I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but the big reason the game jam has been as successful as it has is that we spend well over a thousand dollars and many many hours on preparing ads, themes, any related event, etc., not to mention judging the content. Setting up the ads on different sites can take months of back and forth talking with the sites, we have to contract artists to design them or to create assets for us, there’s the more guerilla style advertising we do all leading up to it, etc.
Then there’s the prize money, which, last year, totaled around 1K, which the site does not pull in enough patreon money to do more than once a year (considering our other costs and projects the site supports). In fact, generally, @grotlover2 and myself have to pay out of pocket for these ventures, which is not something I can really afford to do through out the year (especially now). And yes, I’m going to be blunt, while there would be some devs that create games without the economic incentive, the prize is a major motivating force, even if only indirectly. That’s why, this year, we’re expanding the prize tiers so its not so concentrated into 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
Then, of course, there’s the dev burnout, which is something we discussed early on. We were so excited to see the engagement from the first game jam and the traffic it drove to the site, that we would love to do them more than once a year, but its really hard on the contestants. They have 2 weeks to make a working game and are competing for a decent sum of money. Its exciting, yes, but its stressful and we saw some cracks forming last game jam that concerned us. We don’t want to wear out the community devs. We want them working on their own projects, the ones they put their real passion in, the ones that keep the community alive between these events.
Finally, there’s the massive time investment that the judges have to deal with after the fact. Last game jam, we saw a massive increase in submissions that necessitated, at least for me, well over a full 24 hours worth of judging, to say nothing of the hours of discussion I had with the other judges. Outside of this site, my free time is generally very limited, so finding a full day’s worth of hours to set aside and judge this content is not practical. Last time, I think I had to take vacation time to get it done. And this year, we’re looking to have a community judge, so even more time will be invested in this overall.
So, as someone said above, yes if we thought it was practical, we would do more of these jams. I’m going to be blunt and say that it would not be worth our time to put together a jam with no monetary prizes. The money (and energy around the event) drives development, which drives interest, which drives traffic, which drives more projects and devs joining the site. At the end of the day, these jams were all about expanding the community and giving something back to the talented developers that have decided to join and help our community grow with more content and eyes on their content. We cannot ask them to do that for free.