Compaction Action

When flattened piles mean high scores.

Ready for a little gaming, you flip on your computer, grab your joystick, and pop in a CD-ROM. The game fires up, and suddenly, you find yourself in command of … a landfill compactor?

It may not be the most conventional subject matter for a video game, but Ottumwa, Iowa-based equipment manufacturer Al-jon says there is an audience for it, and most of them represent potential customers.

“I think a lot of companies are going into this reality-type marketing,” says Don Thompson, manager of Al-jon Central, who helped conceive the game. “It gets us an opportunity to get them in the cab and in the seat.”

According to Thompson, the game was inspired six years ago by real-world competitions known as “landfill rodeos,” in which compactor drivers demonstrate their skills by navigating courses outlined with egg-topped traffic cones, trying to break as few eggs as possible.

But it wasn't until Doug Gulbranson, Al-jon's arts and services coordinator, observed his son playing a construction simulation game that the idea really took off.

The game was completed in two years with the help of a marketing firm, Henry Russell Bruce. Distributed via CD-ROM, “CompAction 600” actually contains three games: “The Cone Zone,” a realistic simulation of the cone/egg rodeo course; “Pack Attack,” in which drivers race against competitors while attempting to compact stacks of trash; and “Race the Face,” a deliberately irreverent game in which drivers avoid wayward cats and other obstacles but are encouraged to crush the meddling garbage trucks that are the bane of every compactor driver's existence.

“That's the comic relief,” chuckles Gulbranson.

Although it's unlikely the games will be appearing on the Xbox 360 or Wii any time soon, they have been effective in generating excitement for the company's products (Thompson says they send out a dozen copies of the disc a week) and draw significant crowds at trade shows and other events. Al-jon IT personnel James Bennett and Kevin Ecklofe were commissioned to make the game more immersive by installing it within one of the company's actual compactor cabs. They tore apart joysticks and learned how they worked, eventually integrating the game with the compactor's controls and pairing it with a flat-panel TV installed on the windshield to create a makeshift simulator.

“At the trade shows, you get a variety of people coming to the booth,” says Gulbranson. “You get mechanics, you get guys that actually drive the compactors, as well as managers and other people. A lot of times, the other people involved in a landfill don't get to drive the compactors. This gives those people a chance to get in and try it.”

Some would-be gamers may be sitting in the actual cab of their future compactor. “I set it up for some people here and they wanted that cab back in production,” says Gulbranson. “I had to take the game stuff out of it and they put that cab on a compactor.”