How A “Hackathon” Leads To Make Many, Mini Improvements

You know that list of things that you’re going to do when “you get a free minute,” but then you never get a free minute? If you’re like us, you probably find that list keeps growing. We found that happening to our list of “game improvements we want to make” at 7 Generation Games.

The list – as its name suggests – is where we compile the ways we want to make our games better, when we get a minute. That’s not to be confused with our list of bugs, which we aim to fix right away. The list of game improvements is kind of like the list you probably have of things to do around the house once everything else is in order, like buy a new shower curtain to replace the one that is completely fine, but that you’ve never liked. Only that shower curtain is still up because you have a million other things that are more pressing that you need to get done first, like the dishes and the laundry and buying a new vacuum because your old one broke.

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With multiple games in development, we found the same thing was happening to our list of desired game improvements. So we decided instead of waiting until we got to the point where “we got enough time to get to them,” we were just going to get to them. So we called a company hackathon. Drawing from the hackathon model – where teams of inspiring entrepreneurs, developers, etc. get together for usually an entire weekend to pour all of their time and energy into taking an idea to at least a working prototype – we had everyone clear their work schedules and plan to focus only on improving one of our games for three days this week. (Basically we got tired of seeing that shower curtain every day, so we set aside a time to get a new one.)

But clearing our work schedules is not as easy as it seems. There’s a never ending stream of emails to reply to, conferences to prepare for, development on another game that we want to keep working on, game design to flesh out and on and on. When you’re juggling multiple projects, it takes a surprising amount of focus to concentrate on just one for three days straight. But we have also found it is an amazing way to make a huge jump forward on a specific game – in this case, we’re working on Forgotten Trail.

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The company-wide hackathon is an effective way for us to sit down and incorporate a bunch of tiny tweaks that on their own we might not get around to, but that together will make a huge difference in the quality of our games. We’ve found this approach is a good way to make significant progress– and a good reminder of how important it is to set aside time to do the things that you’ll do “when you get a second” – because, as you’ve likely experienced as well, you rarely (if ever) come across a point where you get a chance to get to all those things to do when you have nothing else to do.

With that in mind, I’m off to get back to my list of Forgotten Trail upgrades (After that, maybe I’ll order a new shower curtain…).


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