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Judging a Global Game Jam
Judging a Global Game Jam
February 28, 2012 | By Staff

February 28, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design

In Gamasutra's new feature, Ernest Adams discusses what he learned from judging recent Global Game Jam entrants in the Netherlands and posits a set of criteria for judging.

Adams, who has long worked as a designer, was surprised at the diversity of opinion in the judging panel for the Global Game Jam in Leeuwarden.

"The tricky part was figuring out who should win. All the judges had distinctly different preferences," writes Adams.

"Reviewing the video games, even though I'm a designer, I gave more weight to completeness than to design innovation," he writes.

"Our artist judge was more concerned about design innovation than he was about artistic quality, which surprised me. Our audio engineer judge rated one game strongest that I rated weakest."

"It seems to me that game judges have four major areas for discussion: programming, graphics, sound, and gameplay. You can judge each of these on three metrics: innovation, quality, and completeness. You might also consider a fourth, size, but in the context of a game jam I don't think there's much point.

"Other things being equal, a bigger game requires more work and deserves more kudos than a smaller one, but other things never really are equal, and it would be a shame for participants to sacrifice anything else just for size," writes Adams.

However, there's still some debate to be had, Adams admits.

"I discussed this with some colleagues on Google+, and several felt that, at a game jam, innovation is by far the most important factor and completeness shouldn't come into it much. Another thought that game jams are effectively rapid prototyping, and the result should be judged like a prototype, for its ability to give a feel of the real product."

The full feature, in which Adams proposes his detailed judging criteria and he discusses the entrants to his jam, is live now on Gamasutra.

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Lalleve Julien
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I'm wondering why you want to judge games at the global game jam.

I went to the jam in Cologne and we had fun making games with strangers and just sharing the results with the group. There was no judging and we didn't miss it. I don't think it should be a competition, people at a game jam are already super motivated and ready to spend 48 hours making a game, why single out a winner and call the rest losers ? Especially if there has to be endless debates as to who should win, what should be taken in consideration.

You can just tell people to make games and have fun doing so, it'll work !

Maybe that's a good way to solve the issue, no ? :)

Susan Gold
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IMHO is that ou should judge based on innovation & experimentation. To me, the GGJ is about trying new things, not about how well they look. Quality is such a hard thing to accomplish in 48 hours.

Samuel Batista
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When I went to the Game Jam this year I went with the assumption that judges would value completeness and "potential for monetization" the most, meaning they would likely pick an entry that they could see moving forward and expanded into a full game.

My team won first place at our local Jam, which for me was justification that my approach had merit. We fared better than teams that had more interesting and innovative gameplay because we focused on establishing good looking visuals and executing our core gameplay principle very well. In the end we had a very small game that felt complete, it had menus, instructions, inviting gameplay and was mostly bug-free.

Winning then becomes sort of an encouragement to continue working on the idea post game jam. This is very difficult in my case since I have a full time job at a major game studio, and I barely have enough time to sleep, let alone play games or work on my own side projects. I have no idea how married people manage...

Titi Naburu
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Like Lalleve says, I was told that the Global Game Jam is based on the "everyone cooperates, everyone wins" motto. I did vote in favour of a global prize at the official poll, because we Uruguayans love to hear "this Uruguayan won an international prize". I mean, if there are a dozen winners in a thousand games, nobody will think they lost.

Back to how to judge, I'm a car fan, and each country has a Car of the Year award. The European and North American CotYs, the two most relevant ones, share the same key adjective: outstanding. To stand out, a winner must have special characteristics that the other don't.

I agree that such a prize should have exactly that criteria. Companies care for potential for monetization that and developers should learn it, but I'd never car about that in a contest. Completeness or polishness should never be rewarded in a 2-day dev contest, or 2-week.

So to me, an award-winning game must be outstanding. And what is that? Simple: playing it must feel special, outstanding.

Programming is definitely not interesting, the player doesn't see it. Graphics and sound can make an outstanding audiovisual artwork. Story can make an outstanding literary artwork.

But to me, a game is something meant to be played. A truly outstanding game must feel good to be played. Of course, story, graphics and sound can help a lot to make a game more outstanding, if they help the game experience.

Titi Naburu
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I didn't mention originality. I believe it's really tricky to judge it, even more than game experience. You would need to know each single game ever made it judge if it's original. And if you combine two or three old games into something new, how can you measure if the result is original indeed?

Perhaps there are actual experts who can judge originality indeed. But I'm not much into that concept.

In contrast, anyone can tell if they like playing a game - a kid, a hardcore teenager, an adult non-gamer, a specialized critic, anyone.