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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Start-Up Uses Portal Game as Recruiting Tool

If you want to signal to software engineers that your tech start-up is a cool place to work, you can let them bring their dogs to the office, offer free energy drinks or put up a billboard with a Web address that can only be accessed after solving a math equation.

WibiData, a 22-person San Francisco start-up that develops big data applications, has come up with its own gimmick for telegraphing its engineering street cred to job applicants: a custom version of Portal 2, a devilishly addictive cult video game from Valve.

Although it resembles a first-person shooter with a science fiction twist, Portal 2 is actually a spatial puzzle game in which players use a weapon called a portal gun to create openings that allow them to pass from on section of the game to another. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is its realistic physics. If you blast one portal in the ground two stories below you and another on a wall, then you’ll come flying out of the wall portal at the same velocity that you jumped into the ground portal, catapulting you across an otherwise unbridgeable chasm.

“It makes me feel like I exercise the same part of my brain that programming and problem-solving does,” Christophe Bisciglia, the chief executive of WibiData, said in a phone interview.

Mr. Bisciglia got the idea to use the game as a recruiting tool after seeing the work of Doug Hoogland, who helped create a custom version of Portal 2 (called a mod in the gamer community) for a man who used it as a wedd! ing proposal. Mr. Bisciglia estimates that half of the engineers at WibiData play Portal 2, which Valve encourages people to mod.

WibiData flew Mr. Hoogland to San Francisco to tour its offices and provided him with architectural renderings of the space so he could faithfully create a virtual version of it in the game. The finished product, available on the jobs section of WibiData’s site, requires players to enter each of the conference rooms in the company’s offices, then take an elevator down to a test chamber (which doesn’t exist in real life) and solve a series of puzzles before moving on to the next level.

A robotic narrator in the game jokes about killing previous job applicants, according to Mr. Bisciglia, who said he is made fun of throughout the game.

“I think a lot of people will think, ‘That’s really cool that they created a video game to recruit people. I want to work there,’” Mr. Bisciglia said.