We reflect on the successes from 2022 that we were most proud of, and what they mean for us and our team building programs as we head into the next year.
The end of the year is the best time to reflect on what you’ve achieved. As teams, it’s even more important to look back at what you’ve accomplished together as well as individually. This process not only makes people feel good – it also naturally encourages team members to think about what they can do better in the next year.
Reflection isn’t just about looking back – it’s about looking to the past to find out clues for where to go in the future, too. When you know where you’re coming from, you know where you’re going.
2022 was an interesting year. It seemed to be a hinge point, when everything started to become better in terms of the pandemic and the state of the world. And yet, fears still linger. We’re not quite out of the woods, but we feel like maybe we’re starting to get there. Lockdowns and restrictions are mostly gone, but infections and waves are still occurring and messing up our lives.
It was an in-between year, in the end: not quite where we were, but not quite where we wanted to be. In other words, it was another tough time for many teams, struggling to find some semblance of balance in stability in a world of newar-constant change and uncertainty.
So celebrate yourselves and what you did. Congratulate each other on another year – even if it was a year of survival. Appreciate each other for not only the work and effort, but also the emotional support, the banter, the funny posts on Slack that kept everyone smiling and going on even if no one said anything about it.
Reflect. Reflect together as a team, even if it’s only for a few minutes before you go out drinking. But take some time together to simply bask in your accomplishments and successes and be grateful for where you are and where you plan on going.
With that in mind, here is our list of successes and accomplishments from the past year. We are also in a period of transition, but as you will see, what we accomplished this year has set us on a very potentially expansive path over the next year.
1. More in-person events
One thing we are immensely grateful for this year is the return of in-person events. It’s not like they ever completely went away, but during most of the pandemic years they became a rare breed.
In 2022, this all changed. Requests for In-person events started pouring back in, from all over the place; so much so that we sometimes had to run all over Japan trying to keep up with them.
We held in-person Suitcase Mystery events in Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa (see below) and Kyoto. Our outdoor scavenger hunts were in-demand as well – especially Yokohama and Asakusa (see below).
While we love the work we are doing with online games, there’s something really special – magical even – about in-person events. Maybe it’s the way that you can interact with people and see their reactions face-to-face. Whatever it is, we love it, and we love doing them. And we’re so thankful that the situation is better now and that people feel safe enough to meet in large groups.
2. Okinawa Suitcase Mystery
And speaking of in-person events, perhaps the biggest and most successful one we had in 2022 was a Suitcase Mystery: Classic event for 300 people in Okinawa.
This event was a challenge for us in multiple ways. We had to make new suitcase kits, pack them all, and get them all the way to Okinawa before the event. We all had to travel down ourselves and facilitate the event in a strange place (luckily, one of us actually lives down there). And lastly, we had to pack up all the kits after the end of the game and ship them back.
But despite all the challenges and potential for things to go wrong, the event was a resounding success. The clients were very happy, the players had fun and enjoyed themselves, and all the logistics went according to plan.
Reflecting on the event, the most important thing we gained was the sense of accomplishment at having done something challenging together and overcoming it. We grew a lot, as a company and as a team as a result of this Okinawa event, and it has positively shaped how we see ourselves and our future ever since.
3. Our “School Tantei” Program Takes Off
We developed our School Tantei program, which is an outdoor scavenger hunt aimed at schools and educational facilities, a few years back. During the pandemic, we were contacted by a school that wanted to find a field trip program that they could do, given that their regular option had been curtailed as a result of pandemic restrictions.
So we developed a program that combines the exciting puzzles and sense of discovery of our outdoor scavenger hunts, with educational material relating to SDGs (including an introductory workshop session held at the school before the event).
The program was a success and they have been with us ever since. But in 2022, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of schools requesting this program. We have even had to update and expand our puzzles in Yokohama and Asakusa, given the extra demand.
With more School Tantei programs being scheduled for next year, it’s nice to know that this program has become popular with teachers and students alike.
4. HSJ Asakusa and HSJ Kamakura
As we’ve said, 2022 was the return of in-person events. And two events that made a comeback were our outdoor scavenger hunt games, HSJ Asakusa and HSJ Kamakura.
