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Video How and Why the U-Pick Game Marathon Raises Money With Non-Stop Gaming (Video) 34

On June 12 through 14th of this year, the fourth (not "fourth annual," but close) iteration of the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity --“UPickVG IV” for short --will be streaming on an Internet connection near you. The U-Pick crew's volunteers will be playing and broadcasting video games, non-stop, as a fundraiser for Charity Water, a cause they've supported since the beginning. I talked with organizers Stephanie and Grant Kibler from their video-game lounge of a living room about what it takes to broadcast an online gathering like this, and why they've adopted this as an annual event. Hint: some esoteric video-capture hardware helps, and so does a beefy network connection, for high-quality streaming of games that pre-date today's multiplayer, network-oriented options. That's significant, because U-Pick's stable of titles isn't limited to modern ones, and observers are encouraged to suggest appropriate games (hence "U-Pick").The remote viewers' choices and donations influence the event by deciding which games are represented on the Wheel of Destiny that the team spins to decide which games get played.The play itself, though,*is* limited to the players who'll be on hand at a Northern Virginia co-working space that will serve as this year's venue. It turns out to be easier to stream the output of old consoles than it is to control them from remote (never mind the latency that would mean), but maybe one day participants will be able to play as well as shoulder-surf and laugh at the players' running commentary. You can check out the Upick page on Facebook, too, and watch one of their practice runs each Sunday. (Note: Video #1 talks mostly about the game play and how you can join. Video #2 - below - talks more about hardware and behind-the-scenes work.)

Video #2 (Transcript includes both videos)

Tim: Here we go. Okay, yeah, let’s go ahead and do that name thing. It will be a lot faster rather than me trying to transcribe it all.

Stephanie: Sure. I’m Stephanie Kibler. Sometimes known on the internet as Stephonee.

Grant: I’m Grant Kibler, Great Grant.

Tracy: Hi, I’m Tracy Flanders.

Tim: Hi.

Chloe: I’m Chloe Sevilla, sometimes known as Super Chloe.

Tim: And Chloe, could you spell your last name?

Stephanie: Oh, spell your last name for him, Chloe.

Chloe: Sevilla.

Tim: Okay. And Tracy Flanders, you said with no E? It’s Tracy?

Tracy: That’s correct.

Stephanie: Yes.

Tim: Okay, got it. Okay, there you go. Everyone can talk and be heard, that’s actually amazing in a room with – I don’t know, what your hardware setup is there, is it related to your streaming system?

Stephanie: Yeah. We are actually set up the same way that we do our rehearsal broadcasts, so we do set it up so that everybody in the room can be heard, although today, after we get done talking to you, we’re going to test on a whole new mic, so.

Tim: Well, I love you sharing one set of stereo buds. I’m really grateful that you’re able to do that. So, I actually hadn’t anticipated there will be so many people, so I’m thinking if any of questions that matters – I don’t care who talks really, Stephanie, I’m guessing that you and Grant are the main talkers since you’ve got the shared stereo earbud, is that true?

Stephanie: Correct.

Grant: Correct.

Tim: Okay, alright. And can Tracy and Stacy hear me?

Stephanie: Not now. So, we’d have to field the questions.

Tim: So I'm talking to them right now and they don’t know.

Stephanie: They have no idea of what we’re saying or referring

Tim: Alright!

Grant: Now is your chance.

Tracy: Hey.

Stephanie: Oh, wait, they can hear us.

Tim: Perfect, alright. So, like I said, I’m going to ask a few questions and we’ll talk for the next 10 to 15 minutes. And if that’s alright, with that, I can give some kind of a 2-second break here and just start asking questions. I will make my hair even more beautiful, so. Like this, I’ve brought my glasses, that’s one of the hassles today is my cool Harry Potter glasses, they have a broken screw.

Stephanie: No.

Tracy: No, no.

Tim: Well, these make me feel like Edward Snowden. And you get a slightly shorter haircut. Alright. So, like I said, 2-second break and then I’ll start asking questions, so.

Stephanie: Alright.

Tim: You can make whatever you face you want. So, Stephanie, you and Grant are the co-founders of the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity. Can you explain the concept? What is the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity about?

