The "LA" in "PLAY"

me!

Comments on the state of gameplay today from the perspective of Southern California professional real-life game creators. We are Wise Guys Events and you can learn more about us at www.wiseguysevents.com.

If you love to play games and you're in LA, or anywhere else, leave a comment and tell us what you've been playing.




Top 3 Ways To Extend the Life of Your Annual Retreat

R.O.I. matters. If you’re not dealing in goods and merchandise, but rather you provide a service – like for instance, team building games – how can you demonstrate the service was worth the expense? Whatever measurement you choose will betray a bias before the measuring process even begins.

That said, when it comes to measuring R.O.I of a retreat, my bias compels me to favor time as the preferred metric. Whatever the desired result of the retreat may be, how long after the retreat are those benefits still manifest?

By the way, I’m using “retreat” here broadly to refer to any event where co-workers are together to share an experience that is not directly related to work, or at least not all directly related. This can be a half-day offsite, it can take place in the office or workspace, or it could be a two week stay at a resort. The resort sounds pretty good to me, I don’t know about you. Bartender, two pina coladas please.

Common goals for a retreat include educating the attendees or recreation. Most retreats incorporate both.

Consider the educational component of the retreat. Every teacher wants students to succeed, but not everyone learns the same way in a classroom environment. Neuroscience tells us people form memories better when the memories are tied to emotional responses. Though emotions like fear, disgust, and craven desire create the most vivid memories, for a corporate event it is more appropriate to rely on emotions like happiness and relaxation. The good news is, these positive emotions also aid in forming long-lasting memories. The longer the memories last, the more the educational component is providing return on the investment.

Now consider the recreational component. We know now the importance of discretionary effort in high-performing workplaces. A successful retreat reminds everyone of the reasons they like being around one another. When you feel you have someone’s back and that you are supported in return, you’ll go the extra mile to provide help. And when everyone helps one another, the work improves and benefits the company. Therefore the good tidings and camaraderie fomented during the recreational component of the retreat is returning on investment.

So however you look at it, extending the lifespan of your retreat increases R.O.I. How best to do it? Three suggestions after the jump.

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The Top 5 Best Places for Team Building in Los Angeles

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The appeal of Southern California as a destination for team building is so obvious as to be nearly needless to mention. There’s great weather here all year round. We are home to some of the globe’s most frequently pictured landmarks, many of them related to the birthplace of the movies. At the other end of the spectrum, there are equally infamous qualities of the city, traffic being foremost among them. People who have never lived here complain about our traffic. Why? They aren’t sitting in it.

Anyhow, traffic is a big reason all our games are played on foot. On top of the liability risks. And looking for parking. And paying for parking. You know what, let’s change the subject, I’m sweating. Team building is supposed to be fun, not stressful, and that means no cars.

We have a saying, “Once you get into cars, the fun stops.” I didn’t say it rhymed.

Though you might have heard otherwise, LA is a pleasant city for walking or other high shoe-leather consumptive activities like playing an urban hunt game. The city has so many discrete zones that there’s lots of places to play: you can take your pick of local color and flavor. Here are the top five in Los Angeles.

1.    The beach. I know this is a cop-out, but I could easily fill the whole top 5 list with just beach locations. My top beaches are Hermosa Beach and Santa Monica, but even that is a cop-out too because I like Santa Monica Pier games a bit more than Santa Monica Promenade games, though both are great. The Promenade game doesn’t actually include a beach, so its place on the top 5 list is questionable. Bottom line, you can’t go wrong at the beach. Some teams add bikes to their games and go up and down the coastline. We’re also planning a game that will be played at a popular eatery in Malibu that has a great meeting and dining space and access to top-quality beach. We’ll post photos when that’s done.

2.    Hollywood Boulevard. I don’t say “Hollywood and Highland” because even though that is a grade-A destination, the name of the intersection is also the name of a shopping center there, which has sometimes presented problems. To be clear, Hollywood and Highland the shopping center has been more than generous and gracious every time we have worked with them, and I know they also work harmoniously with Accomplice L.A. and LARF.

