Considering the pervasiveness of reality show competitions, it was really only a matter of time before somebody tried to make one surrounding game jams, where developers come together to quickly make small games. In fact, they tried last week with GAME_JAM, but the entire production apparently shut down when every single contestant quit within the first day of filming.
We know, we know, this could be an April Fools’ Day joke, but if so, it’s an elaborate one. First of all, pretty much everybody involved blames television producer Matti Leshem. Secondly, there are multiple angry blog entries from participants and staff about the mess.
The story is also fairly consistent: They were trying to turn a game jam into your typical trashy reality competition, and the cast were having none of it. The contracts were apparently full of troubling legalese about being allowed to misrepresent the contestants any way they felt like, and Leshem is repeatedly accused of sexist behavior and asking rude questions in order to anger contestants and cause drama. So if it’s a joke, either Leshem is a good sport or he doesn’t have good lawyers.
Either way, the story, and how reportedly nearly half a million dollars went up in smoke, is a fascinating one, and we’ve got several takes from the people involved. Here’s an overview of what they had to say.
Crew member Jared Rosen:
At some point, GAME_JAM outgrew itself, attracting the attention of major sponsors, as well as a couple of our “high creative” production executives from the adjacent office down the street, and over the next four or five months, the show began phasing into something less documentary and more docu-tainment. At some point which remains unclear, the show wholly dipped into a scripted reality slant and became less about making a game, and more about creating drama for sake of the audience, less than one day out of the four blocked off for shooting available to sit down and jam.
Contestant Zoe Quinn, who you might remember as the developer of Depression Quest:
…it’s hard to have gone through something so surreal and emotionally difficult and be forced to stay quiet. About as difficult as smiling dead-eyed at a camera with a soft drink in your hand (label facing outwards, of course) when everything in you is screaming “this is wrong, run away”.
Developer Robin Arnott, on Gamasutra:
“GAME_JAM” set out to demonstrate the magic of “indie.” It was to be a public platform to showcase, not only our work and our personalities, but the ups and downs of the creative process, the bonds that we build to support ourselves and one another, and the challenge of staying true to ourselves under pressure. In the end it succeeded more elegantly than I could have formerly imagined.
Developer Adriel Wallick, of Candescent:
From the beginning there were potential problems with the “Green Label Game Jam” (branded on set as “GAME_JAM”). The contract was full of corporate legalese. There were clauses about being allowed to misrepresent us in any way on any topic for “dramatic effect”. There were sections barring developers from appearing on any form of broadcast media for a period of time longer than anyone should be comfortable with (honestly even any time was too much time). Many of the participants were the sole faces of their company. We, off the bat, would be risking our reputations – our livelihoods – to participate in this jam. We negotiated the contract as a group. We reworded the most egregious sections – but not before having to push back for days.
From Polygon’s interview of Akira Thompson, one of the show’s consultants:
What happened is that the Polaris guys had the best of intentions but once the money came, the project got too big for them and that is when an outside production company was brought in, from reality TV, and they know what they want to get and they wanted that very specific thing that none of us were privy to. They didn’t get it and everyone else got f***ed. I am angry. This was not what I signed up for.
It’s fairly clear the fallout of GAME_JAM is still being sorted through. But the show itself is unusuable; apparently they have little, if anything, filmed. And it’s also fairly clear that Polaris, the company that started all this, is in big trouble for losing nearly half a million dollars. We’re pretty sure that eventually, a documentary will come out of this… just probably not what Polaris was hoping for.