We Take Ping Pong Seriously around These Parts


Back in 2006, after growing Campaign Monitor from a side project to a sustainable business, we moved out of our tiny space at a local incubator into our first “real” office. This was our first time in a truly commercial space where you had to bring your own fit out. We kept it simple: a few desks (which were actually kitchen benches), comfy chairs and our first luxury item — a ping pong table. From that point on, our love affair with ping pong (or table tennis, if you’re a purist) began.

It wasn’t long before lunch breaks were dominated by intense challenges between team members. Our games developed from a hit and hope approach to tactical use of spin. The standard western grip was frowned upon and the penhold grip became standard. We even hired the most capped sportsman in Australian history and former ping pong great Paul Pinkewich for some private lessons for the team.

New space, new table

When we outgrew this space twelve months later, one of the more important parts of our brief to the architect was to leave us plenty of space for a new ping pong table. As part of the new fit-out, we imported a Double Fish Volant 2, a work of table tennis art and one of the best tables in the world from China.

The new table, combined with new bats that provided more spin took everyone’s game to a new level. Matches were organised after lunch and work each day. We built our own ping pong scoring web app that kept track of game scores and player rankings. Games were becoming polished, individual styles were developing. It was a thing of beauty.

Before too long though, cracks started to appear.

As our team grew, demand for table time grew with it. People were stooping to cheap tricks like “I think there’s a server problem” or “Crap! We’ve been blacklisted” to distract team members at the right time and guarantee a spot on the table. While I can personally assure you this technique was effective, it wasn’t a long-term solution.

As another year passed, it was clear our current space wouldn’t support our continued growth. We managed to get our hands on the rest of the floor, and it was time to solve this ping pong crisis once and for all.

We needed more tables, we needed better bat and ball storage and damn it, we needed a touch screen TV to enter our scores! The architect was happy to oblige, and came up with a beautiful new gaming area where the team could play without fear of server crashes or mysterious blacklistings.

Have we taken this too far? Not a chance!

The new Campaign Monitor offices, which I’ll be giving you all a guided tour of soon, will be completed some time this week. Luckily for us, the new table tennis arena was completed a little earlier and the team have been putting it to very good use since. Here’s a quick tour of office ping pong Campaign Monitor style (including possibly offensive nicknames).

Two tables are better than one

With lots more space, double the tables and a new viewing area, fighting for a game is a thing of the past. The tables are now far away from each members closed office, so people can play without the risk of disturbing others.

Custom ping pong joinery

The new office also features some dedicated joinery for ping pong. This includes a touch screen TV that shows the office rankings, custom bat holders and special grooves to house 20 balls so you’re never short.

New touch screen TV for scoring

With games going on all the time, we needed a really fast way to enter scores. Enter a 40 inch touch screen TV hooked up to a Mac Mini running our own custom scoring and ranking software, which you can read about below.

The new scoring software

As the new office was starting to take shape, we got a nice surprise from team members James Dennes and Dave Martin (pictured below). Two ping pong lovers themselves, they took on the challenge of rebuilding the scoring and ranking system from scratch as a standalone web application in their own time. As you’d imagine, many team members take their ranking seriously, so the new system had to be reliable and as consistent as possible.

Dave put together the new interface and added some smarts to ensure it would work just as nicely on the desktop as it would on a touch device like a big TV or iPad. James took over and developed the app using the Django framework. One thing I thought was cool: the whole thing runs remotely on Google App Engine.

The official ranking system for competitive table tennis didn’t really suit office ping pong, so the guys rolled their own ranking algorithm. It takes into account the player’s current ranking, their recent game results and the margin by which they win or lose each game. This seems to be the fairest approach we’ve come up with over the years.

Here’s the awesome part. The app was such a success, the guys have decided to release it as a commercial product called Ping Pong Ninja. Now any other company that likes their office ping pong can have their very own scoring and ranking system. If that’s you, it’s live and available now.

More to come

Lots of thinking about creating an ideal workspace went into our new office. Some time soon I’ll be doing a more detailed write-up on the thinking behind things like our closed offices, how we do lunch and some of the other fun stuff we managed to pull off. The finishing touches are happening this week, so it won’t be long to wait.

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