In our annual report covering 2019 – 2020, Zach Wigal (founder of Gamers Outreach) reflects on the role of play in hospitals, our growing impact, and how gamers have the power to make a difference.
This summary highlights our 2019 financials, which influenced program activity in both 2019 and 2020. Distinctions are noted where applicable.
I’ve always believed the gaming community is capable of mobilizing for good. To me, video games represent a network of people who share an enthusiasm for play.
In 2008, I became aware of the challenges kids and their families face each day inside hospitals. Since then, I’ve been on a mission to change their experience via Gamers Outreach.
Millions of children receive care within the walls of healthcare facilities every year. For many, the process can be scary and isolating. During hospitalization, kids lose access to friends, school, and moments that typically define childhood.
At Gamers Outreach, our team believes the world is better when hospitalized kids can play, and we know gamers have the power to help. We’re a charity that restores a sense of joy and normalcy in the lives of families. Our quest is to build a world where entertainment is prioritized as part of care. Video games are our tools.
The scale of this challenge is enormous but solvable. Many of the services we use in our daily lives to enjoy games don’t fully translate into hospital environments. There are hundreds of pediatric hospitals in the United States alone. The infrastructure in these buildings varies, as does the level of staff-familiarity with games. We’re focused on delivering programs that reinforce both.
Our Vision, Mission, & Core Beliefs
Gamers Outreach is a for-purpose organization that provides equipment, technology, and software to help patients cope with treatment inside hospitals. We exist to inspire and heal kids through play. We believe in a world where technology is used to improve the patient experience alongside research and care.
Five tenets guide this sense of purpose:
- We are gamers.
We are video game enthusiasts on a mission to help our fellow gamers in hospitals. We are stewards of an organization that serves as a source of relief for hospital patients and a conduit for video game enthusiasts to give back through their passion. We have dedicated ourselves to ensuring Gamers Outreach is a trusted charity for gamers and those supported by our work. We are committed to games being used for good. We are a gaming brand that enables interactive experiences in hospitals.
- We inspire and heal through play.
We believe access to recreation helps enrich a person’s quality of life. This is especially evident while a person is receiving care in a hospital setting. Our organization provides resources that help make video game content readily available and easy to manage in hospitals.
- Why do we do it?
We stand for kids, their families, and hospital staff providing care. Undergoing medical treatment can often be a scary and isolating experience, especially for young people. We believe video games are a platform capable of improving the patient experience. Our programs aid the healing process by providing entertainment, relief, socialization, and a sense of normalcy to families and patients spending time inside hospitals.
- We value community.
Our organization was founded by a community of gamers determined to make a difference. Our programs are driven by community involvement. We believe the video game community is capable of doing incredible good. We hope to inspire fellow gamers to engage with their local hospitals.
- We are stewards – helping others level up!
Our staff and volunteers embody the identity, mission, and community values of Gamers Outreach programs. We are responsible for ensuring our programs add value to the lives of patients, their families, and hospital staff. Our team bridges the gap between the gaming community and the hospital environment. Every action on behalf of the organization should prioritize our community’s well-being and those we support in hospitals.
Over the years, we’ve observed healthcare staff face two core challenges when providing digital activities to patients:
- Many hospitals are not equipped with entertainment devices or infrastructure that make gaming content readily accessible to patients (e.g., consoles, controllers, monitors, games, etc.)
- When technology is present, it can be difficult for hospital staff to manage entertainment due to several factors (unfamiliarity with equipment, existing responsibilities, ease of mobility, bandwidth limitations, etc.)
We believe video games are tools that enable staff to provide play at scale. Games offer a wide range of experiences and can be deployed simultaneously among patients in a facility.
Currently, the majority of our resources are dedicated to two initiatives:
- Project GO Kart: Gamers Outreach constructs portable video game kiosks called “GO Karts” (Gamers Outreach Karts). These kiosks help staff easily provide bedside activities to children unable to leave their rooms. Each GO Kart is equipped with a gaming console, monitor, and assortment of games. The carts ensure kids have access to entertainment and coping mechanisms during hospitalization.
- Player 2: Player 2 is a program where gamers have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired through gaming in a manner that supports patients and staff within hospitals. By volunteering, gamers become “digital activity managers.” They serve by managing equipment, providing tech support, and playing games with patients. Many hospitals receive game donations, but without proper staffing to manage inventory, it can be difficult for tech donations to serve patients as intended. Player 2 helps address this by ensuring knowledgeable individuals are present to distribute technology and exercise its positive benefits.
Since last year’s report, our collective program footprint has grown by 42%. Our team is actively managing nearly 1,000 GO Karts & other gaming devices across more than 230 hospitals!
To give you a sense of scale: that coverage means we now have a presence in ~90% of hospitals solely focused on pediatrics within the United States. In 2015, our coverage was about 7%. Things have come a long way!
Based on feedback from healthcare staff, we estimate each GO Kart is used by an average of 6 – 8 children per day. With this metric in mind, we believe our fleet of units has the capacity to support between 2 – 2.5 million play sessions annually! That’s potential for nearly 1 million more play sessions than last year!
