In our annual report covering 2018 – 2019, Zach Wigal – founder of Gamers Outreach – reflects on our identity as a video game charity, the growth of our programs, and the importance of providing hospitalized families with access to recreation. This summary covers our 2018 financials, which influenced program activity in both 2018 and 2019. Distinctions are noted where applicable.
As a lifelong video game enthusiast, I get excited sharing stories about my favorite video games to anyone willing to listen. That passion for gaming is amplified in hospitals, where it’s clear video games make a tremendous difference in the lives of people receiving care.
In the midst of hard times, kids deserve a chance to be themselves. As gamers, we’re in a unique position to exercise our knowledge in a way that reinforces healthcare staff and brings relief to children undergoing treatment.
Over the last 12 years, our team has been on a quest to help make hospitals more fun. It’s our belief entertainment brings people together through activity and story. Being in the hospital can be lonely and stressful. Our goal at Gamers Outreach is to restore a sense of normalcy and joy in people’s lives – and we do it through video games!
In the midst of our enthusiasm to be helpful, it’s important to know what we stand for while also being considerate of the healthcare environment.
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 patients through play. We believe in a world where technology is used to help prioritize the patient experience alongside research and care.
This sense of purpose is guided by five tenets:
- 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 diverse 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 the well-being of our community and those we support in hospitals.
Over the years, we’ve observed healthcare staff largely face two challenges in relation to 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 a number of factors (unfamiliarity with equipment, existing responsibilities, ease of mobility, bandwidth limitations, etc.)
Currently, the majority of our resources are dedicated towards addressing these challenges through two initiatives:
- Project GO Kart: Gamers Outreach constructs portable video game kiosks called “GO Karts” (Gamers Outreach Karts). These kiosks are a tool that 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 provide an efficient way to ensure kids have access to entertainment and coping mechanisms during hospitalization. Each unit also has an internal lift mechanism, which allows healthcare staff to adjust the GO Kart to a patient’s bedside, accommodating a variety of medical scenarios when a patient’s mobility may be limited.
- 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” and serve by managing equipment, providing tech support, and playing games with patients. Many hospitals receive game donations, but without proper staffing to manage inventory at a mass scale, it can become difficult for tech donations to properly serve patients as intended. Player 2 helps address this issue 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 40%. Nearly 700 GO Karts now exist across more than 200 hospitals in the United States and Canada!
Based on feedback from hospitals, we estimate each GO Kart is used by an average of 6 – 8 children per day. With this metric in mind, our fleet of units has capacity to support between 1.5 – 2 million play sessions annually!
It’s important to emphasize we think of our impact in terms of play sessions. There are instances a GO Kart may be used by the same child day-to-day. There are also scenarios where a GO Kart is deployed in a playroom and used by 20+ children per day. Our patient impact reflects what we believe to be “potential capacity” for use given the number of GO Karts which exist in hospitals.
Currently, we believe this estimate is realistic given the scale of healthcare as well as feedback from hospital staff. As an example: in 2018, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles reported more than 556,000 patient visits. That’s a single hospital. A GO Kart deployed in such a facility is likely to be shared by a wide number of patients each day.
Frequent visitors to our website may have also noticed a small change to our impact map – it’s now global.
By direct request, we’ve begun making GO Karts available to hospitals overseas. As of this writing, a small handful of units are scheduled to be deployed beyond North America in 2020 with help from respective donors.
It will still be some time before we’re consistently deploying GO Karts globally. Our focus is the United States, and general donations fuel our national work. But it’s wonderful to recognize the sense of cultural unity games facilitate, and our ability as gamers to make a difference worldwide.
We’ve continued to encourage gamer volunteerism within hospitals. Most notably, a program page now exists for our initiative, Player 2! For those interested in making an on-going volunteer commitment, check the program page to find a participating hospital. Even if a participating facility isn’t nearby, it’s still worthwhile to submit a volunteer application in the event a new hospital is added!
Open enrollment is also now available for hospitals interested in welcoming Player 2 volunteers. If you’re a hospital staffer that could benefit from Player 2, fill out the “Hospital Enrollment” form on the Player 2 program page.
Note: each hospital we work with is capable of supporting only a limited number of Player 2 volunteers. Not all applicants may have the opportunity to participate in the initiative. That said, we still have a number of general volunteer opportunities available to help setup GO Karts, or assist hospitals with tech support!
With help from the gaming community and a number of committed donors, Gamers Outreach generated $1.6 million in contributions during the 2018 fiscal year – a 23% increase from 2017.
Our fundraising growth was made possible thanks to broader awareness of our initiatives, and an increase in overall support across multiple revenue categories (individual donors, stream campaigns, sponsors, grants, earned program revenue, etc).
Notably, we were fortunate to be generously supported by developers behind the popular video game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, as well as our friends at Child’s Play, who played a large role in helping us expand our GO Kart program to hospitals around the United States.
Our functional expenses more than doubled from 2017, with nearly $1 million being spent within the calendar year to facilitate our increased impact in hospitals. During this period of growth, our spending ratio remained nearly identical to 2017, with over 80% of our total expenses being allocated for programs.
The end result? As noted above – our program range has dramatically increased, and we’re now capable of supporting an additional 500,000 play sessions for hospitalized kids since last year’s report!
For those interested, our full Form 990 can be downloaded here.
Our annual streaming marathon & LAN party, Gamers for Giving, still holds the title as being our largest fundraiser year over year. A number of sponsors make the event possible, and it’s thanks to a handful of enthusiastic streamers we’ve been able to continue to expand Gamers Outreach programs. While it won’t be reflected until our next 990 release, Gamers for Giving 2019 brought in over $637,000!
Looking ahead, Gamers for Giving 2020 will take place on March 28th & 29th at the EMU Convocation Center. This will be our 12th annual fundraiser, and we’re hoping to raise $700,000 over the course of the big weekend. Registration will open in mid January, and information for the event can be found at www.GamersforGiving.org.
Defining Success & The Future
Ultimately, we’re here to help revolutionize the patient experience in hospitals. That’s a grand vision – and it’s difficult to make blanket objectives that encompass the diverse landscape of children’s hospitals around the country.
To bridge the gap, last year we defined a core set of categories that help us define “success” in each hospital we work. Every hospital is different, but we believe these four considerations are ubiquitous across facilities:
- Equipment / Content Saturation. Each hospital environment is unique in its ability to house equipment and provide patients with access to content. Simply put: 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 activity. What entertainment offerings existed (if any) to patients prior to Gamers Outreach programs, and how accessible were those activities to patients? Example: did patients need to wait X hours before they were able to play 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. We are presently engaged in assisting with research to determine what (if any) statistical correlations exist.
- Improved Patient Experience. For our purposes, we think of 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.
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 for our team to make this work a reality.
From everyone at Gamers Outreach, we wish you a wonderful holiday season, and a fantastic new year. We hope you’ll join us in helping others level up in 2020!