But sometimes scavenger hunt companies who are not thinking of their players’ experience will put a clue or event in the Hollywood and Highland shopping center without clearing it with management first. The result is that sometimes players get hassled by security, when they were just following game master instructions. It’s a drag when your game gets interrupted by something so easily avoidable, and makes you feel like maybe your play is against the rules, when it’s supposed to be so fun you don’t care about the rules.

 Sorry, that got a little ranty.

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Hollywood Boulevard is an amazing place to play, but my top reason is not the Chinese Theater or the El Capitan, the Walk of Fame, the home of the Oscars, or the Egyptian’s majestic courtyard, complete with hieroglyphic puzzle grid. All those are great, but the main reason I love it is it’s so easily accessible by the Metro, our subway. And from there, you can quickly zip to many other terrific destinations such as…

3.    Downtown Los Angeles. There is a lot of great play space in downtown LA and I don’t think anyone’s taking full enough advantage of it. The Historic Core is a great place for an urban hunt; I rank it higher than to LA Live, which is great for some things but a little too Downtown Disney-esque for a really good game. I’m also very eager to play a game in Grand Park. Who’s with me?

4.    Downtown Culver City. Lots of murals and public art, lively nightlife, historic touchstones, a hotel that’s shaped funny where a lot of little people got busy during the filming of The Wizard of Oz. Peerless.

5.    Alpine Village. Okay, I’m out on a limb on this one. Still waiting for a client to take us up on this. But the kitschy, miniature German town in the shadow of the 110 in Torrance wins me over, even though I know it’s not even considered a top destination among kitschy miniature towns in Southern California (Solvang has the edge). But if you call and ask me to do a game here, I’ll say yes.

What area should I do next? Leave your vote in the comments. Make it a part of Southern California. I’m not an authority on Reykjavik, or most of the rest of the EU for that matter.


Passing the baton

So this is both a joke but also not: when we founded Wise Guys, our first time starting a business, we wanted to be environmentally responsible as much as we could.

Now we run games, and there are plenty of people who won’t play a game unless they’re going to win something. Personally, I feel that if you want to win a prize, you should go on a game show (especially if you live in LA, where it’s really easy to get on one). However, a team who excels at one of our team building games should be rewarded, and it’s always fun to hand out a trophy, and fun to receive one as well.

Trouble is, buying trophies in bulk is really environmentally irresponsible. They’re easy enough to get, all right, but they’re cheap junky plastic made in China, shipped over here burning fuels all the way, and then sooner or later tossed into a landfill.

Isn’t it better to pick used trophies out of a landfill, clean them up a little, and pre-cycle? That’s our tactic, anyhow.

So when Greg called me to say he’d purchased 3 bankers boxes of baton twirling trophies, used, I was ecstatic. Trouble was, they’d been collecting dirt since the 1970’s and they were disgusting. However, nothing we couldn’t fix with a little elbow grease!

A scrub scrub here and a scrub scrub there… we set aside 1 day, 1 bucket of water, 1 pile of rags, 3 empty plastic bins, and 1 movie neither of us had seen to get the job done. We wiped the trophies up and down while watching Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph,” an appropriate theme of gaming and a Pixar-quality movie.

The results speak for themselves! These trophies look even better in person than they do in photos. But you can’t win one by going on a game show, and you can’t buy them from us. If you want a used baton twirling trophy from the 70’s, you’ll have to win one of our games. Think you’ve got what it takes?


Top 5 Good Ideas for Diversity Team Building

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Here at Wise Guys, we’re fond of the quote attributed to Plato that goes, “You can learn more about someone in an hour of play than from a year of conversation.” But what exactly can you hope to learn from them? In many instances, you just might learn how much value they have to offer to you as a human and a teammate, value that might have previously gone unnoticed. Many workplaces do a great job prioritizing diversity but that can sometimes be forgotten with the day-to-day challenges of getting the job done.

We’re all guilty, sometimes, of mentally de-humanizing the people we work with. If only he were more organized, we could wrap this meeting up. If only she weren’t always using the fax machine when I need it. If only all these people would just leave me alone, I could get my job done. What’s needed, in many cases, is to get out of the office and leave the work on the back burner - say, long enough to play a game - to appreciate the marvelous diversity of the workplace.

