We’re back with another blog about jamming as a studio — if this topic is new to you, check out our previous post Sparking Creativity: Why FarBridge Jams.
We’ve talked a bit about how Jam Day is one of our favorite in-office traditions at FarBridge and why it’s important to us. And because Jam Day is important to us, we put real, concerted effort into Making It A Thing at our studio, keeping it going from our earliest days in our office, through the pandemic, and continuing into our current fully-remote setup as a studio.
Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about how to run our monthly internal jam day, and we want to share some tips for incorporating these jams into your studio culture, be it big or small!
Keep it consistent
When you’re planning out your year, pick a day each month that’s less likely to be disrupted by milestones, travel, or conferences so that as many folks as possible can join in the fun — and then do your best to stick to it!
Yes, sometimes schedules have to reshuffle to make room for project fire fighting or real-life happenings, but getting these jam days onto the calendar and carving out that space for them will make them “real” in a way that vaguely planning to do one “about once a month” will never do. We’ve recently moved our jam days to Fridays, as that’s the day of the week that’s the least meeting-filed for us right now.
Make it sacred
That said, if something does impact Jam Day and force a reschedule, try to finesse the dates so that Jam Day can still happen for as many folks as possible, ideally the entire studio still. Don’t let it fall off the calendar without any attempts to maintain the cadence — establishing this as a ritual will take time and effort, but once it gets baked into the monthly landscape, that will be easier and easier.
Keep talking about it
Once you have your Jam Day date decided, you have to continually remind folks about it and encourage them to participate. We do this by including a quick reminder in our weekly studio-wide meeting, encouraging folks to join brainstorms, collaborate with teams or partners, and share what they’re excited about in a dedicated Slack channel. Brainstorming ideas and hyping each other up helps our remote team members get to know each other better, too — one of those “sneaky bonuses” of having our consistent Jam Days.
So many of us are pre-conditioned to turn away from “the fun thing” and look only at our to-do lists — it takes effort and focus to make sure you’re making room for fun in your day-to-day and month-to-month. It’s important and so worth it to give folks time and space to share in play with each other.
Have a show and tell
An important part of Jam Day for us is the Show & Tell at the end of the day. We use this as the official “pencils down, end of jamming” line in the sand, and it gives folks a concrete time and audience to work towards. Another sneaky bonus of Jam Day is that everyone learns (and then learns again) some hard lessons about scoping, quick decision making, and when to cut features.
Giving folks a space to show what they worked on, joyfully failed at, or otherwise created and learned-from also helps build team culture and cohesion. Creativity and curiosity are contagious, and seeing other folks’ efforts and outcomes often directly inspires and spark new ideas in ourselves. Throughout it all, we all get to cheer each other on, ask questions about process, and share in each other’s “scope humbled me hard” moments. We get to be humans trying things together.
Empower a Jam Host
A key to having Jam Day go smoothly for us is to have someone “host” the jam who champions the theme, reminds folks about brainstorming sessions, gives folks encouragement and time reminders during the jam itself, and leads Show & Tell. If we left this to our studio heads or department leads, the jams may never happen, so we’re very happy we’ve made this responsibility a rotating role in the studio.
As one jam day is wrapping up, the current host asks for a volunteer to host and coordinate the next jam. One natural perk of hosting jam day emerged early on, which is the ability to have a bit of extra sway in deciding what the next jam’s theme will be.
Have a theme, but keep it loose
The freedom to “do whatever you want” can be exhilarating for some, but can also lead to decision paralysis for others. So we like to set a theme for our Jams. Sometimes we’ve given a jam a very specific theme and goal, like trying out a new engine, other times the theme is a silly joke or meme to merely get creative juices flowing.
Seeing how folks interpret and then apply… selectively incorporate… elements of the theme is one of the true joys of attending each Jam Day Show & Tell.
Archive and record as much as possible
Although we have all our Jam Day projects archived, we only started recording our Show & Tells when we switched to a remote work environment, and we really wish we had our first few years of jam day projects recorded to look back on as well.
Learn from our oversight, and make a shared spot where Jam projects can all live and be revisited — and depending on your team’s culture and opinions, even consider posting more “finished” pieces to social media, public forums, or an indie game [storefront] like Itch.io. A lot of the joy in Jam Day is in the sharing of it with a broader circle — be that lessons from the Jam, moments from the Show & Tell afterwards, or the finished projects themselves.
Post-Mort the Jam
How did we learn all this about our Jam Days? How did we get better and better at Jamming? How will we have even better processes in the future? The answer is postmortems. A week or so after each Jam Day we host an optional post-mortem discussion where everyone can reflect on what they jammed on, and share ideas and feedback for the next jam.
Making time and space for folks to talk about what went well, what needs improvement, and what changes to make next time helps keep Jam Day focused on what our team wants and needs out of the creative exercise. Building play and experimentation into your month only works if it’s serving the team in the intended, needed way. If we weren’t doing post-mortems and being flexible about trying out new ideas and processes, Jam Day probably wouldn’t have weathered our move to remote-work and lasted this long.
If a lot of the above tips sound like lessons that fit with “real projects” and work, that’s because it is! Another one of those “sneaky bonuses” Jam Day offers is the ability for folks to engage with and learn new skills that are majorly useful in their normal work days, but without the stress (and often self-limiting behavior) that comes from the harsher consequences of trying something and not getting it perfect the first time.
We really hope these tips for running a Jam Day are helpful for you, and help spread the joy of jamming. If you have tips and tricks that work for you and your jam days, please share them with us! In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this fascinating fact and quote about how people learn new thing:
“Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain- unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10–20 repetitions.” –Dr. Karyn Purvis
Patrick Curry is the CEO at FarBridge. His pre-FarBridge game credits include Stubbs the Zombie, John Woo’s Stranglehold, Disney’s Guilty Party, and Avengers Initiative. Patrick also serves as an advisor to SXSW and has mentored numerous indie game developers.
Melissa Swanepoel is COO at FarBridge. She brings years of film production, live broadcast television, and product development experience to bear. Melissa is passionate about storytelling, interactive media, and the people behind it all.