Monday, May 18, 2015

Extra Life 101: Most Frequently Asked Questions

One of the primary goals of this blog is to help me communicate critical information to people about the Extra Life charity, and one thing I have never done is post an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) style list of what I am most often asked.  That gets fixed today!  Here are the questions I most often get concerning the Extra Life annual charity and the answers to them.

Extra Life 2015

Q: What is Extra Life?
A: Extra Life is an annual charity event benefiting Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.  The original event was focused on supporting Texas Children's Hospital and was inspired by a young lady named Victoria Enmon who sadly passed away in 2008 following a bout with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  Details on Tori's story and how the charity has expanded from a local event to an international event can be found here.  The bottom line is the event allows people to play games, similar to how people participate in marathons focused on dancing or running/walking, and ask people to sponsor them with donations.  The donations are submitted through the player page found on the Extra Life website and go directly to the hospital the player has elected to support. 

To sign up visit the registration page today.  Your registration this year is for 2015, and each subsequent year you will need to register again to participate in that particular year; however, with your account you can access data from the previous years you participated in as well as access tools to customize your donation page with text and pictures and contact donors who have provided their contact information to thank them.  Make sure you log in with your existing account each year you sign up.  I used a different email address one year by accident, and that data is separate from my primary account data due to the mix-up.  If you log in and manage your personal information through the same account that should not be a problem.

Q: Am I supporting a specific hospital?
A: Absolutely.  The original event started small and raised over $300,000 for Texas Children's; however, seeing an excellent opportunity to spread the reach of the program, participants can now select from over 170 different hospitals within the Children's Miracle Network.  Last year's event raised millions of dollars across those hospitals, and this year will be even bigger.

When you register to participate in Extra Life, you are asked to select a specific hospital to support.  Some people support a hospital where a family member, friend, or possibly the participant themselves has been treated, while others select their local hospital, which you can search for here if you want to look prior to registration by using your zip code or state.

If you are asking as a donor, check the page of the participant you are helping sponsor.  You will see their hospital listed on the right side of the page along with a tag that reads "Playing in support of."  It will look like the picture below from my personal page.  Your donation goes directly to that hospital that is listed.
Here is what to look for when identifying the specific hospital a player is supporting.

Q: Is my donation tax deductible?
A: Yes, it is 100% tax deductible.  Print a copy of the receipt, or if you were unable to, then reach out to the player you sponsored.  They can view donations and confirm amounts etc. if you need something for your records.  I would recommend printing the confirmation page though for tax purposes, as that is your best record available.

Q: How do I get more involved?
A: As the Extra Life program grows, the original organizers have found a creative way to enlist volunteers who are invested in their local hospital.  That is called the Guild program.  An Extra Life Guild directory and basic description can be found here.  If you're hospital does not yet have a Guild, then join the Extra Life community forums to talk to people and find ways to help.  You may find other folks local to your area who want to help as well in similar ways.  We attend events like video game, board game, and comic or pop culture conventions as well as smaller scale events that provide an opportunity to expand the reach to new supporters. 

At the most basic level, wearing Extra Life t-shirts and starting conversations with people you already know is a great way to spread the news.  You can get Extra Life gear by being a Platinum participant and raising $200 (see below for more details on "Platinum" registration) or participating in the Miracle Band program.  These are excellent conversation starters, and I get more people to participate through enthusiastic conversations than by any other means.

Q: Can you explain how teams work?
A: Sure, when you join or even after you join you can select a team of other players or even choose to create your own.  Joining a team is a good way to help foster support among people you know.  A team has a roster of individual participants, all of whom may choose a specific hospital to support, and allows for accumulating team totals and badges.  To state that another way, you can support a different hospital from other folks in your team.  My team, Super Game Boys, is supporting hospitals in Dallas, Houston, and Baton Rouge this year as an example.  It's a great way to build camaraderie with the people you recruited or were recruited by.

