A VN Jam, or a Visual Novel Jam, is a type of game jam, an event in which participants try to make a game from scratch within a limited duration of time. VN Jams are game jams that exclusively focus on visual novels or visual novel-like games.
Visual novel jams are commonly one to two months long events with exceptions that may last for shorter or longer periods of time (e.g., O2A2). Many VN jams start as one-offs, but upon success often convert to annual events. Occasionally jams may also come back after a break of some years based on renewed interest, or a new group of hosts.
Originally, VN jams were primarily designed to enable people to start and finish a small VN. However as many jams have grown in popularity, and many also allow partial works like demos, as well as submission to multiple jams at the same time, the reasons for joining a jam have expanded. People joining jams can thus have a variety of motivations, such as:
- starting and finishing a self-contained work
- jumpstarting development on a larger work (e.g. creating a demo)
- team-building exercise for a group looking to get to know each other before committing to a long term collaboration
- trying or challenging oneself in a new genre or VN type
How to join
Jams usually don't require any formal statement of participation. Though it's often encouraged to join a jam (i.e. click the "join jam" button as a logged in user) on platforms like itch.io before the submission period, it is also possible to join the jam while the submission period is open. At the very latest this needs to be done before the actual submission, as it is not possible to submit a VN to a jam without joining it first.
When talking about jams hosted on itch.io, the jam's duration is effectively the jam's "submission period", which is the window of time during which people can submit their works to the jam page. This is signified by a countdown until submissions are open (before the jam), and another countdown until submissions close (while the jam is ongoing).
Centralized jam platforms use one specific time zone (that of the jam host) and recalculate deadlines for other participants around the world. This will lead to jams starting a few hours "earlier" or "later" (occasionally giving the false impression that the jam is starting a day off) depending on the time zone, however on the other end those time zones will have their deadline be adjusted to compensate for this effect, leading to an equal amount of hours for each time zone.
Types of jams
Different hosts will have different motivations and goals for jams they create, and combined with the rules, jams will develop their own nature or primary atmosphere. Knowing the basic nature of jams is important to be able to calibrate one's contribution and style of work when deciding to join them. Most of these categories feature elements and goals that can be found in all jams, but some jams emphasize them more than others.
Competitive jams emphasize or promote friendly competition and pushing one another to create the best possible work within the jam's framework. Prizes or recognition are awarded to the winner, and rules and restrictions will be mainly applied in regards to ensuring an even playing field and fair judging. (example: Spooktober)
Celebration / Creation
These jams strive to create more VNs of a certain type, celebrate or increase the visibility of an aspect or genre of VNs, with a festival-like atmosphere. Typically restrictions on the promoted element will be high, compensated by relaxed rules on other aspects. (examples: AceJam, OtomeJam)
Challenge jams have the goal of getting participants out of their comfort zones or present a self-contained challenge. This can be through restrictive parameters, or themes. Honorable adherence to rules is often emphasized, and common "dos and don'ts" emerge over time. (examples: NaNoRenO, O2A2)
Comfort jams are emphasizing a positive participation experience, often promoting healthy working habits. Their rules are designed to create a basic framework within which participants must find their path, and they are generous enough to allow a range of options for participants to decide how they participate. (examples: SuNoFes, WinterJam)
One of the main selling points of jams is their limited time and often artistic or other constraints within which the participants must operate. Rules are therefore one of the key elements of jams, and their specifics will differ significantly from jam to jam.
In case VN jams do not specify that participants can submit previously worked on projects (e.g., Winter VN Jam) and the jams request creating a VN from scratch, there are a few activities that most jams will allow:
- Team recruitment
- Story outlines
- Character sketches
- Searching for readily available or Creative Commons assets
- Project planning
Often the formula used to describe these general restriction is that "no work which directly leads to the the creation of final assets is allowed".
Visual novel jams are not necessarily themed. Some jams such as NaNoRenO do not restrict participant game topics. Others such as Spooktober VN Jam maintain rules on allowable content and topics (in the case of this example, "spooky or Halloween themed"). Check the specific jam's rules to double check on genres, themes, rules on adult content, and other potential restrictions.
