Coding live for charity


Game developers hole up and code for charity — while the world watches.


For most twenty-something guys, an ideal vacation probably entails some traveling, a fair amount of napping, and a whole lot of drinking.

Or, if none of that’s possible, at least some marathon video game sessions with friends.

Those broad generalizations almost fit the employees of indie game company BigBlockGames. Except they’re not playing games during their two-week vacation. They’re programming one — twenty-four hours a day, broadcast live over the Internet.

And it’s all for charity.

The boutique Web game company based out of Wellington, New Zealand started the project, a role-playing game called Coffee Break Hero, two weeks ago. They’d just finished a grueling two-year project — a game that was a labor of love and, well, labor, called Black Market.

“If you’re working on the same thing for two years, even if you have a fantastic day, you’re barely moving the needle at all,” Michael Reitzenstein, the company’s co-founder, told the Daily Dot over Skype. “That’s why we decided to do this for fun — as perverse that sounds.”

Well, not just for fun. The team’s raising money for Child’s Play, a charity that donates video games, toys, and movies to children’s hospitals. So far, BigBlockGames has raised about $6,300 for the charity.

Most of that money has come from users of social news site Reddit. That’s because two of Reitzenstein’s posts have made it to the social news site’s front page front page over the past couple of weeks — one announcing the charity drive, and another providing a halfway update.

They’ve attracted a small legion of hardcore fans who watch the live, 24-hour broadcasts and engage in constant conversations with programmers and artists.

The company’s four employees are taking twelve hour shifts every day to meet their self-imposed two week deadline. They don’t have much time for breaks. So all that attention took some getting used to. Have you ever tried eating lunch with a few hundred strangers watching you?

“At our peak sitting there eating pizza with 600 people watching us (was) “really weird,” Reitzenstein said.

To amp up community involvement, Reitzenstein and his team have added dozens of features to the game, all suggested by redditors. Mostly, that means a whole lot of hats.


“They’re nuts for collectible hats in games,” Reitzenstein said about redditors. He believes that is because Team Fortress 2, another game famous for its collectible hats, is popular on the site.

He was initially skeptical, but the hats have now become Reitzenstein’s favorite part of the game. “They serve no gameplay purpose whatsoever,” he said, which is what makes them so “ridiculous”.

In real life, the BigBlockGames four employees aren’t getting any hats. They’re taking scissors to their locks.

When donations hit $2,500, Reitzenstein shaved his beard on camera. At $5,000, he shaved his head. And if they reach $9,000, fellow cofounder Paul Greasley will shape his coif into a mullet.

But at this point Reitzenstein and Greasley can’t be too distracted by cosmetological promises. They’ve only got one day to go until they reach their deadline.

“We’re stressing because I’m not sure if we’re gonna make it a few hours later or a few hours earlier,” Reitzenstein  said.

It’s a race to the programming finish line — broadcast live, powered by pizza, and benefiting some seriously sick kids.  So whether they make the deadline or not, there’s no real loser here.

Except, maybe, Greasley.

A mullet is a hard thing to live down.


Photo by Gideon Tsang

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