Episode 27: Gaming for Children’s Charities with Fragforce | Salesforce Developers Podcast

Fragforce is the global charity gaming team started at Salesforce that is raising money to support kids facing scary stuff like social mistreatment, medical issues such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, and severe accidents. Today, I share my conversation with the co-founder of Fragforce, Siebren Bakker, and two of its organizers, Paulson McIntyre, and Mike Parker. We discussed how Fragforce began, it’s first fundraising event, and what they are doing within the gaming and Salesforce community today, to help raise funds for children’s charities. 

Show Highlights:

  • How a workplace conversation laid the foundation for what was to become Fragforce.
  • Six months later, they had their first event – you’ll hear what that event was like and some of the challenges they experienced early on.
  • Expectations versus reality: “We were expecting [to raise] $3,000 to $5,000 for the year. So, when we went up to $7,000 at the one event, it was like, well, our expectations are wrong, in a good way.”
  • Fragforce from an organizational point of view: the complexities of gaming for charity.
  • The various kinds of games played, including board gaming, tabletop gaming, and role-playing games. Plus, people can get involved.
  • The growth of Fragforce: their international reach, the average number of gaming hours spent, and the average amount of money raised per year. 
  • Using the platform with their site: running on Heroku, provided by Salesforce, how they view event data, participant data, and more.

Resources:

Shout Out:

Episode Transcript

Siebren: (00:07):

It’s only the correct thing if is it’s playing games and raising funds for the kids.

Josh: That is Siebren Bakker, one of the founders and organizers of frag Forbes. I’m Josh Birk a developer evangelist at Salesforce. And here on the Salesforce developer podcast, you’ll hear stories and insights from developers for developers. Today we sit down, not just with Siebren but two other organizers, Paulson McIntyre and Mike Parker who thanks to the number of Michaels in his life just goes by Parker. and Frag force is a volunteer organization that started here at Salesforce that raises money for children via gaming streams at events. And we started the beginning, which was a technically challenging first event.

Siebren: (00:44):

It really started off of a one off conversation. Gary came up to my desk area and said, Hey, have you guys heard of extra life? Us being engineers, the first thing we do is Google it cause none of us had any idea what it was. Look it up, find out this, this children’s miracle. And our program gets gamers to pledge to play games, you know, marathon games and raise funds. So as I, so it’s like a walk-a-thon except game-playing instead of walking, I don’t like the outside. I like this idea. Stick to the core. Yeah. That conversation as we spit balled and said, you know, we should, we shouldn’t do this. We should make a team a spitball names came up with frag force as an aim. Created the team right then and there. Six months later we had our first event because it took us that long to figure out approvals the first time

Josh: (01:25):

and frag force. We kind of indicate that this was back in the day when we were kind of naming everything star force. So when, when about was the first vet?

Siebren: (01:33):

The first event would have been November, 2015 the team was formed March, April, 2015

Josh: (01:39):

and was that just the three of you?

Siebren: (01:40):

That was actually, neither of these two. Neither of them were involved in the very first meeting. That was me and some other guys were on my desk. Big leader, big person helping lead. It was Paul Elderidge, who is our chief extrovert officer. If you’ve ever met Paul, you’ll know exactly why we call him that. Gotcha. I have good pictures of them to go along with it.

Josh: (02:02):

Is he like one of the external facing staff?

Siebren: (02:04):

No, no, he’s just, he isn’t a very loud, gregarious guy.

Paulson: (02:09):

So acts on the side and you can see that in his life and his behavior.

Siebren: (02:15):

Have you got a picture of myself standing next to him dressed as Gastone, which was just Paul turned up to 11.

Josh: (02:20):

Nice. We might have to link to that in the show notes. So what was that first event like? What was, what were some of the hurdles to getting it up and running?

Siebren: (02:28):

Oh, I mean the first obvious one was let’s do this in the office. And then it was who do we even ask to do that? I mean we, we, it took us a while just to find, you know, who is the right person to give approval to use the office during the off hours for employees and non-employees. Then there was the network, then there was the network, which um, the cycle, how do we get internet? We can’t just, you know, use the corporate network will get blocked immediately doing that.