Themes can be varied, and often are based on categories like:
- Genre (horror, romance...), e.g. Valentine's VN Jam, Spooktober VN Jam
- Mood / Visuals (seasonal, areas of interest...), e.g. WinterJam, Shoot for the Stars Jam
- Characters (identity, representation...), e.g. AceJam, AroJam
- Relationship (FxF, friendship...), e.g. YuriJam, OtomeJam
- Technical restriction (assets, engines...), e.g. TyranoJam, O2A2
- Main article: Visual novel engine
Engine choice (e.g., Ren'Py, NaniNovel) is typically not restricted in visual novel jams. Check the specific jam's rules to double check.
Submitting to multiple jams
As rules for VN jams have been extended, they can often allow for one game to be present in multiple jams. This practice is generally accepted, and doesn't go against etiquette. Many jams explicitly allow or invite VNs not to be exclusive to their original jam. Statistics of jam entries will have this fact as one of their caveats, as two different jams may share a portion of submissions. Main forms of multiple submissions are:
Most jams allow works made for them to also be submitted to other jams. If there are parallel jams and a work fits both criteria, it can be submitted to both. Usually a work will be done for a restrictive jam (such as O2A2), and as such will also fit criteria for other parallel jams (such as SuNoFes or YuriJam, or both).
From a time perspective, subsequent development stages can be occasionally eligible for submissions in different jams that don't happen in parallel. An early demo can also qualify for one jam (e.g. NaNoRenO), an extended demo that adds romance options qualifies for another (e.g. OtomeJam), an early version of the full game qualifies for another one (e.g. SuNoFes), and the final version with extra routes due to its theme can be submitted to yet another one (e.g. WinterJam).
Deadlines and Extensions
In a VN jam, the submission deadline ("jam deadline") is the point at which your finished work must be submitted, or you will have missed the opportunity and are not considered as someone who completed the jam. The jam page will not have an option to submit the game.
However there are some specifics to the deadline and a certain flexibility, depending on the jam and its hosts. Below are a few options for interpreting and honoring deadlines in addition to a regular "submitting on time".
Any participant will be free to ask the hosts for an extension specifically for them, either privately or publicly. After a participants explains their circumstances, and if the hosts agree, they can allow submit later on when the public submission period is over, often via a special late submission link. A reasonable default expectation is that an exception will not be made. Last-minute technical issues with upload will however have a higher chance of succeeding than extensions requesting additional time to finalize the submission.
This is when the jam deadline is extended for everyone, after multiple requests, or due to a decision by the hosts (in March 2020 NaNoRenO was extended by 2 weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns). A jam can also be extended unannounced by the hosts, as a sign of good will, or a sign of appreciation (similar to "re-opening").
As the jam hosts have full control over the deadline, they can also re-open the jam once the deadline has passed and set a new deadline. Spooktober 2021 has had two 10-minute re-openings to allow people who narrowly missed the deadline another chance to submit. In 2022 Spooktober hosts kept the original deadline and downloaded all submissions for judging, but re-opened submissions shortly afterwards for 24 hours, with the caveat that any new submissions (while still considered part of the jam) would not be considered for the jam's prizes.
Submitting an entry for a jam on itch technically works by the participant submitting an existing project page. This page is not required to have a playable game (downloadable or browser) to be submitted. Because a submitted page can be modified independently of the jam, it is therefore possible to submit the game's page itself in time, but adding the finished playable VN at some later point.
This practice effectively indefinitely extends the jam's deadline for the participants, and technically does not necessitate approval from the hosts, if the rules of the jam explicitly don't forbid this approach, and/or it can be assumed that a flexible deadline is in place.
Practical application of this will vary. Some jams like OtomeJam 2022 have given permission to participants to submit a placeholder in case they cannot make the deadline (implying the participants would upload their works relatively soon after the deadline). Other jams like Spooktober 2021 have accepted placeholder pages and not removed them since, trusting an eventual submission down the line. In case of the O2A2 2021 jam, placeholder pages were monitored for and instantly removed as they were disallowed explicitly by the jam rules.
Unfinished / WIP submissions
Some jams (like O2A2) only accept finished, self-contained VNs, while most VN jams (including NaNoRenO, SuNoFes, and Spooktober) explicitly allow partial works and demos. Often this leads to teams who realize the scale of their production is too large for the jam change course and aim for a partial (single-route version), or a demo version of their VN at the end of the jam.
