This last April I participated in my 4th Ludum Dare competition. Ludum Dare is a 48 game making competition held 3 times a year. Last December's keynote gives a gives a pretty good explanation about what the Ludum Dare is all about...
It's been around for over 13 years and has has steadily grown to become one of the largest and longest running game jams on the web. It's popularity is due in part to one of its most famous participants Notch (Markus Persson) the creator of Minecraft.
By the time I am finished writing this blog post I will have the results of my Ludum Dare 32 game Allium: Rise of the Leek Knight. In anticipation of tonight's results I started thinking about how the Ludum Dare has affected me as an aspiring entrepreneur. The rules of the Ludum Dare state that there is no prize for the competition, the game is your prize. However, I feel there are many unexplored prizes in the form of lessons that you receive for participating in a competition like this (or any other game jam for that matter). Here are a few of those lessons...
What The Ludum Dare Teaches You
At the beginning of the Ludum Dare you are given a theme and in 48 hours you are expected to turn that theme into a functioning game. Deciding on what to make is one of the most difficult parts of the Ludum Dare. The possibilities are quite limitless and if you were to explore every avenue you'd never accomplish the goal of submitting a game in those next 48 hours. In this way participating in the Ludum Dare teaches you to be decisive. In development and entrepreneurship alike you are faced with a great number of possibilities, so much so people find themselves doing nothing because they can't find a focus. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. You must have this mindset to succeed at the Ludum Dare, and you must have this mindset to succeed as an entrepreneur.
This last Ludum Dare I created one of the silliest stories I have ever thought up for my game. It is an epic saga about an onion farmer named Allium who lost her daughter Pearl to an evil demon named Stanky Bredth. Using a magic leek and onion helmet given to her by the god of onions she must fight the demon hoard to save her daughter and the kingdom of Ludum Daria. To devise such a convoluted and harrowing tale required a good amount of creativity. Ludum Dare forces you to exercise your creative muscles. You could spend the same weekend drowning yourself in the endless sea of shows that Netflix has to offer, but this does not expand your world like rising to the challenge of creating a game over the weekend. Creativity is an important skill to developers and entrepreneurs, and it is something that needs to be practiced to be good at.
At the end of every Ludum Dare a participant must decide whether or not to submit their game. I am not sure any game in Ludum Dare compo history has ended as an entirely well developed shippable product, but there are some absolutely fantastic games that have been created during the event. If participants were to decide not to submit these games because they weren't quite 'perfect' or 'done' we would all miss out on some great games. Ludum Dare teaches you to ship. Some of the games created during the Ludum Dare a case study in lean product development. A game created during the event is as a minimally viable product, and the next month of voting and feedback indicates whether or not there is a market for the game. There are a good number of Ludum Dare games that have landed on Steam. There is even a curated list that points them out. I am sure none of these games would have landed here if they had not first shipped them to the Ludum Dare.
Creating a game in 48 hours is an incredibly difficult task, especially if you feel the need to achieve a certain level of quality. It is incredibly hard work, and there have been times during the event where I have asked myself why I was doing it. Yet, I persevered, and now every time I look back upon my creations I never once have felt that it wasn't worth it. Ludum Dare teaches you the value of hard work and the reward of finishing things. Being an entrepreneur is a struggle, especially if you are moonlighting as one. It demands hard work and discipline, but if you can rise to the challenge you are met with the reward.
Given the many lessons one can learn by participating in the Ludum Dare I think every software developer/entrepreneur should give it a try. It is only 3 times a year, and there are many valuable lessons to be learned. If you have participated in this or other game jams I would like to hear what lessons you have learned. Leave your comments below and i'll review this post next LDJAM.