Don’t tell 10-year old me this, but making a video game is hard work. Hundreds, if not thousands, of animations need to be created for even the smallest of games, and the knowledge required to make sure everything works the way that it should takes years to acquire. Add the fact that most games woudn’t work well without an accompanying soundtrack, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster in at least three different ways.
Which is what makes Ludum Dare, a competition that tasks its participants with creating a game in under 48 hours, all the more exciting. Started in 2002 and operated by independent game developers in their spare time, Ludum Dare is a prime example of what people can create when they’re passionate about what they’re building.
Each competition follows a standard format. The overarching theme of the competition is revealed to the public, developers spend 48 hours getting as much or as little sleep as they want as they scramble to finish the game, and then the community votes and decides which game is the best. To get a sense of the scope of each competition, there were 1,405 games submitted in the latest competition, Ludum Dare 24.
Now, to be fair, most of these games are relatively short and are – understandably – often in an unfinished state. Many are simple, and I have only played one game that I might actually pay to play, but that’s the point of the competition: build something as quickly as possible and do your best. There are no “failures,” and even the better games are shipped with the understanding that they may never become more than what the developer presented when the deadline approached.
Ludum Dare may be the best representation of creating a “minimum viable product,” to steal a term from Lean Startup methodology, out there. There isn’t time to create a carefully-constructed storyline or create the next big-league game franchise. Developers have the chance to come up with some artwork, write some music, and create the best thing that they can with the time that they’re given.
It’s easy to become jaded in a world where developers have to contend with race-to-the-bottom prices and pressure to conform to a model supported mainly by in-app purchases. Watching the Ludum Dare competition, however, is enough to provide just a little bit of hope. There will always be obstacles standing in developers’ ways, but – much like Silicon Valley – gaming culture isn’t rational. Ludum Dare, with its insanely short time limit and close-knit community, is proof of that fact.