In this inventor interview Matt Butler talks through his story of creating the game Rollors, which combines Bocce Ball, Horseshoes, and Bowling
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background experience how you first started inventing?
Matt: I’m living in Dayton, Ohio attending a school called the Air Force Institute of Technology. Dayton is a hub for innovation and is where the Wright Brother’s started flying their airplane. As for me, this is my first invention. I have another one in prototype status and I’m researching the intellectual property perspective of the game.
Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about Rollors, what it is and how you came up with the idea?
Matt: I created the new award winning game called Rollors. Think of Rollors as a game that combines the fun of Bocce Ball, Horseshoes, and Bowling. There are both the elements of skill and chance to Rollors. The homepage for the game is www.rollors.net
Tara: What were the first steps you took after having your idea?
Matt: Researching if there was already an idea like Rollors in the public domain. I did that by researching what was on the shelves of stores, searching the Internet and using the various patent search sites online.
Tara: Did you try and patent or protect your idea in any way and how did you go about it?
Matt: Yes. I have one utility patent that’s been approved and a couple more pending (one of which is international). After I completed the step above I looked up local patent attorneys and read a couple books on patents.
Tara: Did you get presentation drawing sheets produced or make a prototype of Rollors?
Matt: Yes. I used the drawing sheets from my first patent for the drawing sheets. Another thing I did I would recommend is research any local schools that might have any type of CAD classes or prototyping machines.
Tara: Have you licensed Rollors to a toy company or are you manufacturing and selling it yourself, and why?
Matt: Yes, I’ve licensed the game to another game company in the US. I did it so they could bring Rollors to a new level that I wasn’t able to do since I have another job. I’m now searching for international distribution and/or licensing opportunities for Rollors.
Tara: What have you found are the most successful ways of promoting Rollors?
Matt: I would say persistence, persistence, and more persistence. What keep my persistence going is getting great feedback and testimonials from people about their Rollors experience. They’ve all been very positive which in turn feeds the fire for my persistence.
Tara: What were the most difficult elements of bringing Rollors to market?
Matt: The most difficult part is spreading the word about the game. I’m always thinking up new innovative ways via blogs, gift guides, review sites, press releases, social media, etc.
Tara: How long has it taken from your initial idea to taking it to market?
Matt: The idea started to “roll” around in my head back in 2008 but I did a lot of researching into how I can keep my game protected through patent protection. When the first patent filed then I could start developing the website and spreading the word about the game.
Tara: Is there anything you learned developing Rollors that you would now do differently if you had to do it all again?
Matt: Yes. This may sound like a minor thing but I think every tidbit of information that is shared with future inventors helps them so they don’t recreate the same thing (if it’s negative). When I first started out I had custom letterhead and envelopes created with the Rollors graphic on it with my mailing address. Since I’m in the military I move around more than the usually person so that was not money well spent.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Use the all the very valuable resources that are out there like the inventors websites, blogs, listen radio shows like Got Invention radio or magazines like Inventors Digest.
Tara: Where can people find out more about you and your game Rollors?
Are you an inventor or invention expert with an interesting story or advice to share? Please get in touch via the contact form or email tara (at) ideasuploaded (dot) com
CJ Kettler from Genius Crowds, who I previously interviewed on this blog asked if I would spread the word about the fact that Genius Crowds are working with Mattel to crowdsource new product ideas.
What is crowdsourcing? – think of it like an invention competition, but where more than one person can influence the winning product idea by voting for it or making suggestions. Be aware that anything you disclose publicly, may mean you cannot protect that idea legally – so don’t put forward any idea you have been working on for years and intend to pursue through other avenues and check all terms and conditions before you submit. It is however a way your idea could get to market at no cost to you.
Mattel, Inc., (NASDAQ:MAT) the worldwide leader in toys and family products, has announced an Open Innovation initiative with Genius Crowds® to develop crowd-sourced product ideas for their venerable brands of Hot Wheels® and Barbie® bicycles for young children. Genius Crowds (geniuscrowds.com) is a platform for opensourced product development, facilitating the development and ideation phase online, and securing production relationships with leading marketers.
In a move towards open innovation and collaboration with their consumers, Mattel is looking for innovative ideas for their Barbie® and HotWheels® branded bicycles for children aged 4-6 years old. Mattel is among the first manufacturers to welcome product ideas with this next generation crowd sourcing platform, designed to enable marketers and manufacturers to co-create products with their consumers.
