James Word and Chris Kramer invented their new game, Salt Lake City: The Game of Monogamy, in just six weeks - not too much longer than it takes to play a game of Monopoly.
Word and Kramer's game, a spoof of Monopoly in which Boardwalk and Baltic have been replaced by Walker Lane and Magna, is currently on sale at several local stores. So far Word and Kramer have already recouped the $5,000 they invested in the game and even have made a little bit of money.But don't get the wrong idea. Inventing new games is not always fun and profit.
"It's so much more difficult than anyone can imagine," says Raquel Holman of Orem, who, with her husband, Ted, has spent the past four years and "everything we could get our hands on" to develop and market a game called Riddle Riot: The Game for Nimble Wits.
After four years and lots of headaches, the Holmans finally have their game in several local stores. But it's too soon to tell if their investment of time and money will pay off.
The Holmans are just one example of several Utah game inventors who have gambled part of their life savings in the hopes of being the next Rob Angell. Angell is the now legendary former waiter from Seattle who came up with Pictionary, a game that turned Angell into a millionaire, millions of Americans into game players - and thousands of Americans into would-be game inventors.
But according to Provo game inventor and businessman Mike Agrelius, 99 percent of the new games invented each year never catch on. Even fewer are snatched up by the big game companies, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley. They see about three new games a day, he says, and buy maybe three a year.
"The industry's direction now is to buy a game after it's already sold well and been test-marketed for them (by an independent gamemaker)," he says. That's what happened with both Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, the two best-sellers of the 1980s.
This Christmas season there are at least six Utah independent games on local store shelves, and one - Agrelius's Abstracts - is on sale nationally at Lionel Playworld and F.A.O. Schwartz.
In the past four years Agrelius has spent $80,000 developing and marketing his game and has only recently broke even on his investment. He is hopeful now that it will finally become one of those games America can't live without.
The fact that a similar game - Milton Bradley's I.D. - didn't do well last season doesn't bother Agrelius. In the game business, success can depend on all kinds of intangibles - timing, the shape of a box, luck - as well as persistence.
"Ideas are cheap," says Agrelius, who is director of Game Inventors of America, a national association of independent game inventors who have banded together for clout and exposure. Marketing and distribution, he says, are 80 percent of what makes a game successful.
Agrelius is a tireless promoter of his own game - appearing on local talk shows in his Abstracts T-shirt - and of the games of other Utahns.
"I think it would be great," he says, " if this were the next game capital of the world."
Utah games currently for sale include:
- Salt Lakeopoly, a fund-raiser for Amicus, the volunteer arm of LDS Hospital's Deseret Foundation. Profits will go toward medical research.
The familiar Monopoly streets have been replaced by familiar businesses - McDonald's, KSL, Delta, Smith's and others - who bought spots on the board. Other familiar names and places show up on Treasure Chest cards: "Mr. Mac is having a suit sale!!! Move your pawn to Mr. Mac," or "You are at fault for an 8-car pileup on I-80, causing your insurance to skyrocket. Pay $250."
The game sells for $19.95 and is on sale at ZCMI, Smith's and the LDS Hospital gift shop.
- Salt Lake City: The Game of Monogamy, another Monopoly parody, but this one is a bit more irreverent. Word, 18, and Kramer, a former disc jockey on KKAT, started it as a family project (something to give for Christmas instead of the usual socks and ties, says Kramer) but are now selling it at local Christmas boutiques and at stores such as Sound Off and Cahoots. The game retails for anywhere between $15 and $19.95.
Players will recognize Salt Lake neighborhoods such as Sugar House and Federal Heights and choose cards with instructions such as "Hairspray shortage, lose $50." Playing pieces include a caffeine-free Coke bottle; instead of Monopoly's houses and hotels, the game uses wards and stake houses.
- Riddle Riot teases players' brains with "400 of the world's best riddles," according to the game's inventors, Raquel and Ted Holman. Raquel Holman is a former educator who wanted to come up with a game that would help people learn to think and have fun at the same time.
Some of the riddles are puzzles, some are riddle jokes, some are what the Holmans call "true riddles" and some test players' memories of nursery rhymes and songs. Riddle Riot sells for $28.95 and is available at Deseret Book as well as several smaller stores.
- Almaniac: The Fast, Fun Game of Famous Names was invented by brothers-in-law Dean Johansen and Mark Bowler, who have already invested more than $37,000 in the 3-year-old venture. Like a lot of new games, Almaniac comes in a Pictionary-size box. Inside are cards full of names of people, places and products.
Players get 40 seconds to guess the five names in each category, based on rapid-fire clues from their teammates. The game sells for $17 and is available at Hammond's and the BYU bookstore as well as at several other local stores.
- Abstracts: The Game of Abstract Logic already has a two-year head start on the other Utah offerings and is now available at national chains such as Lionel Playworld and Neiman Marcus as well as at local stores such as Deseret Book.
Players guess the identity of a person, place or thing based on abstract clues such as "If this person were a candy bar (magazine, item found in your refrigerator), what would he or she be?" Abstracts sells for $19.99.