Verizon Media’s digital advertising arm transformed a week of in-person product demonstrations for its employees into a competitive online multiplayer experience
Verizon Media employees must be tired of video chat. The company’s Executive VP and Group CEO Guru Gowrappan runs a staff-wide remote Q&A every day, which means employees routinely find themselves sitting in front of their computers and passively absorbing information.
When the company concluded that it’d have to go remote with April’s in-person Build It event, a biannual showcase held in Sunnyvale, California, of new products and services launching across Verizon Media’s brands, it knew the last thing anyone wanted was yet another virtual session that resembles “Hollywood Squares.” But instead of the event looking like a game, what if it functioned like one?
“A lot of the products that we launch are more back-end features and not necessarily something [anyone] can touch and feel the way other more consumer-facing products are,” says Allison Galloway, director of global events for Verizon Media. “The gamification is really to drive the learning and make sure that they get engaged and they understand, since it can be a little bit technical-heavy for the average employee.”
In partnership with MVRK, an experiential agency with design and augmented reality capabilities, the team set about conceiving what that gamification could look like, and they had three weeks to do it. The first-ever Build It: Work From Home (WFH) had to capture the attention of 11,000 Verizon Media employees from around the globe and, because of time zone differences, be playable at any point. The event needed to remain educational but stray as far away from unenthusiastic video consumption as possible.
MVRK has gamified live events in the past but never within a mere three-week window. “The biggest challenge across the board was time,” says Steve Alexander, founder and chief experiential officer of MVRK. “We didn’t know how long we would be in this journey or what the outcome would be, even beyond quarantine, in this work-from-home lifestyle … but we knew we had to move fast.”
In searching for a way to frame the experience, Alexander considered how Verizon Media and its brands have infiltrated the daily lives of so many consumers during COVID-19.
“There was a story already unfolding before us: the journey of how Verizon [Media] is with you from when you wake up to when you go to sleep,” he says. “The game of Life jumped out at us immediately.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the perennial classic, Life is a board game in which players, represented by Cribbage pegs, drive toy cars around a board and experience events that span the cradle to the grave. Players graduate from college, get married and maybe have kids of their own.
The iteration used in Build It: WFH takes place on a virtual board that’s small enough to be viewed all on one screen and consists of 14 squares along a winding path. Participants moved their own peg person one square at a time, and at each point either a short, prerecorded video or a mini game would launch. The gamification ran the gamut from trivia questions after the videos to interactive ways to communicate new product features—whether they were spelled out in emoji-speak or viewed as animations on mobile devices in augmented reality.
Verizon Media presented the new Build It format to its employees as a fun departure, rather than a pandemic necessity. “It was more like, ‘Hey everybody, we’re going to find you guys at your houses, can’t wait for you to check out this really awesome virtual experience that we’re creating for you, more in the coming weeks,’” Galloway says. “It was more [about] keeping it light.”
On the day of the event, participants were welcomed by a live keynote from Gowrappan, given access to the game and allowed to complete it in their own time. Some finished all 14 modules in a single day—that’s 70 minutes of video, 42 activities and four full product demos—while others spaced them out across the five-day event. As they finished up, their scores from each game were tallied and posted to a global leaderboard that included employees at all levels of the organization. This nursed friendly competition among players and allowed the top 200 performers to earn prizes— little things to enhance their work-from-home setup.
More than 5,000 people joined the game—3,300 of whom logged in immediately on day one. The game page itself was viewed more than 206,000 times and hooked players for, on average, 32 minutes at a time.
Galloway heard from employees at smaller office locations such as Omaha, Nebraska, who were excited to see their names up on the leaderboard with coworkers they may never otherwise interact with in other parts of the world.
Alexander and MVRK will no longer have to scramble if future Verizon Media events, or those of other clients, are required to drastically pivot in a short time frame. Some of the technology they built can be repurposed for other projects. They set the game on a device-agnostic virtual platform that can be viewed just as easily on a mobile phone as a desktop and implemented features such as two-way video chat and the ability to host 3D environments that span a full 360 degrees.
The success of Build It: WFH has convinced Galloway that future events, even if they’re allowed to be held in person, could benefit from some online gaming.
“In a lot of ways, it really unified all of our employees,” Galloway says. “Our biggest takeaway was that even when we go back to normal, we really need to keep [elements of this event] in some capacity. [Future events] will be something of a hybrid, where there will be our live stage content—you can’t replace … the networking and that connectedness that people do feel there—but we will have a gamification component.”
Photos courtesy of Verizon Media.