Stephanie: So, the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity is a 48-hour long continuous live-stream broadcast of videogames to raise money for the charity that we decide every year, so far we’ve always raised money for charity: water, which builds clean water wells in the developing world. And the thing that makes U-Pick a little different, there are lot of videogame marathons out there for charity, just like you might do a walkathon for charity, but we’re the only one where the donors get to pick the games with their donations. So, when people make a donation to charity: water to our fundraiser, they get to name a game and if that game raises enough money, we’ll play it.

Tim: Does a bigger donation get you more votes?

Stephanie: Yes. A bigger donation gets you more points toward the game that you picked.

Tim: That's a good incentive I think to give more.

Stephanie: It’s a really good incentive to get people to give more and it’s because when we play a game it actually loses all of its points, so we go ahead and we play it for an hour, but then it loses the points that it had and goes back to the bottom. It’s a good incentive for people to come in and donate again if they want to see that game again or to donate again for different games if they want to see something new.

Tim: Can people also vote in a way that influences what charity you’re giving to in a given year?

Stephanie: We haven’t done any voting on the charity so far. But we’re open to hearing about charities that we might not have heard of that might be good targets, so we’re always open to the idea of raising money for a good cause whatever it is.

Tim: Now, why is it that you picked the one you did this year and you have for the other year so far, it’s all been for charity: water, why that one for you?

Stephanie: charity: water is a really great organization, not just in the work that they do, providing clean water access to people who don’t have it, which is really important. But they are also very, very transparent. They have a 100% donation model, so that when you donate $5, $20, whatever it is you donate, the full amount of the percent you donate goes out into the field, their administrative costs are covered by a different pool of money than their direct donations. So, when you make a direct donation, your money goes out in the field, and you get an e-mail about 18 months later when the well is done, with GPS coordinates, photos, you get to see everything about where your money went. And we’ve always really liked that model.

Tim: It's vi deo game appropriate that you get your stats.

Stephanie: Right, you get your stats at the end.

Tim: Now speaking about the logistics, you’re sitting in a living room, which is a lot of the thons, you have to actually go some place and you have to have a thon in the outdoor world, but you got a living room setup there, explain what kind of people participated in previous years and how you got your – you got some of your volunteer crew there with you, can you explain that a little bit?

Stephanie: Yeah. Our volunteer crew has really been handpicked from people we know that just want to help out, want to contribute to charity, want to play videogames for fun and for a good cause. It’s actually been really easy to find people who are interested in gaming for good. And so, we actually do have a nice, big crew. Our total crew is about 25 people. So, it’s pretty easy to find people who want to help out.

Tim: Do you keep track of how many people are taking part each time you have done it and where they are, are they worldwide distributed?

Stephanie: Well, yeah, we have participants from all around the world that come in and watch our stream and donate. We have people from Germany, New Zealand. There are regulars that come back every year. So, we start to get a really nice worldwide map and that’s the thing about broadcasting for 48 hours straight. We start out at 7pm eastern time, prime time, where we are, but as the sun goes around and we keep streaming, it becomes prime time somewhere else and we started attracting people from a different part of the world, which is always really interesting to have someone come into our chat and say something like, good morning, and we are like, oh it’s 4 PM, where are you and learn about people around the world who are interested in watching people game for charity.

Tim: How many people have taken part at the – your so far record at this point?

Stephanie: Oh wow. We were just looking at that recently. Do you remember our all-time peak?

Grant: I don’t. I don’t. I know it was two years ago the last time we went for 48 hours that we had more people, but I can’t say or remember how many it was.

Stephanie: Yeah, like I said it kind of rotates out as people come in and out of prime time. But I think it ends up being between 60, 75 consecutive viewers that are sitting there in the chatroom at once, so. But we are really hoping to blow that out this year and go a lot bigger.

Tim: Now talking about the logistics of doing that, how do you actually organize to put this many people and hopefully more gaming at the same time? Talk about both software end and the hardware that you got to assemble?