Parker: (02:53):

So we ended up using a wifi bridge between the office and Paul’s apartment next door actually.

Josh: (03:02):

But back up a moment, I think I know the answer to this question, but why would you get kicked off the corporate network?

 

Siebren: Because our personal computers aren’t authorized devices.

 

Josh: And so your Mac address wouldn’t have been allowed on it. Okay. So how close is your apartment to the office?

Siebren: Uh, Paul’s apartment was literally across the street. So the point to point in time, I was probably going about 300 400 feet. And that straight line,

Parker: (03:30):

the attenuation to the windows was pretty bad though. It wasn’t friendly to wifi at all.

Siebren: (03:34):

Oh, that’s why we ended up putting it on a tripod outside the front door.

Paulson: (03:38):

Weren’t the walls just a little bit better though?

Siebren: (03:41):

And the windows, I mean, uh, we ended up putting it outside the door just so we didn’t have to deal with that either one of those. Yeah, true. We have pictures of Paul with literally a green laser pointer on the end of the antenna, pointing it out as a bet, the balcony of his apartment to get it as dead on as possible. Yeah. And what was the game w what were you playing? Anything and everything. I mean extra life is very non-discriminatory, but again, any gaming, any game, any type, anywhere. So I mean if you’re just wanting to play games on your phone, that’s fine. If you don’t want to play any computer games, just play board games. Perfectly fine. No problems. Our first event was mostly computers with a little bit of board games. And how did that, like did that wifi pros, any challenges when it comes to things like latency, getting the stream out, et cetera. That was before we ever started even thinking about streaming. Gotcha. So Paul had, and uh, I want to say an 80 megabit fiber connection. Yeah, that sounds great. We’re maxing out.

Paulson(04:41):

Yeah, a bunch of gamers, bunch of computer gamers. Anyway, on one connection we regularly pushed 500 to a gigabit during install time.

Siebren (04:51):

So then what’s the, um, I guess what’s the software layer involved in that? Like how do people that for that first event, how did people know what you were gaming and how did they get involved in the marathon aspect of it? Uh, we had all the computers in a single large conference room, which we did blow the circuit breaker on at one point. That was one of our big lessons learned from the first event was exception cords to other circuits. And also find out where the circuit breaker is on the map. The locker room, we don’t have access to it. We had to call in the building engineer on a Saturday.

Paulson: (05:23):

Yeah. That wasn’t fun for him.

Siebren: (05:26):

Uh, he was really good about it.

Paulson: (05:28):

He was, he was really awesome about it. He has been for all of the, uh, weekend calls for frag force.

Josh: (05:36):

He probably has you on speed dial now or the other way around now.

Siebren: We didn’t have to call him in for power after the first event. We learned our lesson. Well. Got it. Okay. So everyone was in the same room. So it was really just, Hey, who wants to play this or does anybody want to play this with me? And that was just really ad hoc. I mean that’s kinda how we do it now. And how does that sync back up to the extra life itself? Uh, well during the event we had people, you know, donating themselves, talking to family and friends, getting some donations. We ended up getting about 7,000 in donations and that first 24 hour event, which completely blew our expectations out of the water.

Josh (06:11):

I was going to say, it sounds like you’ve had some hardware challenges to get to that point, but what was your expectation level for like donations raised?

Siebren (06:17):

We were expecting three to 5,000 for the year.

Josh: Oh wow.

Siebren: So when we went up 7,000 and the one event, it was like, well our expectations are wrong in a good way.

Josh (06:32):

And was that just, you got more attraction from people itself or were people giving more money than you expected?

Siebren:(06:40):

more giving more money than expected. And then a little bit of the attraction too was because it was a completely novel thing. It was new for everyone in the office. So that definitely helped too. And how has it been expanding the concept out?

Josh: (06:56):

Uh, crazy. When was the first one to move to something new outside of your office?

Siebren: (06:58):

Well, it looked in the volunteer portion, so Hey, the Portland office has a bunch of UTO hours doing extra life. We should talk to them. So I mean it was just, it was really just a reach out to them, you know, kind of a, Hey, did you guys do this thing too? Maybe we should join forces under this common umbrella. So we did, we found out they had raised $8,000 in their event.