We’ve also had the opportunity to work with some amazing partners who’ve helped us make play more accessible. Take it from our friend Dwayne!
As we think about our programs expanding, it’s important to define a few terms we use to assess program reach:
- Play Sessions: You’ll notice the front page of our website lists the number of “annual play sessions” our devices provide. This number reflects what we believe to be our capacity for use given the number of GO Karts deployed across hospitals. A “play session” is defined as “every time a child plays a game on our device.” There are instances the same child day-to-day may use a GO Kart. There are also scenarios where a GO Kart is deployed in a playroom and used by 20+ children per day.
- Saturation (program footprint): We’re working towards a scenario where all kids have access to play without needing to wait their turn. This means providing the right type of devices, as well as the right quantity. A “fully saturated” hospital is a facility that requires no more devices. If our “program footprint” expands, it means we’ve added more devices across hospitals.
- Breadth: There are over 250 pediatric hospitals in the United States alone. So long as our programs are of benefit, we hope to maintain a presence in each! As noted above, we’re getting pretty close to achieving this goal!
During the summer of 2020, we wrote a blog detailing how COVID impacted our initiatives. While Player 2 shifted towards remote support, GO Karts were in more demand than ever. Funds from 2019 and strong fundraising during 2020 enabled us to construct more kiosks and keep pace with requests. You can read more about the pandemic’s impact here.
With help from the gaming community and a number of committed donors, Gamers Outreach generated $1.84 million in contributions during the 2019 fiscal year – a 15% increase from 2018.
Additionally, while it won’t be fully noted until our next annual tax filing, our supporters helped generate nearly $3 million in contributions during the 2020 fiscal year.
This growth can be attributed to increased support across multiple revenue categories including individual donors, stream campaigns, sponsorship, grants, and earned program revenue.
Accordingly, our functional expenses increased by just over 50%. In 2019, we spent more than $1.5 million to expand Gamers Outreach programming in hospitals around the country. Our spending ratio continues to reflect our prioritization of direct impact. In 2019, just over 81% of our total expenses were for programs.
As noted above – our impact has increased substantially, enabling us to support between 500,000 – 1,000,000 more play sessions each year!
For those interested, our full Form 990 can be downloaded here.
Our annual streaming marathon & LAN party, Gamers for Giving, looked a little different this past year. Back in March of 2020, our team made the difficult decision to cancel our event ahead of any government regulations. Thankfully, our shift to an online marathon was widely supported by our fellow gamers – creating the most successful fundraiser we’ve hosted to-date. Sponsors and the gaming community raised over $675K!
In 2020, we also launched a new annual event – the Spooktacular Streamathon. The inaugural fundraiser helped generate an additional $337K in support of providing entertainment to hospitalized children.
Looking ahead, Gamers for Giving 2021 will also take shape as an online streaming marathon. We’re planning to host the virtual event during the weekend of March 20th & 21. This year, we’re hoping to raise $500,000 in support of our programs! Be sure to check out more information on the event at www.GamersforGiving.org. We hope you’ll join us!
Defining Success & The Future
In last year’s annual report, we established four key metrics that help define success in the hospitals we work. Our programs exist in a diverse landscape of facilities across the country.
We believe these four considerations are ubiquitous across hospitals:
- Equipment / Content Saturation. Each hospital environment is unique in its ability to house equipment and provide patients with access to content. A 600-bed facility has different hardware and content needs than a 20-bed facility. Our long-term goal is to assist hospitals in reaching their unique “saturation points” so that content is readily available to patients.
- Patient Engagement. We define patient engagement in terms of access to activities. What entertainment offerings existed (if any) to patients before Gamers Outreach programs, and how accessible were those activities to patients? Example: did patients need to wait X hours before playing a video game, or were games available immediately?
- Improved Patient Outcomes. In our experience, hospitals place a high degree of importance on measuring “patient outcomes.” Loosely defined, this encompasses how quickly / fully a patient recovers during treatment. We believe games are capable of contributing towards improved patient outcomes.
- Improved Patient Experience. For our purposes, we think of the patient experience as the overall sentiment a person may have during hospitalization. It can also be an indicator of how a patient “feels” day-to-day. Patients often report their “pain scores” to attending healthcare staff, which help determine sense of comfort or injury tolerance. We believe games are capable of facilitating improved patient experiences.
In 2021, you can expect a handful of exciting announcements regarding the future of Gamers Outreach. We’ve got some wonderful news to share during this year’s Gamers for Giving fundraiser – so be sure to tune in!
Gamers Outreach wouldn’t exist without ongoing support from the gaming community and the tireless dedication of hospital staff making a difference in the lives of kids and their families.
Thank you to everyone who has continued to be a champion for kids in hospitals. As gamers, it’s been an honor to make this work a reality.
We’re committed to making a difference during this pandemic and beyond. Games can help kids facing isolation, and they’re a resource for hospital staff who are stretched thin. We’re here to support them.
We hope you’ll join us in helping others level up throughout 2021!