My thanks go to Philip Annets inventor of the Whirred PLAY Board Game for taking the time to answer some questions about how he created and is promoting his board game.
Tara: Please could you tell me where you are based, a little bit about your background and how you got into inventing?
Philip: I am based in South Oxfordshire in a little village just west of Wallingford. I am 45 years old, married with two young teenage boys. I spent 20 plus years as a Category Management expert working for major suppliers to grocery retailers, most latterly running my own external consultancy business to manufacturers such as GlaxoSmithkline, United Biscuits and Britvic Soft Drinks. The opportunity to develop my game idea in more depth presented itself during 2009 when the market opportunities for my kind of consultancy services dried up due to the economic conditions.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about your Whirred PLAY Game and how you can up with the idea?
Philip: Whirred PLAY is a game based on the simple premise of spelling everyday words which all happen to be homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelt differently and have different meanings. ‘There’ and ‘Their’ are examples of well known homophones. The objective of Whirred PLAY is for players to select a correct spelling of a homophone that they believe other people will not choose. The more people a player’s choice of spelling is different from the more spaces that player will move along the board. What starts off as a simple game of spelling soon turns into a strategic game of bluffing and double bluffing as players try to outwit each other in their selection of words.
Whirred PLAY in its roughest form was one of many games I used to create for family and friends at Christmas time. These games would be more akin to parlour games and more often than not would be a variation of games that already existed. When Whirred PLAY was introduced a few years ago it got a different reaction to others I’d introduced in that people wanted to play it over and over again.
What I’d always been after when creating games for the family was a game whereby my children could play on a level playing field as their parents, but in a game which didn’t rely purely on luck such as Snakes and Ladders. Games like Monopoly and Cluedo were introduced to the children as they grew up, but it takes time for kids to be able to play these games on a par with adults and either they would get fed up of losing or I would get fed up with pretending to play badly so they could win, meaning that we soon stopped playing these type of games.
Whirred PLAY is a perceived game of skill where adults and children alike can play to the best of their abilities and have an equal chance of winning. Even though it is a word game, unlike other word games such as Scrabble, knowledge of vocabulary is not a pre-determining factor as to who wins the game.
I also wanted a game where the kids would not get bored or disheartened and so Whirred PLAY is designed so that everyone is involved all the time (i.e. people do not have to wait ages for their turn), is designed to last between 30 and 40 minutes, and is designed so that any point in the game everyone still has a chance of winning regardless of where they might be on the board.
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
Philip: I first of all wanted to know if Whirred PLAY would appeal to people I didn’t know. It’s all well and good having family and friends telling you that you have a good idea, but the real test is if complete strangers think it is a good idea, too. Just before Christmas 2009 I was at a party where I only really knew the hosts so I decided to take the plunge and play Whirred PLAY with a complete set of strangers. Over 25 people took part and they really enjoyed it and wanted to play it again. I tried this idea one more time at another social occasion and decided there was something in Whirred PLAY that might appeal to a much wider audience.
Obviously it was still in a rough and ready form so I then had to put some structure around a game play to develop the idea. First and foremost Whirred PLAY was developed as a TV show, but it was quickly obvious to me that bringing it to market as a board game would be easier for me to achieve. So I set about designing a board and a set of rules and then tested and tested the rules over a period of weeks and months until I was satisfied I had the makings of an entertaining, enthralling, enjoyable game.
Tara: Did you try and patent or design register your idea or protect it in anyway or did you develop it first?
Philip: I set about protecting the name ‘Whirred PLAY’ within board games, media and electronic applications because I knew it was the best name possible for the game and that it could easily transfer into other formats such as TV and Radio, and i-phones and windows applications. This process takes about three months so as that was progressing I was finalising the design of the game itself.
Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or have a prototype made for your idea?
Philip: I originally pulled together Heath Robinson style drawings for the game board and all the graphics using Excel and did initial tests on the game play in that format. When I was satisifed I had cast iron rules and playabilty established I approached a company in Alton called Anstey Design, whom I had worked with on a previous project when they were setting themsleves up, to produce the professional looking final graphics. I then registered all the graphics asssociated with Whirred PLAY with the Patent Office.
Tara: How did you go about promoting your idea, did you contact possible companies with the idea of licensing your product or did you want to maintain control and manufacture and sell it yourself?
Philip: I decided that I wanted to test the market first in the South Oxfordshire area before going to potential investors, partners or customers so that when I did go to speak with them I had more information about the appeal of Whirred PLAY in the form of hard facts than just going to them with what I believed was a good idea. I sourced all the component parts from UK businesses, the boards from Optichrome in Woking, the cards and box graphics from PresstoPrint in Oxford, the playing pieces from Plastic for Games in Suffolk, the plastic boxes from SB Weston in Sunbury, the plastic dividers from Holloway Plastics in Walsall, the pads of paper from AW Paperpads in Halesowen, adhesive letters from Artstraws in Swansea and the pencils from Viking Direct. I then assembled the first batch of 50 games at home and approached local retailers about stocking it.
