Case Study: Board but far from boring

26 Sep 2005

With Christmas less than three months away, the toy superstores are already busy stocking their shelves with toys and games in time for the seasonal rush. Many board games will be supplied by the big global brands such as Hasbro and Mattel but at least one, Mentalogy, will be home-grown.

Launched in 2003, Mentalogy, — a memory game in which players have to remember a series of numbers, words and pictures — has quickly become a family favourite and is now among the top five board games sold in the Irish market, according to David Conn, co-founder and director of Magictaxi, a Dublin-based company that developed it. “We couldn’t make it fast enough,” he laughs.

Having proven its worth in its home market, Magictaxi turned its attention to the wider opportunity — the US$2bn global board games market — and decided to launch the game in other English-speaking markets, primarily Australia/New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the US. To do this the company would need to attend the major trade fairs in London, New York and the world’s biggest in Nuremberg, Germany, in order to sign up distributors and win orders. This presented the challenge of how to make an immediate impression on buyers with a new game from an unknown producer.

The company turned to Neworld, a south city-based brand-building and design consultancy, to devise digital concepts to help it promote the game at international toy fairs and other events. What the firm came up with was an animated loop for display on widescreen plasma displays. A 3D computer model was built featuring the packaging, game board and the accessories used in the game. The result is a camera view that flies through a vibrant virtual landscape showing cards flipping over and multicoloured brains racing around the central spinner.

David Jordan, head of the web and multimedia division of Neworld, feels the solution successfully met the brief. “We were able to offer a flexible range of solutions and digital elements to enable the company to promote itself to its audience,” he says. “Having this loop really helps to sell the value of the different elements of the game.”

Conn has been bowled over by the impact of the video. “It really has helped us in other markets. Perception is everything at these trade shows; you only get a couple of minutes to get your message across.” Fortunately, the promotional efforts did the trick: Magictaxi signed an agreement with US distributor Ravensburger at the New York toy fair and, after the show, it also secured a Toronto-based distributor for the Canadian market.

As a further step in the digital promotion of Mentalogy, Neworld Group also devised an interactive game that can be played online on Mentalogy’s website (also designed by Neworld) or from a CD-Rom. The aim is to provide a sample of Mentalogy and encourage customers to purchase the board game.

Not only is digital technology being used to promote Mentalogy, it is providing some useful experiences about how to develop a digital version of the game, which is to be the next step in the game’s evolution. “Our plan is to develop a CD-Rom to complement the board game, which we plan to launch in 2007. You are already seeing this with other board games where the game is played partly online,” Conn observes.

This is all in the future. The priority now is to get the product from China, where it is made, for its launch in the all-important US market. Neworld’s digital promotion tools have played their part in securing a US distributor and generating interest among key buyers there. The company will now be keeping its fingers crossed and hoping the expected retail sales will follow. Game on.

By Brian Skelly