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How GSN Digital's employees got that kegerator-arcade game combo they'd always wanted

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 21, 2013 11:35 AM

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Every time the operations department at GSN Digital in Waltham would submit their annual budget, they'd include two items they knew probably wouldn't get approved: a Bugatti Veyron supercar (price: $2.25 million) and an Arkeg Drink n' Game (price: $4000). The first was definitely a joke. The second, a combination arcade game and kegerator, was a little more within the realm of possibility.

But the Drink n' Game never survived the budget process at GSN Digital, a game development studio owned by the Game Show Network. So last month, when GSN Digital held a hackathon for its employees, VP of engineering Caesar Naples decided it was finally time to do something about it. "I started socializing the idea of building one, and it kind of gained momentum," he says.

The three-day employee hackathon took place in late July; it's a once-a-quarter event at GSN Digital when pretty much everything is put on pause unless it is related to keeping existing games running. Naples explains, "It's a chance to tap people's creativity, and let them work on things that they might not be able to work on in their regular jobs. The overall guidelines are that you can do anything that ties back into the business, even vaguely." Like a kegerator-arcade game hybrid.

Naples volunteered the driveway of his nearby home as an assembly area for what they dubbed the Kegatron. They bought plywood for the cabinet, a mini-fridge, game controllers, and keg hardware from Amazon. Naples says the components cost about $700 all told. Despite afternoon temps in the 90s, the team kept on building. (And yes, it included a couple of those ops guys, Erik Roberts and Dan Hopkins, who had always tried to shoehorn the entertainment device into the budget.)

Not every hackathon project is as, um, recreationally-oriented as the Kegatron. Others have involved designing new PowerPoint templates for the company; exploring the ability to make in-game purchases with a single click; working on prototypes for new games; and deploying animated characters as guides to GSN Digital's careers page.

But the Kegatron has turned into a nice example within GSN Digital of applying a small team's creativity to create something cool, instead of just buying it. It occupies an office of its own, and often attracts a crowd.

I had to ask about the first beer the Kegatron was outfitted with. Naples told me it was Jack's Abbey Hoponius Union, from a Framingham-based brewery.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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