I deliberately wanted the final produced version to look professional and that coupled with what I believe is a really enjoyable concept is what I thought would convince local retailers to stock it. And so it proved, with three key retailers Pettits of Wallingford, KP Post Office Wallingford and Boswell’s in Oxford coming on board. I then staged a launch event at Brightwell-cum-Sotwell Village Hall on 31st May 2010 where I invited friends, family, former colleagues and fellow village residents to attend. Over 120 people attended the event where I explained the concept of Whirred PLAY, how it was developed, played a test version of the TV show, and explained about where Whirred PLAY could be purchased. Twenty copies of Whirred PLAY were sold at that event alone.
Tara: How long did has it taken from your initial idea to where you are now?
Philip: The original idea of Whirred PLAY came about in 2005 but the real decision to pursue producing and marketing the game only happened in December 2009.
Tara: Where can your product be purchased from?
Philip: Whirred PLAY can be purchased via its website www.whirredplay.co.uk or from the following retailers: Pettits in Wallingford, KP Post Office in Wallingford, Kev’s Toy Shop in Wallingford, Village Community Stores in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, Eclectic Games in Reading and Rules of Play in Cardiff. Whirred PLAY has also been available to buy at a host of school and community Christmas Fairs in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Middlesex.
Tara: What are your future hopes and plans for Whirred Play?
Philip: Whirred PLAY has many applications. The board game is being launched nationally at the UK Toy Fair at Olympia in London from January 25th to 27th 2011 where I hope to find potential customers, partners and investors to take the game across the UK and beyond. I’m already in talks with distributors in other English speaking countries to licence Whirred PLAY abroad. Separately, an educational version of Whirred PLAY has been developed for use by schools and other educational establishments. It’s use of homophones fits perfectly with Key Stage 2 of the national literacy curriculum and its all-inclusive nature means whole classrooms can participate in playing Whirred PLAY at the same time. This all-inclusive nature also means it appeals to all children regardless of which end of the ability spectrum they sit. I am already in discussions with organisations that distribute educational games to see how Whirred PLAY can become available to their client base.
This ability for Whirred PLAY to be able to be played by any number of people also lends itself to other sales opportunities and Whirred PLAY is already established in Residential Care Homes in the South Oxfordshire area, and was also tested successfully on BBC Radio Oxford as a phone-in competition for all their listeners on an afternoon show. This all-inclusive unlimited player element is also the reason why Whirred PLAY was developed initially as a TV game show. I strongly believe that because it can be played and won by anybody across the generations regardless of their age, ethnicity or education, it also would appeal across the generations as an entertainment format. I have also devised a USP that allows viewer participation even in a repeat showing.
Finally, Whirred PLAY can also be developed for electronic applications both for fun and educational purposes and as a multi-player or a single player game.
Tara: If you had to do it all again is there anything you would do differently?
Philip: I’m not an out-and-out risk taker and so have developed Whirred PLAY in a way that minimises my financial exposure. This has meant small production runs from which if I’m lucky I break even from the sales of the game. It’s a difficult decision when one has a young family to provide for, but I could have decided to buy more stock up front before I knew of its appeal with the obvious risk associated with that in terms of having to take out a loan to finance it. If I had done then I would be in a better position now financially and maybe could be in a position to take the game forward myself. As it is I will need outside financial support in order to bring Whirred PLAY to a UK audience, whether that be in the form of a loan, investment or a partnership I’m not sure.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor/game creator with an idea?
Philip: Protection of your idea and testing of your concept are paramount. Test and test again. Let others play the game without you being around and incorporate feedback into future developments. I had to be much more open to others idea than I had expected to be. One person will struggle to come up with everything needed for a game to be successful so embrace the feedback. Also, there is plenty of free expert help out there by organisations such as Business Link and Oxfordshire Business Enterprise.
Tara: Do you have more ideas you hope to bring to market in the future?
Philip: I have developed the concept of a second word game designed specifically to be a stand alone game but also designed so that the cards used in the game can be used in Whirred PLAY and vice versa, creating a gaming franchise on the back of the ‘Whirred’ name. Additionally, I already run a not-for-profit football prediction game that has been running for 15 years amongst a small ever changing group of friends, family and colleagues. I have started to investigate the feasibility of bringing this game to market. And my parlour game ideas at Christmas will continue to happen, and who knows there may be another Whirred PLAY among them.
Find out more about Whirred PLAY at http://www.whirredplay.co.uk/game.htm
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