Event Design

How GameStop Turned Sales Associates Into Coders at Their Annual Meeting

A win-win: GameStop used a hackathon not only as an incentive for top performers, but as a way to improve their product.

For 11 years, GameStop’s Judy Payne, CMP, has planned the video-game and electronics retailer’s annual meeting, a gathering of thousands of GameStop associates for product and leadership training, as well as a one-day public expo for thousands of gamers. “I make sure my team and I change at least three to five things [at the conference] every year,” Payne said. “Some things are really big and some things are really small, but no matter what, they really impact the engagement.”

When Payne attended PCMA Convening Leaders 2017 in Austin in January, she overheard some attendees talking about hackathons. “And I was like, ‘GameStop should be doing a hackathon.’” She reached out to GameStop’s internal game-development team, GameTrust, and together they brainstormed how to integrate a hack day into this year’s show, being held at The Venetian in Las Vegas on Aug. 26–31. She offered a glimpse into the planning process:

We’re going to take the top salespeople, one from each region — we have 24 regions — and they’ll be the winners of the hackathon experience. We’ll fly them to our conference a day-and-a-half early, have a nice lunch for them, and then have the developers come in to brainstorm ideas about the game. We’re going to take the winners on a deep dive into code, like a learner’s experience on the developer’s side.

The developers will watch the hackathon and lend a professional voice about how a QA
[quality assurance] whiteboarding session should go. We’ll have a big whiteboard where people can QA the game as they start playing and coming up with ideas to better the game, or run into things that aren’t quite working.

After a few hours of whiteboarding, a person at GameTrust will decide the two or three best ideas [for improving the game], and those guys will win prizes. But the biggest thing that we’ll do, after that, is have a first-play-through award. I’m going to bring in dinner and a bar, then the first three people that can play through [the game] will win prizes.

To play through the whole entire game can take anywhere from eight to 12 to 15 hours, so [the hackathon] is going to be overnight. The prizes are going to have to be really good to get them to want to stay all night to participate.

This will be in a very central location [in The Venetian] and have a lot of signage — maybe a big façade around the entrance, so people can come in and watch them do the QA testing. I want to make [the room] like a fishbowl, where people look in to see what they’re doing. I’d also like to bring in specialty gaming chairs. We’ll have the right equipment, but I want to do something cool in the room — nothing too extravagant, as I can’t afford it, but something cool and different. I want to showcase [attendees] as thought leaders on the coding.

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.