Find out more here: https://www.geniuscrowds.com/topics
Genius Crowds is a platform for consumers to get their product ideas out of their heads and onto the shelves. The company partners with notable manufacturers, marketers and retailers to bring good ideas for new products to market, reducing the cost of R&D for marketers while cultivating deeper bonds with customers.
“We are thrilled to partner with Mattel on their Open Innovation efforts,” said CJ Kettler, CEO of Genius Crowds. “Mattel recognizes the value of crowd sourcing and is committed to maintaining an open dialogue with consumers about their insights and product needs through this kind of idea exchange. “
Mattel Vice President of Innovation Programs & Inventor Relations, Elisabeth Krisel, stated: “Mattel is very excited to be working with Genius Crowds for crowdsourcing new product ideas. We believe strongly in open innovation and are thrilled to be on the cutting edge of new product development processes including crowdsourcing that enable us to listen to, and meet the needs of kids and their parents.”
About Genius Crowds:
Genius Crowds (geniuscrowds.com) is a platform for everyday people to get new product ideas out of their heads and onto the shelves. A robust community of active, creative consumers submit new product ideas that are voted as crowd favorites by their peers through crowdsourcing. All submissions are reviewed and selected by professional panelists to bring the winning products to retail and consumers may share in the proceeds or win a prize. Genius Crowds is powered by the Chaordix® Crowd Intelligence™ technology platform.
Mattel, Inc. (NASDAQ: MAT) is the worldwide leader in the design, manufacture and marketing of toys and family products. The Mattel family is comprised of such best-selling brands as Barbie®, the most popular fashion doll ever introduced, Hot Wheels®, Matchbox®, American Girl®, Radica® and Tyco R/C®, as well as Fisher-Price® brands, including Thomas & Friends®, Little People®, Power Wheels® and a wide array of entertainment-inspired toy lines. In 2012, Mattel was named as one of FORTUNE Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the fifth year in a row. Mattel also is ranked among Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens.” With worldwide headquarters in El Segundo, California, Mattel employs approximately 28,000 people in 43 countries and territories and sells products in more than 150 nations. At Mattel, we are Creating the Future of Play. Visit us at www.mattel.com, www.facebook.com/mattel or www.twitter.com/mattel.
©2012 Mattel, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
How To Start Your Own Board Game Company by Robster at Total Strategy Games
What this article is about & Who should read it
This article is mainly for you game inventors looking at creating your own business, then selling and distributing a product (board game). This guide can also be applied to any product or anyone looking at starting their own business and working for themselves. I run a game design and business start-up seminar for Create at Lancaster University, based on my own experiences. I’ve used the information from my seminar to create this article so it has a good pedigree.
History of me and my little company – Total Strategy Ltd
It’s kind of funny to think back to where the invention of my game came from. It begun as something to do on the bus on the way to work, at the start it was just some strange doodles on pieces of scrap paper. I was playing around with a new idea, a simple mechanism for a strategy game that would mimic ancient battle’s while being really simple to play. The more I played with it the more it seemed to have a lot of promise.
Two years later after a lot of work, play testing and favours called in for parts I had a working prototype of my game.
Initially I just loved playing the game with friends, we’d take it to the local pub and play a few games and have a few drinks. It was great fun to watch people play it and really get into the strategy, pointing out what formations they’d use, how they’d position their infantry, and where they’d strike with their cavalry. I could even see a person’s personality come out in the way they’d play the game. Some were cautious, some were cavalier, some would try to do a bit of everything, each strategy could be beaten by adapting to the opponent. The games appeal showed me that it was worth taking it to the next level.
The next step for me was to approach games companies to try and get them to licence the game, I received a lot of positive remarks but unfortunately in the UK strategy games are a big risk. The other problem was my timing. It was Autumn 2008…right in the middle of the recession and a lot of the independent games companies in the UK were either struggling or going under!
So I put the dream on hold and returned to playing the game with friends. It wasn’t until I met a friend at work called Joe who worked for an entrepreneur group where things changed (Joes website is www.ideasmapping.com). His enthusiasm for the game was amazing right from the start. With his business advice and with his contacts and friends we managed to get the start up costs for production down to just over £5K from what was originally looking about £35K. I took a second job to pay for the production costs and got a grant to help with the start up costs, before I knew it I was in at the deep end.
Fast forward to Jan 2012 and I now have my own games company Total Strategy Ltd, a delivery of 500 games, supply infrastructure and a big proud smile. Neat!