Q: If I join, do I really have to play a 24 hour marathon?  Does it have to be on the specific "game day" listed?
A: No, this may be the most asked question.  Not everyone is in a position to play games of any kind for 24 hours straight, and it may even be unhealthy for some people to attempt.  There are a few keys to keep in mind to help alleviate the concerns here:
  • You can play any type of game you want, from video games, smart device games, or web based browser games to board and card games to sports and outdoor games.  One year my oldest son had a soccer game on our planned event day, so we counted that as part of the marathon and played on our Nintendo 3DS handhelds and smart phones in the car when driving back and forth from our house to the field!  I would suggest at minimum playing one active or physical game during your marathon, if you choose to do a marathon, which leads me to point #2 ...
  • There is no hard record of your marathon, and it is fully understood and accepted that some folks will not play a full 24 hours straight.  Want to play two hours per weekend for a month?  Awesome.  Want to just sum up anytime spent playing games from your regular schedule?  Great.  How and when you game is up to you.  The general guideline is that everyone is asked to try their best to raise $100 dollars minimum.  However you do that is your choice.
  • Regardless of how you play, your own health and safety is paramount.  Drink lots of water (not soda or sugar filled energy drinks, water), eat healthy food, rest when you feel tired, and be sure to stretch and rest your eyes periodically.  Visit here for a similar summary of best practices.
Q: What are the different participant levels in registration?  In other words, what is a Platinum registrant?
A: This gets overlooked a lot, but it is an easy element of the program to get confused on specific to people participating.  When you register you have the option to play for free (noted as "Classic" registration) or join as a Platinum participant for $15.  Platinum membership means you are basically enlisting in the rewards program tied to the event.  You are eligible for event related gear once you hit certain tiers of fundraising (listed below).  Raised more money than expected and want to swap to Platinum?  No problem.  Visit here for details.
  • $200 raised: the Platinum t-shirt for the year (design varies year to year)
  • $500 raised: silver medal with the Extra Life logo
  • $1000 raised: gold medal with the Extra Life logo
Q: Do you recommend any resources to generate enthusiasm on social networks?
A: I do!  Twitch is a big partner with Extra Life, and anyone can setup an account and start streaming games with some basic equipment and software.  Twitch even provides the option to list your game as "Extra Life" to clearly identify the community as we undertake our game days.  Modern consoles allow direct to Twitch streaming out of the gate too. 

Children's Miracle Network Hospitals also has a great set of inspiring videos on YouTube.  I love sharing these because of how well done they are.  Alternatively, share your game day pictures and videos and requests for donations with your existing social networks whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, etc.  The easiest way to get donations is to ask people, and the easiest people to ask are typically in your existing social network of friends.
Q: I love this charity, and I think my company would be open to helping as well.  Are there corporate sponsorship opportunities?
A: Yes, but this is harder to lock down in a single FAQ post.  My recommendation would be to visit the Guild page listed above or the forums and request a specific contact.  Alternatively, there is a form on the main site that allows people to inquire about partnership and corporate sponsor opportunities.  Visit here.

Q: You type too much, is there a shorter FAQ?
A: Fine, here. 

For family, friends, and participants who are reading this, I encourage you to reach out to me directly if you want to know more.  I love talking about Extra Life, and thankfully I have access to helpful information due to my participation in the local Guild.  I'll even come talk at an event if you have one!  Just ask.

- Scott

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What I Expect from "NX" and Nintendo's Partnership with DeNA

The house that Mario built is expanding.

Nintendo has been fighting an uphill battle for its share of the gaming landscape ever since the Wii U launched several years ago.  Nintendo has, until recently, held fast in their opinion that smartphones and new hardware could not right the ship and turn the company back to huge quarter to quarter profits.  With the recent announcement of a partnership with DeNA and a teaser mention of a new hardware platform code named “NX,” the future of Nintendo is starting to pique the interest of fans and critics alike.

Software Expansion with DeNA

Can DeNA help future-proof Nintendo's approach to smart devices?