Stephanie: Well, we are always player 1, the person who is assigned to play the games and then we have the support crew that’s helping with everything else relating to that. So it can get a little bit tricky, because switching games every hour and spinning a wheel of destiny, which is actually in our background back there on top of the bookshelf right now is where it lives. But we spin that every hour, and it tells us what game we are going to play next based on the amount of points of the games have. So we don’t know until 10 minutes before we have to make a switch, what game is going to come up next and on what console. So we have a backstage crew of sort of stagehands, we call them ninjas that hang out behind the scenes waiting for that moment when the wheel is spun and we know what game is going to come up next to then queue up the game and hook up all the equipment for that game and get it switched over seamlessly as possible. We really try to have almost no downtime where our player 1 isn’t playing, which can be quite demanding actually on the player because you play an hour of one game and then you are handed a controller and you’re off to the next, so. And everybody is laughing because I think everybody has a chance to experience this as either a player or someone who stepped in for a player while a player tried to take a bathroom break. So our crew takes it in chips but we have a rather complicated set up in order to be able to have a webcam pointed at the crew in the room, so you can see what’s happening and a onboard capture card on a computer to capture the game screen itself and to put this altogether with some information and broadcast it out. We use Twitch as our broadcast service and it takes a lot of moving parts to get that all working.

Tim: What kind of capture card are you using and what sort of hardware does it take overall, how many consoles you have hooked up?

Stephanie: We have to switch every console in and out, we use AB switchers and things like that to make it a little easier, but we run the gamut on consoles, we have done everything from an Atari 2600 up through the latest generation. We haven’t done PS4 and Xbox One yet, but we are getting geared up to be able to. So we do the whole gamut and of course they have all different inputs, composite versus component versus HDMI, so we are constantly switching between those things, so we needed a capture card that could handle that, so we actually had to order a capture card from Japan, have it shipped from Japan and none of the instructions were in English, the drivers are translated into English sort of and so it’s been a lot of learning how to use equipments just Googling it and try to figure out. But we did get that specific capture card because it could handle any type of console input directly from the Atari 2600 on up.

Tim: Have you documented that for the other people who are running video game marathons?

Grant: It’s a thing that we should probably add to our Twitch page.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Grant: We just haven’t gotten around to it. But yeah a lot of people will list their specs and that’s something we could.

Stephanie: Yeah. We just need to list them out. But it is interesting to see the rigs that people have built in order to be able to stream. We’ve got 16 gigs of memory in the computer that we built this year with room to upgrade it and we are strongly considering putting another two sticks of RAM in that thing and really gear it up, but it actually handles it very well. But the biggest thing for streaming video is really your processing power, and of course your Internet connection. So we did get a Core i7 processor, I am having a little bit of memory loss, I don’t know exactly what we put into this thing, but I think we might Core i7 because we decided to make the full upgrade there and really put as much processing power into it as we could because it takes a lot of processing power to stream, but then we have to go for 49 hours straight from our preshow to the end and not have it go down and not have a computer.

Tim: Hard to have a backup system with such an elaborate rig, you can’t really swap out a, A and a B system?

Grant: Right.

Stephanie: It’s very true. We do try to have backups and contingencies for everything we can so we have two webcams, we have two monitors, we have two pretty much everything. We do have a laptop that could run the stream if we really had to, which is the laptop we were using before we built the computer this year. So we do keep backups around, but it’s not very easy to swap out and parse on a lot of the stuff.

Tim: I am going to talk about the timeline a little bit, because this is what you are planning right now is the fourth but it’s not four consecutive years. When do you first start doing this and after that talk a little bit about what are upcoming dates for this year’s event, so people who want to be involved either as players or want to donate say can take part?

Stephanie: We started U-Pick as a 24-hour marathon back in 2012 and we decided to do it again each year. We did it again in December of 2013 and had a really good response. We did a smaller marathon in September of 2014 and now we are coming back in June to test out and see how the summer will work out as that’s a better time for us. So right now we are kind of gearing up doing rehearsals every week to test our equipment, but on May 1st we’re going to open the floodgates and let people start voting on what games they would like to see, to see what the demand is for different games because as much as we would like to it’s not possible for us to carry every single video game that exists to the site where we are going to be broadcasting. So we put a public poll out there and we see what the demand is, what people are looking to donate for. And then from that we will call together a list of all the games that we’re going to take with us that people can donate for. And we’re going to open up donations on May 22nd and at that point people can start donating and naming their game and whacking up points for that wheel of destiny. And then we’ll go LIVE on June 12th at 7:00 pm Eastern.

