TDmonthly Magazine!
July 2006 | Vol. V - No. 7


Game and Toy Creation, Part I

Researching, Developing and Testing Your Idea

It's not different for the sake of different. It's different for the sake of meeting the needs of what we think is a great entertainment venue.” Mark Alan Osterhaus, Out of the Box Publishing

Click here to read Part II

A good toy design requires imagination, adaptability and extensive test marketing on both friends and strangers. Nine entrepreneurs shared with TDmonthly Magazine their process of moving from dream to product.

After Don Donovan invented Darkness Falls on Sevinpold for his daughters in 2000, he elicited feedback from neighbors. Positive response led to his partnering with fellow ex-Procter & Gamble executive Alex Zelikovsky to form Sevinpold Castles (ToyShow), incorporated in 2002. For the next two years, the pair test marketed the game across the country.

They asked hundreds of children what makes a game great enough to purchase and recommend to friends. Based on responses, they modified their product until it reached version 7.0, conducting research in a classic "Procter & Gamble fashion" and relying on their marketing background to achieve product superiority.

Mark Alan Osterhaus, who founded Out of the Box Publishing (ToyDirectory) in 1998, has also found market research an essential part of product development. The trendsetting board game inventor develops fast-paced games that engage all players on each turn and can be played in little time. His most popular product, Apples to Apples, was reduced from 1½ hours to 20 to 30 minutes during development.

The reason? The public has less time and more alternatives for entertainment. "I'm in the game business, and I still don't have time to play games," Osterhaus quipped. "You have to be able to open the box and play the game right away. We didn't want the games to cycle too long."

When video gaming dominated the market in the 1980s, "there was a void," Osterhaus said. "This is an opportunity to actually reintroduce games to the American public, but not the way they used to be played or designed."

Osterhaus believes that rolling dice and moving around a board is outdated. "People are used to having things instantaneously with a lot of action; we really had to change the game design. It's not different for the sake of different. It's different for the sake of meeting the needs of what we think is a great entertainment venue."

Three religious brothers, Ardie, Mica and Darin Johnson, entrepreneurs with careers in computer animation, art and marketing, also saw a gap in the industry and wanted to fill it.

"There are nearly 220 million American Christians that spend an estimated $3- to $7 billion annually on religious-themed products," Darin Johnson stated.

They created Holy Folks, a line of faith-based figure dolls, and tested them on local women and children. Positive feedback provided the encouragement they needed to form TadPals and begin doll production earlier this year.

Shelley Markwart started World Respect Marketing in 2004 to sell Zany World Game (ToyDirectory), inspired by her three sons. She tested her concept for a year with families and schools in her community before initiating production. Kids remarked that it was better than Monopoly.

"How interesting that a game about sharing, caring and respect was better than a game about money," Markwart commented.

Other new companies that launched in 2005 or 2006 with unique products that were tested in schools, at trade shows and/or among family and friends include Mad Cave Bird Games’ (ToyDirectory) 3-D color sudoku game, ColorKu; Deep Creek Enterprises’ (ToyShow) electronic horse-racing board game, TriQuest; Matter Group’s (ToyDirectory) dream-inspired, educational collectible card game featuring endangered plants and animals from Madagascar, Xeko; and Xyllion’s (ToyDirectory) talking, hide-and-seek remote-control prairie dog, Find Frinkle.

Sometimes company founders just act on instinct: Swedish immigrants Tony Mag and Mathias Ringstrom started Mindtwister USA (ToyShow) in 2005 to promote Pentago, a logic game that Ringstrom licensed from a company in Sweden. Mag was impressed by the “simple genius” of the design. That was enough for the partners to bring it to the American International Toy Fair in 2006, where specialty retailers quickly snatched it up.

But developing and testing is just the first step. Next month, in Part 2 of a 3-part series, TDmonthly will discuss how to protect ideas in an article on Copyright, Patent and Trademark Law.

What follows are products from nine innovators.

Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games

Darkness Falls on Sevinpold is a revolutionary new board game that's fun for the entire family. Sevinpold is a world where every castle is filled with secrets, perils, powers and magical creatures; where the heroes, known as the Valiant, must play as a team against the menacing Darkness in order to win; where victory cannot be declared until the very last roll of the dice when the Scepter is reunited with the Living Throne. With excitement at every turn, Sevinpold is a game that never plays the same twice. It challenges players every step of the way and maintains their interest so they want to play again and again. With two patents pending for its distinctive movement and innovative "team play" concepts, Sevinpold has changed the way board games are played.
— “Sevinpold hits that demographic of 8 to 14,” said Darren Turbeville, owner of Toy Chest in Healdsburg, Calif. “We average a piece every 10 to 14 days.”
— Sevinpold does “very well” at Thinker Toys in Carmel, Calif., said owner Mark Phillips. “I’ve sold through two or three re-orders. It’s selling without even being demonstrated. Knights and dragons and pirates are the biggest category in the world.”
— “I love it!” enthused 11-year-old Sara Seagle. “I think it has beautiful illustrations on it.” TDmonthly's Homeschooling Roundtables families played with Sevinpold an average of seven times each from January to July 2006. VIEW ARTICLE, VIEW CHART
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 5838      (added 12/9/2005)