Here is a link to a detailed press release concerning the partnership between Nintendo and DeNA.  There are two primary takeaways from the announcement.
  1. With DeNA’s expertise in tow, Nintendo software and intellectual property will finally expand to smart devices with the plan that these applications will turn people towards Nintendo’s primary delivery platforms, i.e. their hardware.  The software in question will all be newly developed and optimized for the platform expansion, so people expecting ports of classic titles will have to continue looking elsewhere.
  2. Again with DeNA’s assistance, Nintendo is ready to modernize their account system to include multiple devices and delivery platforms.  This is the near term promise, targeting Fall 2015, that Nintendo is giving fans to help satisfy a few major complaints.  The new approach will include existing Nintendo devices, 3DS and Wii U are both mentioned in the press release, as well as future hardware.  It appears that the system will have a broad range of capabilities, possibly including rewards as the long running Club Nintendo program was officially closed down this year to make room for the future.
This is a big step for a company that has been firmly entrenched in tradition and independence.  Nintendo is famous for shunning partnerships with other large companies like Sony throughout its history, so this agreement in and of itself shows the company’s new-found willingness to adapt to the changing market.  It also in some ways may be interpreted as an admission of failure in some sense.  Nintendo has struggled to modernize the way it manages its consumers.  Current Nintendo hardware has difficulty tracking the software an individual has purchased, and system to system transfers are often ridiculed for being overly complex and unintuitive.  Features taken for granted on other systems like account level achievements and cloud saves have never been available from Nintendo either.

Future Hardware & the Potential of "NX"

Will the "NX" merge these two devices into a new hybrid machine?

Here is another look at a press release from March when these initiatives were announced, this time directly from Nintendo.  Mr. Iwata positioned the “NX” hardware announcement as a promise to remain in the dedicated console business, but the potential is a lot greater than just keeping Nintendo in the hardware business.

Nintendo has hinted for some time that they are cooking a unified operating system up in their labs.  As seen in sales figures, their bread and butter remains in their handheld devices.  The 3DS family, much like the DS and Game Boy families before it, dominate the marketplace for dedicated mobile gaming hardware.  The landscape is trickier today with tablets and smartphones, but Nintendo has still found a way to stay profitable in this arena.  With the exception of the Wii, their entries in the home console market have not been as dominant for several console cycles.  The Gamecube and Wii U in particular have been dramatically outpaced by other dedicated hardware from competitors in their respective generations.  A unified operating system that allows you to play your games at home or on the go on Nintendo developed hardware would allow Nintendo to turn its strengths into a bigger asset and make its weaknesses less of a liability.

What other benefits does a unified platform bring to the table?  Picture an HD capable, wide screen tablet device similar to the Wii U controller, but not quite as bulky.  Something that could be used as a primary controller for your home console.  Imagine if you could untether it from the home console box and bring it with you when you leave the house.  A lot of people initially believed that this was core functionality of the Wii U, a system whose strong suit is allowing people to use the controller’s screen as the primary method of consuming content, often while another person is using the television the console is actually connected to for some other purpose.  Now imagine that same device allows for cross save, cross buy, and cross play functionality, similar to what Sony offers between its devices.  Add on top of that the DeNA co-developed account system and access from external devices outside of the ecosystem, and all of a sudden you have a modernized, better equipped for the future Nintendo.

A lot of people believe “NX” should just be a box with updated specs, something comparable to Sony and Microsoft’s latest console offerings.  I disagree with that sentiment, and I believe Nintendo would get crushed in the market if they offered a “me too” device without adding their expected Nintendo appeal.  I think Nintendo needs to focus on allowing people to access their content in modern ways with fewer restrictions.  I said recently in a comment on Polygon that removing region locking starting with the “NX” device would be an excellent gesture to reaffirm the company’s commitment to removing barriers to play.  If the “NX” and the partnership with DeNA signal a more open and accessible Nintendo, similar to the message they sent when they opened their intellectual property for expanded licensing, then I think a new generation of gamers will be ready to jump in right alongside the gamers who have been with the company from the beginning.  I look forward to that accessible and open future as a Nintendo fan.

- Scott