Tim: And you accept money obviously because that’s what you’re doing is you’re raising money for charity but you also accept in kind donations, do you look for new volunteers to help run the thing, are there openings for ninjas if people are geographically handy?

Stephanie: Right now we’re pretty well stocked on volunteers. As I said it’s not hard to find people who want to help out. We’re working on hopefully forming an online – a way of volunteering online from anywhere putting together what I’d like to call a street team of people who can do different work for us remotely because that’s something that’s been requested quite a bit is, how can I help out from Illinois, how can I help out from New Zealand, so that’s something that we’re working on putting together. We do also take in kind donations in terms of corporations and things helping us out. With the stream we have reduced through donations in the past from different places as well as this year we’re getting a donated space from a co-working space in Northern Virginia, that’s donating their space for us to do the 48-hour marathon. So we do take donations of all kinds, so.

Tim: Are you looking for older charities as well?

Stephanie: And we do take donations of games and systems, absolutely.

Tim: Can you explain the logistics of making an old console game that’s wasn’t in any way built for online playing do some gaming; How do you stream an old Atari system?

Stephanie: So we actually had a good friend who had an Atari system that had been modified to be able to use RCA composite cables which of course I have composite cables sitting right in front of me because we have this whole set up here. But, you know, they had it, so that they could do the yellow, red, white output. And then that’s great thing about our capture card is that, you know, as long as it’s got this output or a component or a HDMI, we can play right in.

Tim: What about remote play though?

Stephanie: Well, that one we wouldn’t really be able to do much of anything with that

Tim: You don’t have a controller.

Stephanie: Right, I mean, I think if the game Twitch Plays Pokemon which is where people are able to actually interact with the Pokemon game via the chat on Twitch. I assume all of this is possible, but it’s not something that we have ever looked into ourselves but, you know, it is just all about figuring out how we can hook up the game system, so that it can go into a capture card and be broadcast all over the world.

Tim: Do you ever try to keep track of how much bandwidth you’re actually using there, have you had to upgrade your connection?

Stephanie: Oh yes, we've had to upgrade our connection. Really the minimum to be able to broadcast is now I am going to screw this up because we have a running joke where we call MBS and I am pretty sure it’s actually megabits per second if I am remembering that correctly, but was it mega – no it’s megabits not megabytes. See, this is why we should call themearly on.

Grant: We haven’t said it right in so long.

Stephanie: That’s the problem, you know, when you have a volunteer crew of about 25 people, you start to get some inside jokes and then you forget the actual real technical aspects, but you have to have – in order to upload to Twitch in any meaningful way you have to have sort of minimum of 4 or 5 megabits per second upload speed. So, we did have to upgrade our home internet connection in order to be able to do weekly broadcasts out of here. But it’s not so bad having fast internet especially for charity.

Tim: Seems like a handy thing to have around the house anyway?

Stephanie: Yes.

Grant: Right.

Tim: So how many people will be in that living room or will everyone be at the coworking space in Virginia?

Stephanie: Everyone will be at the coworking space in Virginia, we take it in shifts, a shift requires at least a couple of people someone who plans, someone who do everything else but we usually have about 4 or 5 people in different roles onsite at one time but our volunteers sometimes will all gather at once, usually the end of the broadcast you see that pretty much everyone is there and it can get up to that full 25 people in the room at once. So it kind of ranges between 2 and 25 depending on the time or date or in this 48 hour thing.

Tim: If people want to find more information do you have a best suggestion for contact information, I know that you are on Facebook, how else should people try to find out more if they want to.

Stephanie: The best place to find out more would be on our website, and there are links there to our Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr where we post lots of useful stuff. But anything really substantial it’s definitely going to end up on the website. So all the information about how to vote, how to donate, when things are happening, it's all right there on the website.