Josh: (07:16):

Oh wow. How did the exercise starting getting involved? Was it kind of organic through things like power of us or was it people, people getting involved in from a, like a point of view and then saying, Hey, I’m a gamer, I want to be involved in this too.

Siebren (07:29):

A little available B. um, the biggest one was February, 2016 so just after we’ve had our event in November, we had met up with the Portland guys. Um, we actually got a chance to present in Parker’s all hands about what we’d done just cause you know, the amount of that we’d raised and the amount of VTO that we had. It was a little special. So we, you know, asked and we got permission to present during the all hands. And that’s where we really started the whole idea of Hey, if you’re interested in doing this kind of thing, reach out to us here. And from that specialty we got interest from Dublin, Atlanta, Singapore, San Francisco as well. So I mean that one was definitely one of the bigger ones. And then now, because we’re kind of really established people looking in cheddar for charity, your actual life stuff, see our name and pop up and then reach out to us.

Josh: (08:21):

What has that been like? Like just from like an organizational point of view, how, how more complex has it gotten over the years?

Siebren: (08:28):

Oh, incredibly. I mean for, I mean our first event, you know, it took us six months to figure it out. Approvals, our second event, it was, Oh, we know who to ask for approvals, let’s ask if we can use the corporate network, if we can, you know, put a router and say give us internet and nothing else. So that was a whole nother ballgame, which once we got that approved, made setting up events a lot simpler because now we’ve got these devices that we can plug in and they just get internet and they’re blocked from all of their access and then we can use our significantly more bandwidth, heavy fat pipes from the offices.

Josh: (08:57):

Well, let’s dig into some of the games a little bit and maybe let’s go, go round the circle a little bit. Like what are your, some of your current favorites that you like to play for?

Paulson: For Fragforce, VVVVVV.

Parker: (09:11):

Um, I’ve been playing some, uh, Baba Is You, but I think my favorite for force events is probably, uh, whatever variant of unreal tournament people are playing.

Josh: (09:22):

What is the current variant of unreal

Paulson: (09:26):

just called unreal tournament. Yeah, but I think it’s four technically.

Parker: (09:30):

I don’t mind some of the old game of the year ones that one of the originals still has servers up. Yeah, let’s face it. We all like aunt’s particular favorite project.

Siebren:(09:41):

Ah, Xanadu which is an open source, unreal type game. What’s it called again? Zoonotic X. O. N. O. T. I. C. gotcha.

Parker (09:50):

Uh, God, I put all kinds of stuff. Is there any one particular game? No. Uh, most recently we’ve been playing a lot right here as a hammer watch heroes of hammer watch I should say. And that’s because he and I play on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We just started playing satisfactory, which is basically like a three dimensional factorial and we went exploring the map yesterday and we’ll probably do more of that repeatedly. We died a few times along the way. That’s a big creator and it just killed me.

Josh (10:24):

Because you guys stream a lot outside of frag force, is that right?

Siebren:  (10:27):

Mostly for free course. I only stream outside of events. I’m on the frag force channel. Parker streams every Tuesday, Thursday evening, five to five to 8:00 PM Eastern. I stream with him so we’re always playing the same game. And then like Bob from the Indianapolis office streams state to 10:00 PM Eastern on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mark. Yes, you’re right. Words are hard.

Paulson: (10:52):

Ben out of San Francisco is trains on Mondays and Wednesdays with his, what he refers to as nostalgia blindness. He fires up the old games that he likes to play.

Siebren: (10:59):

And then we also have a rev Nuka Dungeons and dragons campaign that’s been running on Sunday evenings.

Josh: (11:05):

All right, so let’s talk about that angle of board gaming and tabletop gaming and role playing game. And you’re like, like when it is a fright force event, how do people, how can people get involved from that? From like a donor point of view?

