Hi, we’re Patrick Curry and Melissa Swanepoel from FarBridge, an independent game studio based mostly in Austin, TX. We’ve been working completely remotely since March of 2020 when COVID came to the states, and thus far we’ve figured out how to keep our game studio productive, growing, and profitable without all being in the same place.
One of our favorite in-office traditions from the “before times” is what we call Jam Day — a monthly day of unguided creativity and insanity for our whole company — and we’ve continued this practice as a remote studio. Since Jam Day is one of our most favorite things we do at FarBridge, we thought we’d share a bit about it with the larger community of game developers and fans in this blog post.
What is Jam Day?
Many folks in our industry know what a “game jam” is — often a weekend-long event where people race to create as much of a video game as possible in a very short amount of time. We love game jams, and over the years we’ve been volunteer organizers of many in-person jams. But here at FarBridge we’re allergic to working on weekends, so we took the ideas of a game jam, and made it a monthly day-long event at the studio.
Jam Day is all about experimentation, creativity, and play. Creating a low-to-no stakes environment allows folks to take risks, learn new things, and try out concepts they otherwise wouldn’t have felt good or safe trying out. There are no boundaries of either department or discipline for jam day — everyone is invited to invent or try something new. Trying new things, it turns out, is not only good for business, but also good for brains.
Where did Jam Day come from?
Jam Day had its origins in 2017, not long after FarBridge came to be. During our early months, we wanted to “find the fun” in a couple of different approaches to Virtual Reality games, and decided to make super rough prototypes of six different styles of VR games. When the studio played through all concepts, we picked a favorite (what would eventually become Jar Wars) and moved forward from there.
Similarly, when we were doing a series of Augmented Reality projects in 2018, we found that we’d been accumulating a big list of things we were eager to try out using the pile of devkits and devices we’d collected. So we set aside a day for everyone to play with the technology and create whatever they wanted in the realm of AR. This led to some extremely memorable prototypes and ideas — things we still refer back to today.
This creative and collaborative practice also turned out to be really fun and inspiring — for all of us. It really brought home just how inventive you can be when the whole point is to try things, have fun, and not worry too much about things being The Very Best Possible. One of our favorite business catch-phrases is “progress, not perfection.” It wasn’t long thereafter that we decided as a team to regularly set aside time to play creatively and conceptually at least once a month….and thus Jam Day was born.
How we run Jam Day
Jam Days are held on the third Thursday of every month at FarBridge. One of our team members volunteers to be the host for the next jam, and they help guide everyone to select a theme for the month. Themes are often silly like “let’s make something Party Cat themed”, but sometimes they’re more guided like “let’s all jam on this new exciting piece of tech.”
When Jam Day rolls around we encourage our entire team across all departments and disciplines to take the day to work on anything they want — it can be a personal passion project they haven’t had time to work on, creating or trying out new mechanics or ideas in an existing FarBridge project, or just making a silly slideshow about a favorite topic of theirs.
Overall, it’s important to us that everyone at FarBridge be able to take time to be creative outside of official studio projects and participate in the fun of Jam Day. Some seasons of the year it’s easier than others to get everyone participating — we do still have projects with milestones, deadlines, and sometimes difficult to reschedule calls with publishers and partners. But we’re open about jam day happening, and so far none of the other companies we work with have discouraged its practice. A day of collaboration and creativity is good for everyone.
Once a theme is selected, It’s common for people to form small teams to work on ideas together. These teams usually congeal around puns and silly ideas discussed in our dedicated Jam Day Slack channel. On our most recent jam day, we had one team experimenting in Godot to make a hilarious “what junk food should we eat” slot machine, while another team loaded up Unreal Engine for Fortnite to see what the hubbub is all about.
As the work day comes to a close, the entire studio gets together in a video call for Show and Tell! These are often our more raucous meetings at FarBridge, as it’s always hilarious and inspiring to see everyone present their day-long progress and projects to the rest of the studio. People’s unique personalities and passions really shine through when they show off their creative progress (or equality-useful creative disasters) from the day. Nothing beats spending time together as a team sharing a laugh and getting to learn from each other.
Why we’ll keep having Jam Day
Jam Day has become an institution at FarBridge, with most members of our studio participating every month. Even if we ourselves can’t jam on the designated day, we still do our very best to attend the show and tell to be inspired by the creativity and talent of the team. We know that having folks explore new topics, tools, and approaches can lead directly to breakthroughs in current projects, as well as building a rich bank of ideas and concepts to draw on for future projects.
Aside from the “good for business” and “good for growth” angles, we believe that making space for play is, above all, good for humans. We all need it, we learn fastest through play, and it is an important facet of how we experience ourselves, each other, and the world around us. At FarBridge we aim to not only make great games we’re all proud of, but to do so in a way that’s safe, healthy, and fun for all of us people involved.
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.