While we have been doing in-person outdoor events throughout the pandemic, most of them were in Yokohama. 2022 saw more requests for our Asakusa program, which is set around the areas of Kaminarimon and the Asahi building. As a result, we are currently in the process of expanding that game, adding more puzzle locations and newer areas to make the game playable for even larger groups.
HSJ Kamakura, which we haven’t done since way before the pandemic, also reappeared this year. This meant given it some serious upgrades including new puzzles and logistics, in keeping with our higher standards for outdoor games.
Both Asakusa and Kamakura are fabulous locations for outdoor puzzle games, chock-full of history and culture. We’re glad we’ve had the opportunity (and the demand) to improve them, and we hope many more teams get to experience them next year.
5. Upgrading our tech expertise
While we’ve been focusing our reflections on 2022 so far on our in-person activities, we shouldn’t forget our online games. These games – Tabitantei (recently discontinued), Secret Agent, and now Okinawa Adventure – sustained us throughout the pandemic and made our team building programs available and accessible (around the world even), despite all the travel and lockdown restrictions that occurred.
But, after two plus years of creating online games, it was time for an upgrade. Credit where credit is due, this upgrade in our tech was mostly due to the brilliant work of our stack developer, Jet, who joined our team late in 2021.
As a result of his hard work, we’ve been able to pivot away from using external whiteboard apps and tools for our online games, and have created a seamlessly smooth online product that is also wildly successful at creating a fun environment where teams can collaborate. Our online games will never be the same again.
But it’s not just our online games that have been upgraded. We’ve also been able incorporate more technological tools into our in-person events, too. The biggest example is creating ways to measure and record when teams finish Suitcase Mystery and Hidden Secrets Journey. With larger events, this makes it much easier to see who has finished first (which many clients want to know).
6. Okinawa Adventure
Speaking of online games and tech, 2022 was also the year of Okinawa Adventure. Our newest online game, Okinawa Adventure is the culmination of many months of hard work from basically every member of the Invite Japan team.
And it really feels like it is the best work we have ever done. Everything from the puzzle design and web interface, to the story and the way teams move through the game feels fresh, colorful and full of life, like the island on which it is based.
One thing that we really stepped up in this game in how it makes team members collaborate together. While all of our games are collaborative in essence, it’s much harder to achieve in an online environment, where players aren’t interacting in real life.
But in Okinawa Adventure we have succeeded in creating a truly collaborative puzzle environment, through the use of asymmetric puzzles (where different team members receive different pieces of information), voting requirements (where team members need to vote on the right answer) and more puzzle answers that are non-language based.
If this is what we’ve been able to accomplish so far, the future of our online activities looks very bright indeed. Which is a good thing too, since hybrid and remote work seem to be sticking around for the time being.
7. Internship program
Now we get to talk about some accomplishments that were brand new in 2022. First up is our “internship program”, which took place over the course of three days during the summer. We were blessed to have two great interns – one of whom is a teacher who likes puzzles and wants to incorporate them into his classes – come to our lab in Ueno and learn about what we do and how we operate.
While it was fun to see them work and think through our puzzles, it was also an opportunity for us to think more deeply about what we do and the reasons behind it. We had to come up with a “curriculum” of sorts to methodically explain how puzzles are made, what goes into them, and what you need to think about while making them.
Out of this program has emerged a new workshop as well, one where we teach participants the basics of puzzle-making, and we have a school that is interested in doing it for next year.
8. Dragon Dash
The last accomplishment from 2022 on our list is technically still a work in progress. But that’s ok, but we want to celebrate the fact that we are branching out and creating brand new programs for teams to enjoy.
Dragon Dash is a new event that we are designing as we speak, composed of a mix of puzzles and physical challenges, set up in a round-robin way. The idea is that you could do it anywhere, like Suitcase Mystery (including outside), but that it also includes more moving around, like HSJ.
The details are still getting hammered out, but this is a sign that our creativity is charged and ready to go. Who knows what new challenges and projects next year will bring?