Meanwhile, Relativity, a Chicago-based e-discovery company, has been hosting an informal Magic: The Gathering group for over four years. Consisting of 49 players within the company (hailing from engineering, customer support, security and operations), the group is now used by hiring managers as a selling point during the interview process. Mark Hill, one of the company's advanced software engineers who leads the Magic group, notes that the weekly games have created stronger lines of communication between teams.
The age of trust falls and boring company retreats is over, replaced by corporate improv sessions, zipline outings and escape rooms.
"We have active Slack groups dedicated to VR, video games like World of Warcraft and Path of Exile, and even Magic's arch-nemesis, Hearthstone," Hill says. "But there is something special about a tactile, face-to-face game like Magic: The Gathering in building friendships."
Game nights, though, are just the tip of the iceberg. Corporate America is evolving, as an increasingly millennial workforce embraces off-the-wall team-building concepts. The age of trust falls and boring company retreats is over, replaced by corporate improv sessions, zipline outings and escape rooms, as today's tech companies search for creative ways to keep employees engaged.
Among the flashier undertakings are WeWork's annual summer camp, which serves as part-music festival, part-camping trip, and Mozilla's annual MozFest, a multi-day extravaganza, open to employees and the general public, with speakers and activities.
"Before each MozFest, we host a MozRetreat -- a multi-day team-building event for staff and community who curate the festival," says Sarah Allen, MozFest's executive festival director. MozRetreat activities have included embroidery classes, group yoga and visiting a virtual reality studio.
Allen notes that activities like these are desirable for team-building because they encourage different groups of employees to mix and converse, pushing them to get outside their comfort zones. A game like Dungeons and Dragons, she says, could have the same effect.
"Gaming can foster creativity, group planning, shared ownership and fun, and often has a lower barrier of entry," she says.
All of this lends credence to what Woods is doing at Code & Theory: creating a low-stakes, collaborative environment where employees can stop coding for a while and put their creativity on full display. He's begun the process of pitching companies directly, selling them on his team-building vision and the importance of using a professional DM, while also hoping some of his regular clients might consider bringing him into their workplaces. And, who knows, with the tech industry more willing than ever to spend big bucks on unique team-building programs, a day may come when companies will start hiring their own in-house dungeon masters.
As he leaves One World Trade Center after another successful session, Woods stops and looks back at the iconic skyscraper behind him, its tip piercing the hazy, evening sky. "No matter where this endeavor leads me," he says, "one thing is for sure: I don't think I'll ever run a game with a better view."