A week ago, I had an awesome experience. As part of a great team of seven, I won the hackaton/game jam "Life is a Game," which was hosted by Class Dojo, Artillery Games, Red Hot Labs, Phoenix Guild, Red Robot Labs, Signia Venture Partners, and General Catalyst Partners. My role revolved around level design and business model. Although I had previously participated in similar events, this experience was unique in that we managed to put together, more or less serendipituously, a perfectly-balanced team and build a playable first version of a game -- from scratch, in less than 24 hours.
It all started on Saturday morning (October 13th), after the participants had breakfast, watched a few talks given by some of the judges and organizers, joined a short icebreakerexercise, and voted on game ideas pitched by some of the fellow participants. It was then that our team began to emerge, drawn together by the idea of a "bee" game. After a fairly short (self-)selection process, the lineup looked like this:
Audio - Scott Looney
Art Design - Adam Rickert
Engineering - Jim Fleming, Logan Smyth, Danielle Swank
Level Design & Business Model - Cristian Mitreanu, Elisabeth Uible
During the brainstorming session that followed, we explored a few core mechanics ideas that ranged from maintenance (Adam's original idea, which brought the group together) to racing. Nonetheless, we quickly settled on something that was more "midde of the road," something that blended slingshot mechanics (as in Angry Birds) with bounce mechanics (as in Pinball or Billards). So, we ended up working on a game in which the player must help a chubby-but-happy bumblebee get back home by slingshoting (tossing?) it from flower to flower. And the rest is boring stuff -- work, several hours of work, where everybody did their part very well.
We even spent some time thinking about a name. Plan B and Bumble Bounce were the two most favorite options. (I personally liked and suggested Tossy the Bee and Bounzee Bee.) Ironically, in spite of our efforts, we went with Bumble Bounce without realizing that a game with the same name already exists in Apple's App Store. But since the domain name bumblebounce.com was available, we assumed that we were good to go. After all, time was a big constraint and, for the first version of the game, the name was not really a priority. And it still doesn't matter, at this point. :)
What matters is what happened on Sunday. During the presentation, the reaction to our twist on the already-proven mechanics was very positive. In fact, although we focused our pitch on a business model where the revenue would be generated through in-game advertising and revenue sharing with existent rewards programs, many people insisted that we should also think about a paid, advertising-free version. And we did think about it, but we wanted to show the judges that we had a go-to-market approach that cuts through the market noise and keeps the user acquisition costs low -- partnering with advertisers and rewards programs would be essential in getting the game in front of large audiences, quickly and affordably. Nonetheless, the fact that people got instantly passionate, insisting that they would pay for the game, was great.
And that was, without question, the best indication of our success. Having your potential customers and investors telling you not only that they would use your new product, but that they would also pay for it, is an early validation that real businesses strive for and rarely get. ... As I said at the beginning of this post, this game jam was a great experience!
For the time being, you can play the web-based game at http://hivemindgames.github.com/bees/game/index.html. Just pull the flower and toss the bumblebee. :)
UPDATE 10/24/2012: Here's also a brief recording of a play session. Fun and addictive!