Joining a Game Design Community: Columbus Events & Short-Term Groups

Welcome to the first post in our Stop Pining and Get Game Designing series!

The first piece of advice we have on how to stop pining and get game designing is, like most good advice, infuriatingly simple: get involved in a game design community. We had originally planned on devoting just one post to this topic. After going through our interview transcripts, though, we’ve decided to split this topic into two separate posts—one on short-term design communities and one on long-term design communities.

Although every city is bound to have an entirely different game development landscape from the next, most readers will be able to find some form of regular game development meetup within a two hour drive from their current location.

Let’s use Columbus, Ohio, as a case study.

Finding a Game Design Community in Columbus, Ohio

If you’re college-aged, you might start your search at The Ohio State University (which has both undergraduate and graduate-level game design coursework as well as the OSU Game Creation Club) or Columbus State Community College (whose game design coursework is led by faculty members who are integrated into local design communities).

If you’re not college-aged (or if you would prefer to operate outside of the university environment), you could check out the Central Ohio Gamedev Group (COGG) for a regular slate of meetups that take a generalized approach to game design. If you’re interested in a specific type of game design, there are groups for you too—perhaps the Columbus Unreal Engine Meetup or VR Columbus is more your speed.

Depending on your level of access to Columbus’ university communities, the above opportunities might already give you five or six potential points of engagement. Then again, chances are that we don’t all have access to these opportunities. (This is especially true for readers who live outside of Columbus.)

For this reason, we’re going to pull back for a moment (zoom out, as it were) to talk about this idea of engaging in a game design community in more abstract terms. In doing so, we hope to give you insights that can be adapted to fit your own unique circumstances.

Why is it so important to find a game design community, anyhow?

When I started conducting interviews with the Multivarious folks, I expected to hear a lot of different viewpoints. After all, each person on the Multivarious team approaches the topic of design communities from the standpoint of their specialization. A design community for game artists is bound to look a lot different than a design community for programmers. While each person’s response was tailored to his or her area of expertise, I found several common themes emerging over the course of the interviews. Whatever differences there may be between game artist communities and game programming communities, everyone agreed on one basic matter—integrating yourself into a game design community is one of the most efficient ways to learn about game development. This time, our producer Cody Starcher is the star of the show!

Short-term communities : Game Jams, Hackathons, etc.

Cody Starcher, Producer

I think it’s super important for people who want to make a game to find a game jam, which is typically a 48-hour event where you get a bunch of developers together and try to make a game. It tends to be based around a theme. There’s a big one in January that we always host, called Global Game Jam. It works like this: There is one theme for each Global Game Jam. Developers from all across the world use this theme to make a game at roughly the same time. You start at 5:00 pm local time Friday night and go until 5:00 pm local time Sunday night.

It’s hectic. Everyone has 48 hours. You’ve got a bunch of people gathered together, asking “What do we want to do? Well, here’s our theme. What can we do with this?” You realize pretty quickly that you’re not going to make any crazy games. You’re not going to make the next Braid or whatever in only 48 hours, but it’s great experience in learning how to work with other people and how to function within a team. These things aren’t necessarily important for game development. After all, there are a lot of solo developers. But video games are best done when you have a group of people working on something together. In addition to teaching you how to work well with other people, game jams are great exercises in avoiding scope creep and feature creep.

You have only 48 hours to get the game done. You can have some awesome ideas, sure, but when it hits 10:00 pm on Friday night you know that you need to be in the engine working on the game. This is what makes game jams such a great, condensed way of getting the full experience of building a game. You’ll have a long weekend. You’ll be tired when you get back to work on Monday. But you’ll have a game under your belt. You’ll have experience. And you’ll be much more motivated to keep creating.

If game jams sound like your kind of thing, you’ll want to make sure to catch Steven Siegel, the Executive Director of the Global Game Jam, at GDEX 2017. And if the Global Game Jam sounds especially appealing to you, keep an eye on the list of Global Game Jam 2018 sites. It’s not unusual to find several Global Game Jam sites within a single city, which gives you some flexibility in deciding where you’d like to spend that long, hectic weekend.