On Game Jams and the User-centric Approach

Q: Do you think user-centric approaches are at odds with the Game Jam approach?  If the idea is to get a player involved early in the process, how does this fit into what goes on at a Game Jam?

A: I’m a second year games student who has already either participated or been witness to a couple of Game Jams. Game Jams are made to be fast paced game development gatherings that usually end up being better in networking or a good game idea than in a finished product. I honestly believe prototyping is a lot easier since it fits in a Jams time frame and has a potential to provide cool ideas for a product, something that could be expanded, while when making a game you have to be lucky sometimes to make it really work out.
The problem starts from the way Game Jams take place: two days of work round the clock, thus it’s practically a group of people crunching away and designing a game from scratch. The only problem with it is usually the scope taken by teams. A game with a big scope has very small chances of being done in two weeks, let alone two days. The speed of production could also come into conflict with the user-centric approach.
In order to get a player involved early in the process, a team has to have a target already. That is one of the main rules of marketing when it comes to making a product: establishing a target, whether it is a niche or a wide audience. Target audience influences design and needs at least one representative from the target audience in order to continuously provide input. Besides that, constant communication must be present, meaning that in order for a game jam to work it needs to have the user be part of the team and yet separated. Constantly communicating and inputing information but being in the dark enough in order to make playtesting be attuned more objectively.
Due to the nature of game jams, I would say that game jams are generally not user-centric, but they could be made that way by getting either outside people to be “users” and thus the target for the teams developing. If that is not possible, then the users could be the members of other teams, though that might influence the design of other games. It is complicated to say which could be the right choice of action but in my opinion, user-centric approaches are more or less at odds with game jams as babysitting the user might require too much effort considering the strenuous and necessary development.

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