However most of such jams will equally accept a Work-in-Progress version of a VN, such as one that is fully written, but contains placeholder graphics. Submitting "what you have" at the end of the jam is a generally accepted practice, and will almost never lead to removal from the jam. Most jam hosts will prefer it to submitting a page without playable content.
Additionally, for jams dependent on strict deadlines, one of the recommended practices is to make/submit a potentially not yet fully polished version of the VN a day before the deadline to ensure not missing it, and keep working on the final version of the submission that can succeed the already submitted one close to the deadline without jeopardizing missing the deadline completely.
Submitting next year
Many VN jams (such as WinterJam, SuNoFes) will allow participants to "start working before the jam" (meaning before the period during which submissions can be made to the jam), or allow participants to "finish existing projects", which in both cases allows a jam participant to work outside of the submission time (also often known as "jam time").
As a result, it is technically possible in a jam that allows finishing existing VN projects and is also an annual event to think of this rule as a de facto "365 day extension". Participants can work on their projects past the deadline, knowing that they will get a chance to submit next year. As it's often very disappointing to not make the deadline, these jams will allow the team to regroup and set themselves up to finalize the project next time the jam comes around.
This can work even if the jam requests that "the bulk of the submission" needs to be done during the jam period, with proper planning.
- Main article: List of VN jams
Below is a list of the 10 jams whose events have produced most amounts of entries. For details and exceptions, check individual jam pages and the full list of jams.
|Jam||Description||Game Types||Duration||Partial Completion||Prior Work||Theme / Restriction||Most Entries|
|NaNoRenO||longest running VN jam, currently hosted by sakevisual, held annually between March and April.||VN||1 month||allowed||not allowed||---||185 (2022)|
|Spooktober VN Jam||judged VN jam competition hosted by DevTalk, held annually in September in preparation for October||VN||1 month||allowed||not allowed||spooky, horror, Halloween, non-NSFW||160 (2022)|
|Winter VN Jam||low-pressure jam with a broad theme of winter, the cold, and snow.||VN||1 month||allowed||allowed||winter, cold, non-NSFW||138 (2022)|
|SuNoFes||low-pressure jam hosted by Alte, held annually in the summer||VN and narrative||2 months||allowed||allowed||non-NSFW||115 (2022)|
|O2A2 VN Jam||minimalist jam with restrictions on resources (use only one of any asset).||VN||1 week||not allowed||not allowed||---||106 (2022)|
|Yuri Game Jam||jam emphasizing relationships between women||any game||2 months||allowed||allowed||yuri, FxF||66 (2017)|
|Otome Jam||jam focusing on romantic games with a female protagonist||any game||2 months||allowed||allowed||otome, FxM||56 (2022)|
|Valentine's Jam||love-themed visual novel jam||VN||1 month||allowed||allowed||romance, Valentine's||51 (2021)|
|TyranoJam||engine-restricted jam with themes, inactive since 2018||VN||1-3 months||not allowed||not allowed||TyranoBuilder engine, non-NSFW||44 (2017)|
|Yaoi Game Jam||jam focused on M/M relationships for a female audience||any game||2 months||allowed||not allowed||yaoi, MxM||41 (2022)|
Help with VN Jams
A built-in space for exchange of information and communication is usually given by default at the site where the jam is officially at home, for almost all jams this will be their respective itch.io site. There will be some form of "community" tab or section where questions can be posed and other participants or jam hosts can reply. Additionally, many jams create other, more immediate hubs like their own Discord server, or a special channel in an existing server. For very large jams there may be multiple such places, depending on how centralized the jam is.
It is often common for platforms that allow user names to be changed for the jam hosts to identify themselves as such (e.g. John Smith, XYZ Jam Host), to ease communication.
For larger jams VN communities may decide to organize various activities to support participants of jams. These can range from outline workshops, resource collecting sprints, to live sessions facilitating team creation.
The DevTalk server typically hosts one or two "Jam Meet & Greet" sessions for jams it officially supports.
As time and resources are constrained during jams, freely available or pre-made resources such as VN assets (backgrounds, sprites, music) are in high demand by participants, and sites organizing or collecting VN resources are a key support element.