Go Game: Team Building 2.0

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, May 7th, 2015

The Go Game Office

“While no two groups of people are exactly alike, our common affinity for collaboration, exploration and problem-solving demonstrates that one thing is certain: humans shine when at play.” –The Go Game website

No two words strike fear into the heart of corporate veterans like the term “team building.” Visions of being forced to do trust falls, awkward getting-to-know-you sessions, and building card houses to explore the concept of collaboration all immediately come to mind. Luckily for office workers everywhere, the team behind The Go Game in San Francisco has completely reimagined the art and experience of building teams by incorporating technology, play, and unique narrative elements.

Their clients include brand names you’d immediately recognize: Google, Facebook, Netflix, American Express, and Johnson & Johnson, for example. The Go Game was started in 2001 by friends Ian Fraser and Finnegan Kelly. They had the idea to use technology to turn the city into a giant game board – probably a bit ahead of its time. Fraser had a dream that he was running around the city receiving secret messages, and thus the Go Game concept was born. Finn began creating proprietary software for smartphones over a ten-year period; later, Gabe Smedresmen, who started at Go Game as an intern and later worked at Google before returning to the company, perfected it.

Technology plays a critical role in how the experience unfolds. The Go Game is run by software that’s internally referred to as “Breadcrumb.” Breadcrumb has a database of all the game elements and challenges ready to go. From this base, Go Game team members that oversee each program – called game runners – design a unique game sequence from one of the company’s standard templates or according to a client’s specific interests.

In real-time, the software allows game runners to remotely watch game play as it unfolds from their computers. It runs the game, using an algorithm that takes different data points into account such as the team locations, what tasks have already been completed, and rules that guide the game. An example of a rule might be that teams can’t run into one another during gameplay or can’t be given the same activity to complete.  Breadcrumb largely drives the individual game sessions, allowing game runners to either remain hands off or strategically intervene as needed.

Go Game scavenger hunt smartphone

There are a wide range of prospective challenges that Go Game runs. Many of the experiences have a “high tech scavenger hunt” feel. Its classic games include location-based missions, secret agent missions, head-to-head challenges between teams, creative photo or video submissions that are judged for prizes, and trivia questions. Often, a challenge will have a guiding theme that’s relevant to the company. Music video games or lip dubs encourage participants to rock out. Lawn games recreate the concept of adult summer camp with footraces, zorbing, and other physical activities in a park.

A standout concept was the Zombie Disaster Preparedness game, which teaches disaster awareness and preparedness under the themed guise of the ever popular zombie outbreak scenario. Here’s how it would work: participants receive a text message confirming a zombie outbreak in their area. On game day, they complete a range of tasks with Zombie Training Specialists who teach skills like first aid, CPR, starting a fire, and other essential skills. Education is embedded in entertainment, and participants no doubt love this theme in the wake of popular series like The Walking Dead.

Go Game Lunchboxes

From the participant perspective, the Go Game no doubt feels a like 007 adventure. All challenges start with a kids’ lunchbox containing a smartphone and instructions inside. Game runners are not out in the field; they’re remotely viewing the games to monitor teams as they complete tasks. Game runners typically only jump in when necessary. This “playing God” might be prompted by any reason, from adjusting for unforeseen challenges to upping the difficulty level where needed. Photos and video are uploaded in real-time to the game runner’s control center.

It’s not all about technology, however; story and theming play an important role in creating these environments. Often, locally sourced live actors are hired to inhabit the space where the games are played. An actor will be given props, costumes, and a script to guide interactions if they’re approached by the scavenger hunt teams. Actors can report back, acting as on the ground eyes and ears for game runners as needed.

Go Game Winners Announced

Throughout the challenges, teams work together to complete various tasks while also having fun. Events typically feature prizes for the best teams, underscoring the lighthearted elements by keeping things quirky. A typical prize might be a faux mustache. When the judging of creative submissions is involved, a judging app will pop up on the teams’ phones that allows them to quickly and painlessly submit their feedback.

The technology allows for incredible flexibility in terms of how many people can participate in a given adventure. Go Game has run games for just a few people and has subsequently scaled their service up to create games for thousands. In one example, a game runner remotely oversaw a challenge for thousands of people in Malta.

Go Game game runner's screen

What’s equally fascinating is the vision for the future evolution of Go Game. The next iteration is building a more sophisticated narrative gameplay environment. In these “choose your own adventure” style modules, stories will be built around participant choices using branching logic. Each choice leads to different consequences and thus a unique direction in the game. Players become the protagonists, and each experience is that much more customized.

The way that Go Game has completely redeveloped the idea of corporate team building gives us hope. Technology, storytelling, and theming are being combined to bring some fun to that last outpost of stuffiness and stifled creativity: corporate America. As it’s being embraced by big brands and startups alike, we’re interested to see the potential for themed experiences in other contexts and venues. Theming can underscore educational experiences, management training, team building and more. Go Game’s team building 2.0 is inspiring; we can’t wait to see what the next iteration holds.

Images sourced by Sasha Bailyn and via TheGoGame.com

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