight teams are in the thick of it. But something is different here.
Four established games journalists, assisted by student coders from Derby University, are making the games. Meanwhile, four developers are covering the event as press, posting stories to Develop’s own website. Welcome to JournoDevSwap.
The idea for the event was conceived by developer-turned-consultant Will Luton, who attended this year’s GDC as a Develop columnist. The work opened his eyes to games journalism; an experience he felt worth sharing.
And so it was that JournoDevSwap came to be, with significant input from UKIE CEO Jo Twist, and a little help from team Develop. The contest challenged games developers and games journalists – two groups that don’t always see eye-to-eye – to swap roles in a game jam context.
The idea was to stimulate thinking about the relationship the two share, shed some light on each disciplines’ skillset, and maybe even enhance each contestant’s perspective within their day job.
Immediately as the event started, one thing was clear; the teams were taking this seriously on both sides of the JournoDevSwap fence. A sense of joviality also prevailed, as did the atmosphere of mutual support prevalent at so many game jams, but the contestants at this event were clearly set on proving they could fill the shoes of their ‘rivals’.
The structure was simple. Each journalist – Keith Stuart from The Guardian, RockPaperShotgun’s Dan Griliopoplus, Lewie Proctor of RPS and Savvy Gamer, and CVG’s Rob Crossley – would tackle making a game around the theme of ‘Swap’.
They were not totally alone, however, assisted as they were by the talented aforementioned student coders from Derby, Karn Bianco, Jake Woodruff, Chris Barnes, Luc Shelton, Kevin Chandler, Theo Chin and David Jones.
Meanwhile, each games developer – namely Spilt Milk’s Andrew Smith, Peter Theophilus-Bevis from Blitz Games, Mark Backler, then with Lionhead, and Jim Griffiths from Mediatonic – were set a series of deadlines throughout the weekend.
They were tasked with the likes of conducting interviews, penning previews, securing exclusive stories, and publishing them for real to www.develop-online.net.
And there was significant motivation for all involved to graft hard; JournoDevSwap trophies for the developer-cum-journalist deemed most successful by a Develop panel, and for the writer-turned-dev selected by a group of industry experts including Miles Jacobson of studio Sports Interactive.
As the event progressed, it became clear how much the jam was beginning to mean to the attendees. Brows furrowed across the room in the hosting UKIE office.
“I think what was significant was the willingness in the room,” says Luton. “Everyone embraced the spirit of the event and was extremely respectful – with exception to the night me and Keith Stuart got drunk and kept everyone awake by shouting at people on Chat Roulette. Without wanting to sound trite, it was a very special time, which I feel people will look back upon as significant in their careers.”
As for what the attendees are set to gain from taking part in the event, Twist believes its not simply a matter of learning about life on the opposite side of the journalist-developer divide, but in fact about better understanding creativity in a broader context.
“I think they have all taken away an acute appreciation of the challenges, stresses and the enormous creativity that goes into making – whether than be making a game, artwork, making an idea express itself, or something interesting to read,” says Twist, who adds that it’s not just the job-swapping attendees that are set to gain.
“The Derby University coders were brilliant,” she asserts. “They have taken away a really special insight into how established developers and journalists think and work – and they have realised that they are actually normal people too.”
In the end, the accolade for best game went to Stuart and his coding partner Chin, for their dual-play, auto-running game Double Droids. Meanwhile, Backler scooped the award for best journalist at the event, picked for his focus, clean writing style and success with hitting deadlines.
“I really didn’t expect this,” said Backler, taking to an improvised stage to accept his award. “All the writing this weekend was great, and everybody has put in so much effort. It’s been really good to see what all the journalists and developers have put in.”
More important, perhaps, than the winners, are the lessons learned at JournoDevSwap, which were many.
From informing their perspective of the other side of the industry, to embracing learnings that can be applied to their day job, all involved seemed convinced the investment of 48 hours – and the loss of sleep – was worthwhile, even if some called to be pushed harder next time.
And there will be a next time, as Twist explains. “It was such an open, friendly, sharing atmosphere and we want to do more,” she says. “I think it shone a spotlight on what lovely, creative people we have already in our industry, and what incredibly talented young people are coming through the ranks.
“These are the people who are going to be defining the future of the games industry and we must nurture them and help them where we can. Every part of the games and interactive entertainment industry needs to be foster and that’s what we at UKIE are here for. With Will Luton’s help, we are going to replicate and extend this format of swap jams into new areas so watch this space.”
JournoDevSwap will return, so take Twist’s advice, and keep an eye on Develop for details of the next event. Maybe you can even take part. n See full coverage of JournoDevSwap on www.develop-online.net