Tim: Alright. Well, good luck this year, it sounds like that’s going to be a fun 48 hours.

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How and Why the U-Pick Game Marathon Raises Money With Non-Stop Gaming (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Wow, this is just like Awesome Games Done Quick (AGDQ) and Summer Games Done Quick (SGDQ)

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This. Fuck you timothy for choosing to promote some group nobody has ever heard of. AGDQ/SGDQ have been going for years, raising funds for Doctor's Without Borders and the Prevent Cancer Foundation. They run for 24 hours for an entire week, twice a year.
      • by Nehmo ( 757404 )

        Every "charity" that I've looked into was actually a money-making enterprise disguised as a benevolent one. Some of them have exposed publically, like Easter Seals, Boy's Home, and the Clinton Foundation. In these organizations, a small proportion of the collected money actually goes to the advertised cause, but that's just for show.

        To add to the list, a guy was staying at my house for a while who previously worked for Make A Wish Foundation. He talked like almost 100% of the money went to those who collec

  • And no one cares (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 24, 2015 @03:40PM (#49547083)

    Not that I can blame anyone.

    First off, not watching video, Slashdot. Not now, not ever. Stop doing video content. You're a news aggregator. You aren't a content creator. Accept it. Live with it.

    Secondly, who wants to watch people play video games over the Internet, even if it is "for charity"? I can think of better things to do than watch a bunch of neckbeards slowly sit themselves to death in front of a flickering screen. Like watch golf, or paint dry. I will never understand why "streaming people playing video games" is a thing. Why does anyone watch?! Do you want to watch me playing Solitaire by myself? What the hell is WRONG with people?!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Secondly, who wants to watch people play video games over the Internet

      Millions of people that aren't you.

    • First off, not watching video, Slashdot. Not now, not ever. Stop doing video content. You're a news aggregator. You aren't a content creator. Accept it. Live with it.

      I couldn't agree more.

      • If you don't want to watch Slashdot videos, don't. If you want the *information* in them, read the verbatim transcripts we include with almost every one. And if you don't like the info in our videos, Don't click on them.

        Believe it or not, many different people look at Slashdot every day. Some want to read about *BSD, some want science news. Some -- usually many thousands -- watch the videos, while 10 (on average) complain about them. I learned long ago that not every story on Slashdot is going to pl

        • Our problem is those of us who have set our preferences to now show images or video links still get this.

          Which means the editors are by-passing our selected preferences to hawk their own crap.

          We don't care if you post videos. But having them forcibly show up in our news feed against the settings we've selected?

          That's just plain annoying.

          In no other story this week do I see images or embedded video. And yet when timothy posts something, there it is.

          So how about you guys stop making your own posts extra spe

          • by Roblimo ( 357 )

            If you submit a video and we run it, it would show up in the feed, too. I haven't seen this behavior myself, but I'll try to replicate it. Thanks for the heads-up.

    • Secondly, who wants to watch people play video games over the Internet, even if it is "for charity"?

      Other people who are not you. Take a look around you some time - there are a lot of them in the world.

      I can think of better things to do than watch a bunch of neckbeards slowly sit themselves to death in front of a flickering screen.

      But you can't think of something better to do than complain about what other people like to do?


      "Get off my lawn you selfless charitable bastards!", "Misogyny!" , etc., etc.

    • Speedruns. That is the keyword.
      That said, lets plays are generally awful.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    in 2013, the selected charity siphoned (heh) off about $10M from a $35M cash flow for "operations", of which 70% went for the salaries of 67 people. That's about $100K per person...not bad for"nonprofit."

    Annual report:

    • in 2013, the selected charity siphoned (heh) off about $10M from a $35M cash flow for "operations", of which 70% went for the salaries of 67 people. That's about $100K per person...not bad for"nonprofit."

      Where did you get the idea that "nonprofit" means, "we don't pay our employees"? Or, "we pay our employees shit"?

      It's as dumb as thinking "for-profit" means, "we pay all of our employees well".

      Harvard University is a non-profit, and last I checked, they're paying their professors pretty well. Ru

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...that San Fran, the fucking center of the Liberal Universe, would spend its own fucking money to clean up its own fucking bay.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972