Experiments In Excellence: The Results Of Neon Roots’ GamingPTO

Ben Lee

Ben Lee

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots

Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.

What makes it possible for people to excel? We run an agile development shop in the highly competitive Los Angeles market, so there isn’t room for anything except the best work from our teams. We’ve found three ingredients that help our developers be successful and go beyond their limits:

  1. Strong minds. We work hard to keep our developers happy with motivational exercises.
  2. Strong bodies. Our personal chef makes sure they are eating healthy and staying in good physical condition.
  3. Time to recharge. Predictable time off (PTO) has been essential in clearing out the old data and rebooting their internal systems to handle the next big thing.

Inspired by some experimental approaches to productivity at Boston Consulting Group, we brought all three of these elements together last year for our first GamingPTO event, and the results have been pretty spectacular.

Defining GamingPTO

GamingPTO combined all the motivational aspects of gamification, the health benefits of time off, and a protected space away from market pressures so developers could really let their imagination soar. At the same time, there’s nothing like a little healthy competition to spark their drive to win and really give it everything they’ve got. We divided our designers and developers into four teams. Each team was pitted in a competition to build the best game they could imagine.

Each month, the teams would take off one to two days to focus on building their game internally, then two rounds of elimination would select the best of the best. The first round was voted by peer review and the second by external judges. The prize was having the winning game fully developed and published by Neon Roots.

There is a great deal of scholarship about why games are so effective at motivating people to concentrate and excel. Basically, games meet our most basic needs for self-determination, mastery of skills, and relatedness to others who we value. These are internally-driven desires and no amount of external rewards can compare in effectiveness.

During our GamingPTO event, our team members got to learn new languages like Unity 3D while exploring all the latest technologies in mobile app dev, like augmented reality. They were able to fully investigate artistic styles they normally wouldn’t have access to via external/client projects.

Let the Games Begin

Gaming is serious business, and our developers took it to a whole new level. Here is what our teams came up with:

  • Cataclysm
    (Team Members: Nikita, Bradley, Omar and Gabriel) – This arcade-style game was all about changing the world, with a genre-crossing design unlike anything on the market.
  • Wastemaster
    (Team Members: Damian, Rosina, Silvana and Iuva) – Recycling is becoming more critical than ever to preserve the Earth for the next generation. This puzzler was designed to help younger gamers make the right choices for their future.
  • Jack Bark
    (Team Members: Robert, Mojo, Patrick and Oscar) – Who speaks for the trees? Jack does. This runner, along the lines of Temple Run, teaches valuable skills and focuses on keeping our environment clean and safe.
  • WingSmash
    (Team Members: Martin and Matis) – Mobile gaming is where all the action is, and this multiplayer balloon fight brings the action to you. It’s a casual brawl that draws you in and keeps the party going with virtual currency for unlimited character enhancements.

More Than Just a Game

Our entire GamingPTO event was always intended to be about much more than games. It involved asking the best from our developers. It was about giving them to tools to go farther and achieve more than they imagined possible. That’s what it takes to excel in today’s competitive world of app development.