Game jams, game-offs, hackathons.
However you describe these events, they are a crucial part of the game industry, with a number of popular titles over the years being a direct result of them. Wildlife Studios is no different, with some of our most popular titles such as Zooba and Colorfy having their original conceptions formed during Hackathon events. We continue to believe in the value of these events and have worked hard to adapt and improve them each time.
Wildlife’s first Hackathon took place in 2013. Since then, we’ve held nearly 30 similar events, with the focus always on making Wilders engaged in the agile development of prototypes, that can become whole products at some point, thanks to the hard work of the participants involved.
Since March of 2020, Wildlife has been working in a remote setting, with the company announcing our remote first policy earlier this year. During this time we’ve successfully transitioned our Hackathon events to accommodate these new working environments, ensuring our Wilders have everything they need so they can give as much time to their projects (and for resting!) as possible.
A hybrid approach
However, as the world begins to open up we wanted to take the opportunity to present a hybrid approach to our Hackathons, with people able to participate remotely or from our São Paulo office. This created a unique blend of opportunities and challenges for our events team, as they looked to establish a fun and engaging environment for both in-house and remote participants. Claudia Mizuta, an Events Senior Analyst spoke about this: “Some participants wanted to work partially in-person and virtual leading to the Events team having to adapt the event’s logistics for those participants.”
This most recent event had 304 participants, with 262 working on their project remotely. This does not include departments involved in making sure our Hackathon events run as smoothly as possible, with the likes of Brand & Comms, IT, Facilities and our Executive team all playing their part.
Our Hackathon events would not be possible without the exceptional work of our excellent Events team, and the initial work on setting up each event starts around 3 months prior to going live, “because it is a big event that involves many areas and requires alignment with internal stakeholders and external vendors,” said Claudia.
The challenges of remote game jamming
One of the participants of the latest Hackathon, Jonathan Akyroyd, spoke about the challenges of working in a remote environment during a game jam event. “It’s always a bit more complicated than usual when working with people from other countries. The most obvious challenge is different time zones, so as a team we need to align well on when each one of us will be online, and sometimes adjust our schedules to make sure we are around when we need to be.”
Not only do timezones need to be accommodated but with a global company such as Wildlife, there are potential language barriers that need to be considered as well. As Jonathan states, “This means choosing a language which most of the team is comfortable with, but also adapting to cultural communication differences.”
Communication is vital during a time-sensitive event – any miscommunication during a small window of time can be devastating during hackathon events.
Preparation also begins at home! Jonathan discussed how he gets himself set up for a long weekend of game jamming and compensating for a potential lack of sleep: “I definitely try to get a lot of rest the days prior to the hackathon starting. There is a lot of self-pressure during the actual event (due to the short time window to complete the game/project), which often times impacts my sleep schedule.” There are, of course, otherways jammers who can prepare themselves properly for these events, and Jonathan, having participated in several, has this preparation down to a fine art: “I usually try to do any chores/tasks ahead of time so that I can dedicate myself as much as possible during the event. This usually means cleaning the house, shopping, meal preps, etc.”
It’s not just about the games!
It’s not just about the final product when it comes to Hackathons! We want to provide lasting memories and experiences for our Wilders.
Every aspect of this is planned ahead of time, from ensuring remote participants have access to the hardware and software tools needed for their projects, to accommodating our vegetarian and vegan Wilders in-house (or any other dietary requirements/food restrictions they might have!).
We also kept the tradition alive known as ‘Hackathon Radio’ – a daily meeting where everyone can join and listen to music, receive updates about the event, keep up with the projects, and win prizes. We also introduced a new format for this Hackathon called the ‘Hybrid Surprise’, where the events team created a giant board game full of challenges for the teams to compete against – whether they were in the office or remote! These tasks ranged from spelling challenges to guessing the food while blindfolded, and there were prizes available for the winners! The feedback we received was great, it let us know that the participants enjoyed the event but also let us see where we can improve and make events of this nature even better in the future.
As always, we end with the final presentation, where each team reveals their project to the rest of the company. Each team records a short video, detailing how the game works, its mechanics and a short clip of gameplay. No matter if a Wilder takes part in the event or not, they can still be involved to see the end results – and get a chance to play each project!
Times are changing but we think that Wildlife Studios has found the key – to be flexible. As long as we can do our best and accommodate everyone, more Hackathons are around the corner!
Watch this space – from the office desk or your home!