MSRP: $29.99
Age Range: 12 and up
SKU or Item #: 7720
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Card Games
General Games

Apples to Apples is a wild, award-winning card and party game that provides instant fun for four to 10 players. It’s as easy as "comparing apples to apples" ... players need only open the box and deal the cards to be ready to play. They then select the card from their hands that they think is best described by a card played by the judge. If the judge picks their card, they win that round. Everyone gets a chance to be the judge. Each round is filled with surprising and outrageous comparisons from a wide range of people, places, things and events. Fast moving and refreshing, Apples to Apples is perfect for any get-together with family and friends.
— "Sales have doubled every year," enthused Matt Mariani of Out of the Box Publishing in 2005. "We´re struggling to keep up to the demand." [Game previously available from Out of the Box.]
— Gwen Bowden, manager of Doodlehopper 4 Kids in Springfield, Va., told TDmonthly that she expected Apples to Apples to sell well during Christmas 2006.
― In early 2009, retailers reported sales of up to 40 per month of the Apples to Apples game.
― “We probably sell 25 a month,” Mike DiAndrea, manager of Hardware Center in Paoli, Penn., told TDmonthly in early 2011.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 3423      (added 4/22/2005)

MSRP: $29.99
Age Range: 8 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: General Games
Puzzles & Skill
Wooden Toys

ColorKu is a high-quality wooden board game based on the popular Sudoku puzzles. It uses 81 wooden marbles in nine distinctive colors placed on a 9" x 9" wooden grid to solve puzzles. The board is solid wood and 13½" x 13½". The game comes with 104 puzzle cards, but it can be used to solve any Sudoku puzzle.
— “We had people ask for a new colorized Sudoku called ColorKu,” Mike Castor, owner of Pentwater Toy Box in Pentwater, Mich., reported to TDmonthly. “We were able to find the manufacturer in the next county, got a hold of him in Grand Rapids and got a shipment in 48 hours. We sold a bunch.”
—  “We believe ColorKu is the best Sudoku product on the market. Players can solve puzzles individually or in groups, and it can be made competitive by setting up the same game on two or more boards,” said Mark Asperheim, president of Mad Cave Bird Games. “It’s also a beautiful piece that looks great on a coffee table!”
— Three of 63 retailers who spoke with TDmonthly named ColorKu as one of their top selling games.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7323      (added 3/27/2006)

Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games

This board game combines the exhilaration of horse racing with the atmosphere and sounds of the racetrack. Players act as jockeys aboard their own thoroughbred horse, forced to decide whether to bolt for the early lead or to hold back and try to overtake tiring horses down the backstretch. The game incorporates modern technology with traditional board game play. “Today's game buyer is more sophisticated and thus much more hard to please than previous generations,” pointed out Deep Creek Enterprises’ president Bill Walker. “Since TriQuest is able to match superior technology with the tradition of board games, it is unique in its ability to attract players of varying generations.”
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7338      (added 3/28/2006)

This unique two-player card game teaches kids about endangered species and environments. Game play is set up as though all events take place in a mystical world, yet the world described is that of Earth. Players compete to collect cards with different skills and helpful animals and tools on them. Turf Wars occur wherein they must defend the Xeko-system they've created with the cards they've collected. The set includes 50 cards. “Xeko is more fun than other card games because the heroes of the game are the real animals of earth’s wildest habitats,” Mark Gross of Matter Group told TDmonthly. “Xeko fans know all kinds of cool facts, like which African frogs ooze poison and the name of the world’s smallest primate.” 
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7341      (added 3/28/2006)

MSRP: $19.99
Age Range: 3 and up
SKU or Item #: 1003
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Religious

This 16” premium plush doll comes individually packaged with detailed magnetic hands and a set of elephants. The Holy Folks Noah doll is the perfect example of courage and faith for children. Noah’s unique and entertaining magnetic functionality allows children to “Play and Pray” with their new best friend.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7174      (added 3/9/2006)

MSRP: $24.99
Age Range: 3 and up
Launch Date: May 2006
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Preschool

“Find Frinkle was unveiled at the WTHRA show in March to wide acclaim,” said Rick Rotkosky, president of Xyllion Inc. He's a lovable prairie dog who takes delight in hiding from small children. He's soft, cute and loves to talk and giggle and play over and over again. To play with Frinkle, squeeze his belly and hide him someplace safe, like under a pillow or blanket, in a closet or cabinet, behind a curtain or in a box. Then press the button on the controller and Frinkle chirps, laughs and encourages young children while he waits to be found. When a child finds Frinkle and squeezes his belly, Frinkle exclaims in delight and asks to play again. Launch date: May 8, 2006.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 7329      (added 3/28/2006)

Writer's Bio: Julia Ann Charpentier is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and an editor for book publishers. Read more articles by this author


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