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Work Hard, Play Hard with City of Play

This past weekend, Maker Faire Pittsburgh took place at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Buhl Park, and Nova Place. With over 250 exhibits, performances, and presentations, the second annual Maker Faire Pittsburgh was a blast. With each booth incorporating a fun activity, there was never a dull moment. One of our fellowship members, City of Play, exhibited an interactive live game building and playing activity and got the chance to show off their startup. We had the chance to sit down with Adam Nelson, Founder and Director, to learn a little more about how his team works hard and plays hard.

Q: What’s City of Play about? Talk about your startup journey.

A: City of Play is a design firm that creates playful interactions and real-world games for businesses and organizations. We stated as an alternative sports league about 7 years ago, and grew from there to a small company focused on bringing the impacts of play to unusual places. Our customers range from procurement service companies to go-kart tracks to museums, and our internal projects include real-world immersive games, races without courses, and other projects designed to help people get to know one another and their city better.

Q: Tell us about your background and your team.

A: City of Play began in 2009 to create more opportunities for adults to have fun with their urban environment and with one another. Since then, City of Play has produced hundreds of games and other creative projects designed to help people rediscover the benefits of play.

Adam Nelson, Founder and Director: Adam is an economist by training and predilection, and an award-winning game designer and systems thinker, who works to make people happier and cities more fun.
Greg Manley, Director of Production: Greg Manley is the creator and Commissioner of Circle Rules Football, a new sport played all over the world. He is also a professional puppeteer, actor, dancer, and host.
David Schofield, Marketing and Communication Coordinator – David Schofield is a marketer, designer, and taco truck enthusiast focused on creating meaningful and memorable interactions.

Q: As an Alloy 26 Fellow, how has that opportunity shaped your overall experience as a startup?

A: The opportunity to work in a professional environment is essential to a growing company. Besides the logistical benefits of having a dedicated place to put a computer, a meeting room to hash out ideas, or a place to meet a client or partner, being an Alloy 26 Fellow has lent legitimacy and prestige to City of Play as we grow.

Q: How was Maker Faire 2016?

A: Maker Faire was great! It was a blast to be near so many other creative people who are interested in transforming the way we think about common objects, ideas, or technology.

Q: Talk about the game you built for Maker Faire – what was that process like?

A: Inspired in part by makers like Jimmy Diresta (a guest speaker a the 2015 Pittsburgh Maker Faire), City of Play chose to build a new game from concept to prototype over the 16 hours of the Faire. Like many of our design projects, we started with the constraints (What are the boundaries?), generated a variety of concepts (What is possible within those boundaries?) and chose a couple of concepts to pursue as designs (What do those possibilities really look like?). We arrived Saturday morning with a few tools, a whiteboard, and started with a central constraint that whatever we built, it needed to fit on our table when it was complete. From there, ideas began to emerge – a Battleship game, a car-racing game, a robotic Pac Man game, a Pong game, and others. By the end of Saturday, we had built a containing frame for playing in, and begun testing how a robotic ball could navigate the space. Sunday, we further refined the concepts, throwing out come ideas for practical reasons, and ultimately ended up with a two-player pinball-plus-ping-pong game that kids and adults both loved. We’re looking forward to continuing to develop the prototypes and concepts generated at the Maker Faire into more games – keep an eye out for some of these games to make an appearance at events through the end of 2016!.

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