Siebren: (11:18):

I’m a big one. I think one of the most successful things that’s happened is, um, Dave or imagine us does a board games with buy in pot where, you know, take number of players, take $50, whatever the divisor is to add up to $50 everyone ponies up that for the pot. And the winner takes the pot and donates it in substance for matching funds. That has been one of our biggest successful things with the poor games. Another one is, uh, like he’ll do munchkin league and he’ll sell the cheats for donations or in Dungeons, dragons you can to make someone re-roll the die for example.

Josh: Do you see people being more spoilers or trying to help the players?

Siebren: The dynamic changes very rapidly. I mean if the players are stomping on the bosses, people will donate just to spite them. But I mean if he goes, it goes all the way around too. But it’s very, if it’s your friend playing, you’re going to want to screw with them.

Josh: Right, because you can, well, and I mentioned it, it probably changes from game to game because like if we’re talking about munchkin and the concept of supporting another player practically doesn’t exist.

Siebren: (12:24):

we are very backstabbing when it comes to munchkin too. It’s, it’s particularly bad and yet you lost seem to still be friends. We’re still friends. That doesn’t mean we can’t be bad gamers. We can understand that this association between stabbing in a game and stabbing in real life keep the, keeping the grudges on a gaming level.

Paulson: (12:46):

Yeah. In fact, one of our, one of our core rules when playing is um, don’t trust Lance specific to munchkin.

SIebren: (12:52):

Probably one of, he’s one of our best munchkin players and is very good at turning help into unstoppable advantage for himself.

Josh: And when it comes to the frag force events themselves, what are, what are the formats like are they still like 24 hour marathons?

Siebren: Uh, not in our office since the first event when like I was falling asleep at hour 23 while streaming horrible, horrible game. Um, my top donor got to pick which game I played for the last hour. So I got to play a secret of the magic crystals for an hour.

Josh: Gotcha.

Siebren: I’d have to just look it up and it just, it’s just bad.

Parker: Where are you driving a pony around or something? Wasn’t it a Barbie game effectively?

Siebren: That was, that was the game that made me figure out how to actually move the game from my steam account. You can do that can do what you can actually remove a game permanently from your steam account. Right. Is that the gamer of many games? Equivalent of like removing stuff from your browser history. That was just, I didn’t want to have to see it ever again.

Paulson: (13:59):

In this case. It used to be, um, you said a gift games to other people

Josh: (14:05):

and they couldn’t get rid of them. Got it.

Siebren: (14:07):

So, you know, you find something very, uh, opposite of what that person would ever touch and games situation, gift it to them. And now they’re all embarrassed back. So they literally can’t delete it from their steam account. But they changed that a while ago, unfortunately. Unfortunately.

Paulson: (14:25):

Oops. You don’t have to know what to look for to do it. Yeah. But it’s possible.

Josh: And let’s talk about, you know, how things have gone to our words that they are now your years. So you had your first event, $7,000 raised, and now you’re across 15 different sites for international. What is fright force producing? Both from a VTO hours and also like dollars donated year over year?

Siebren: (14:52):

Uh, last year, about two thirds of the way, the year we passed the half a million dollars total raised point. Wow. So I mean, just to give you, you know, an exponential growth figure there. So our first year between the two Portland and turned in, we’d raised 15,000 our second year, it was 96,000 as another big thing that definitely helps is the top hundred grant, which several of us have earned twice now. And explain that in some detail. Um, Salesforce has a special program for like the top 100 volunteers across the entire company for our fiscal year. They give them a $10,000 grant for any charity they choose or up to to split whichever way you’d like. And um, two years ago, Paulson, Parker and I all three qualified for that. And then all three of us also got it for the last year because you’re only eligible every other year.

Josh: (15:44):

And let’s talk a little bit about the tech that’s been required to get that, um, global approach. For instance, Parker, I think you’re working on getting like a global streaming team together. Like something that’s, that’s more organized for streaming across the world.

Parker: (15:59):

All right, one more time. Cause I was trying to listen to the sentence and my brain refused to parse it. I was actually focused cause you’re, cause you were responding to discord. I was because of course you all are on discord. You asked a question, you know who I’m talking about. Different people have asked questions about, it’s like wait, there’s a podcast. Sorry. But so I was actually trying to listen and type literally three letters and it threw me off.