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Fees and Smees on the high seas!

Some of our games require 20 foot long Twister mats or specially made trenchcoats… wouldn’t it be great if we could invent something that required nothing more than a few pennies, or Post-Its or Splenda packets to play?

That’s what we’re working on now. We had a brave and seaworthy group of hardy play testers over to take it for a test drive. Yes, I know I said the game has no gear and yet the players are wearing hats. That’s a non-necessary embellishment because, c’mon, gotta have a little razzle dazzle, right?

The game is called Mr. Smee and it concerns a group of pirates whose captain was just eaten by a crocodile and now must come up with an equitable way to distribute their hard-earned booty. Or they could just throw everyone off the plank; that works too.

The first play test was very illuminating, and there’ll be future iterations before we take this thing public. The game is like a hybrid between the pirate ship problem from game theory and “Werewolf,” although I hesitate to place it in such lofty company. We were inspired by Werewolf because of how simple and infinitely variable it is; it’s ambitious to try to concoct a new folk game, but that’s our current goal. Wish us luck! And shiver your own damn timbers!

Poll: do you think there are too many pirate games already?


The Most Risky Way To Start A Presentation

In October 2012 we appeared at the IndieCade Red Carpet Awards show. Three times during the show, we presented some interstitial audience participation games.

One of our games involved a coordinated balloon drop from the balcony overhead and another was a game masked in a fully producing musical segment, performed live by Andre Meadows of Black Nerd Comedy, with backing vocals by the Wise Guys.

But the game that was met with the most positive audience response was, of course, the one with the lowest production value and the one we gave the least thought to. This was a game that was pulled out of thin air and never play tested. If we had play tested it, we might not have had the courage to play the game.

If you want your next presentation, either at a meeting, retreat, corporate event, or just giving a talk in a board room, to start off in a way that is SURE to get your crowd pert and awake, here’s how we did it. Proceed with caution! Only the fearless can take a game of Fly Paper.

1. Split the crowd into teams. This game can be played with as few as 2 people or as many as a few thousand. We played the game house left versus house right, but you can split it any way you want: boys vs. girls, newbies vs. veterans, etc.

2. Everyone who plays needs 1 piece of legal-sized paper. If you are splitting the crowd by sex, for instance, you can give different colored paper to men and women (e.g., green for men, purple for women). This is a good idea we didn’t think of until after we played it.

3. You need a target. We used a hula hoop, but it could be a waste basket, or a shot glass if you want to make it really hard.

4. Tell the players: “The object of the game is to fold your paper into a paper airplane. The first airplane to hit the target wins the game for your team.”

5. If anyone crumples the paper into a ball and throws it, say, “I forgive you for throwing a wadded up paper ball, even though that can be perceived as a sign of disrespect, but I’m surprised you have so little confidence in your ability to fold an airplane.”

6. Give a prize to the winner. It an be a piece of gum or a diamond watch.

7. Depending on the size of the crowd, the floor might be littered with failed airplanes. This is part of the end game that we didn’t think about ahead of time either, so the stage was kind of a mess for the rest of the show. But you can bet your audience will be paying attention now.


The Most Risky Way To Start A Presentation

In October 2012 we appeared at the IndieCade Red Carpet Awards show. Three times during the show, we presented some interstitial audience participation games.

One of our games involved a coordinated balloon drop from the balcony overhead and another was a game masked in a fully producing musical segment, performed live by Andre Meadows of Black Nerd Comedy, with backing vocals by the Wise Guys.

But the game that was met with the most positive audience response was, of course, the one with the lowest production value and the one we gave the least thought to. This was a game that was pulled out of thin air and never play tested. If we had play tested it, we might not have had the courage to play the game.

If you want your next presentation, either at a meeting, retreat, corporate event, or just giving a talk in a board room, to start off in a way that is SURE to get your crowd pert and awake, here’s how we did it. Proceed with caution! Only the fearless can take a game of Fly Paper.

1. Split the crowd into teams. This game can be played with as few as 2 people or as many as a few thousand. We played the game house left versus house right, but you can split it any way you want: boys vs. girls, newbies vs. veterans, etc.

2. Everyone who plays needs 1 piece of legal-sized paper. If you are splitting the crowd by sex, for instance, you can give different colored paper to men and women (e.g., green for men, purple for women). This is a good idea we didn’t think of until after we played it.

3. You need a target. We used a hula hoop, but it could be a waste basket, or a shot glass if you want to make it really hard.

4. Tell the players: “The object of the game is to fold your paper into a paper airplane. The first airplane to hit the target wins the game for your team.”

5. If anyone crumples the paper into a ball and throws it, say, “I forgive you for throwing a wadded up paper ball, even though that can be perceived as a sign of disrespect, but I’m surprised you have so little confidence in your ability to fold an airplane.”

6. Give a prize to the winner. It an be a piece of gum or a diamond watch.

7. Depending on the size of the crowd, the floor might be littered with failed airplanes. This is part of the end game that we didn’t think about ahead of time either, so the stage was kind of a mess for the rest of the show. But you can bet your audience will be paying attention now.


Five Things That Make for a Great Team Building Event

Team building events have grown in popularity over the past few years as more and more businesses have realized their potential. With so many different team building companies now around it’s important to ensure that your event ticks all the boxes. Jenny Pink from Accomplished Events, a team building company in the UK, suggests 5 tips to make sure that your team building event is a smash.

1. Above all else a team building event needs to be fun so that everyone can engage in the activities and throw themselves into the tasks.

2. A great team building event tests key skills in a more relaxed environment that still relates to the participant’s role within the workplace. For example, an “Apprentice”-style event which includes
various business tasks to test key skills such as communication, team
work, delegations, pitching and presentation.

3. It’s really important that the event engages everyone from all age ranges and demographics. Not all groups will have people who are able to do particularly physical activities so if an event can appeal to all involved
it will be more successful. An event that includes physical, mental and
creative challenges will appeal to a larger group.

4. A great team building activity should achieve all of its objectives. For
example, whether it’s a laid back “reward activity” such as champagne
tasting or chocolate making to acknowledge great performance or a
highly facilitated team development workshop, the event should match
the company’s goals.

5. Last but not least, a great team building event should be memorable. In order for employees to take their experience back to the workplace and
be able to reflect back positively the event needs to have the “fun factor,”
appeal to all attending, encompass company objectives, and test key skills that can be applied in the workplace.


If Greg and I didn’t blog much in 2012, it’s because - in part, anyway - we were designing our first ever ARG. That’s a buzzword, and it’s short for alternate reality game.

We were hired by USC to develop a game for high school students that would get them excited about science and technology education. The game was a 6 week adventure where students were inducted into i4, a secret society dedicated to the preservation of reason. As they completed entrance tests and challenges, the training wheels came off abruptly as the forces of superstition and tyranny attempted to thwart them.

The students learned a lot, and we did too. There were times where working on this game was very difficult. Fortunately we had support and guidance from some of the creative team at No Mimes Media. No Mimes is a luminary in the world of transmedia, and thanks to Maureen McHugh, Steve Peters, and Behnam Karbosi, Greg and I got a crash course in creating an ARG and the Hybrid High students got a crash course in playing one.

The kids far exceeded our expectations in some pretty amazing ways. We created a “Level 5” achievement that we thought was unattainable. The joke was on us, though, because one kid achieved it. They solved just about every puzzle and challenge we gave them, and it became clear they were really invested in the story. Which was nice, because we were too.

Getting kids excited about science is something we can all agree is beneficial, and we hope to have the opportunity to work on a project like this one again. Check out the video: it’s very impressive.

What do you know about ARGs?


IndieCade 2012: The village and the firehouse

In between producing the Red Carpet Awards show, running Pickpocket Junction, and hosting Iron Games, I did get to attend some of the festival and play some of the games. Here’s my report, after the jump.

Rakete - IndieCade Night Games

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