Josh: (16:28):

(Laughter) Nope. This is a, I have this very expected behavior from interviewing a three graders at the same time. So totally understandable. But no, the question was about, I’m trying to organize some kind of global streaming team.

Parker: (16:38):

Yeah. So I have a, a dream scenario, which I, I called the frag force SuperStream which is something like a literally three and a half day long event where it starts like halfway through Friday and doesn’t end until like halfway through Monday.

Josh:(16:54):

Be like people rotating in through their time zones. Right.

Parker (16:57):

But it’s also that the stream never goes down and it literally hands smoothly. Like, like legitimately the stream never goes down and enhance smoothly between teams and from a technical back end it’s really hard to do that and we’re working on it. But that’s, that’s my, my long goal pipe dream. I want us to be able to like, you know, the week of frag where it’s seven days of solid frag force raising for that week. Wow. Something something insane.

Josh:(17:30):

So in an elevator pitch, can you describe the technical difficulties there?

Parker: (17:35):

I’m trying to set up in mid point that everyone can stream to that, that that converges everything. Gotcha. Part of the problem there is, I understand it is some sites need to do their own and then you

Siebren: (17:49):

need to get the streams one or more streams up to the central spot so you can mix between those and stuff like that.

Parker: (17:58):

Um, I think, I think every site should have the ability to capture local streams and then stream from there

Siebren: (18:03):

from a technical perspective getting essential point that people can stream to the then rebroadcasts it to Twitch is I can do that in five minutes with an, with a Docker container. The tricky part is how do I get it so Parker can stream and then I can stream to it and then switch the inputs without any downtime on the Twitch side and smoothly and then trying to figure out how to do that in some sort of an automated fashion where Parker doesn’t have to be awake for 24 hours a day to handle the switch overs. Those are the kinds of technical difficulties that we’re still working on. I offered to buy coffee for Parker, but uh, I mean we can, we can inject caffeine directly into Parker but that only lasts so long.

Parker: Until I crash? I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere around 47 hours…

Siebren: but we can get more caffeine. I didn’t say it’d be a good idea or that you’d survive it, but we can get more caffeine.

Josh: (18:58):

And if I want to go somewhere and find out more like, like what’s, what’s involved with the website itself?

Parker (19:06):

Well frag forest.org is a hosted on Heroku, which is provided by Salesforce. We use the site, it’s actually a kind of read only, there’s no way to input data to the site directly. Um, all of it comes from our Salesforce org. So we think over event data, participant data, limited participant day like counts and stuff and how to register URLs, that sort of thing. And we sync that over to Heroku using Heroku connect and then we display that data on the site.

Josh: (19:43):

And so that’s where I can find out if there’s an upcoming event that I either want to donate or, or possibly participate in.

Siebren: (19:50):

Yep. There’s, there’s an events button on the top that’ll tell you all upcoming events and that’s sinked directly from our or instance.

Josh:(19:57):

And that’s our show. I want to thank the frag forest guys for a great conversation. Of course all of the hard work that they are doing for children’s charities around the world. Now to reach, just reiterate that last point, you do not need to be a Salesforce employee of course, to participate. If you want to join the frag force team head on over to fray force.org where you can see upcoming events and how to register yourself now before we go. It turns out the Parker is actually quite the Baker and when he headed off to extra life United, well he wanted to make sure he was showing proper etiquette.

Parker (20:27):

Yeah. So um, last year was my first actual life United, which is extra lives, big thing that they do. Everybody goes to Orlando to play video games and competitions to hopefully win prizes for their hospital. Nice. And um, as a less show up and let me introduce myself in a way only I can kind of thing. We made a thousand cookies.

Josh (20:48):

Oh wow. I mean technically if you’re going to arrive, I guess you, you were supposed to have enough for everybody.

Parker: Right. And I made enough to have three for everybody.

Josh: So if you run into Parker it extra life United, he might just have a cookie for you or maybe even three. Who knows? Thanks for listening everybody. If you want to learn more about this podcast, head on over to developer.salesforce.com/podcast where you can hear all the episodes and also see the transcripts and show notes. Plus we have links to your favorite podcast service. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you next week.