This is it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Total-Strategy-Z-Arena-Combat/dp/B007DYI1C0
So finally to the point, the last year has been a blur filled with joy, setbacks, enthusiasm, frustration and a hell of a lot of things learned the hard way. Hopefully this article will allow you to plan ahead and have a smoother set up than I did.
Ok so let’s assume you’ve got a board game idea, you’ve play tested it to death and you’re convinced will sell. Your next step is to get it out there, licensing it to a large games company is one way to do it, but for this article we’re going to look at what it takes to go it alone?
Owning your own company is much harder that just licensing the game but there are advantages. It gives you full control over your idea and you get to keep all the proceeds. Over the next few pages I’ll run through the major points of what you’ll need to do to start your own board game company.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to make a prototype of your game. This will give you:
- The opportunity to understand how much it will cost to manufacture, to see whether it’s viable as a business and to make changes early to keep costs down.
- The chance to get all the artwork together and see what it will look like.
- A Chance to iron out any bugs in the game play and any previous unseen mistakes before the final production.
- You can make a basic prototype at home quite easily with materials from an art and craft shop.
Board Game Geek have a wonderful guide to making a board, you can see it here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/531148/folding-board-tutorial-with-pictures
Your other option is to pay a games manufacturer to make you a prototype, again it costs more but it can be worth it.
For links to prototype manufacturing see Chapter 9 – Manufacturing.
2. Protecting your idea
Protecting your board game is a toughie; usually with a new product you would look to have it patented in order to prevent other people from using your idea. However you can’t patent a board game because it’s essentially a collection of elements. Dice rolling, counters, cards etc already exist in the public domain, this makes it impossible to patent your game. You could patent a unique element of your game but on the whole it’s a no go. There other ways however.
Your best method of protection is to copyright your idea. Copyrighting your game is free and it’s also automatic. If you print your rules and take photos of your board, playing cards, pieces etc then legally they’re considered to be copyrighted. The tricky part is proving the date that you copyrighted the idea!
The most basic method of date copyrighting is to take all those pictures of your game, put them all in a well sealed envelope and then send them recorded delivery to yourself. When you receive it in the post it’ll be date stamped. Keep it in a safe place and don’t open it, this will be your proof that you came up with the idea on the date marked on the envelope. A better but more expensive way is to keep a copy of the printed rules and photo’s with your bank. So long as it stays unopened with them it’ll provide you with a secure date that you created the game.
If you’re interested in IPR and development Joe actually uses my game as a case study in his book Brilliant Business Ideas – it’s well worth a read.
3. Setting up a company
The next step is to set up a company. Setting up a company in the UK is done through Companies House: http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/
The cost of setting up a Private Limited company is: £40 by paper, £15 if done online + Solicitors Fees (if used). Once you have a company you’ll be legally responsible for your company’s “Annual Return” (£14 per year) and for its “Yearly Accounts” (this can be upwards of £500 as it almost certainly requires an accountant).
Your company will need a logo, this will be your brand/identity and you’ll need to protect it. Registering a trademark in the UK is done through the Intellectual Property Office website at: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/tm.htm.
Board games fall under – Class 28. The cost to register your trademark is:
UK – £170 per category + £50 per additional category, + (Solicitors fees if applicable)
If you’re interested in the US it’s – $275 per category, + (Solicitors fees if applicable).
While the trademark is going through the process of being granted you can use TM in the upper right corner of your logo, once its granted you can use R in a circle.
5. Business banking
Choosing a bank account for your business is very important. The majority of them have fees somewhere, the key is to find one that suits your business the best. I used Money Supermarket to find the account that me best: http://www.moneysupermarket.com/BusinessChequeAccounts/CommercialChqAccForm.asp
Barcodes are expensive; normally you’d have to join GS1 US. (GS1 is formerly the Uniform Code Council). Joining GS1 is not cheap with an initiation fee of $750 and an annual fee of $150. Read more: http://www.ehow.com/how_2275418_buy-bar-code.html
Fortunately there are cheaper ways if you only have a one off item (like a board game).
I used barcode1 to get an individual EAN-13 barcode. Cost just £20 and they supply the artwork and certificate and is recognised internationally: http://www.barcode1.co.uk/
An EAN-13 barcode will need to be black stripes on a white background, also a specific size to allow bar code readers to read it correctly.
Your bar code should be 37.29mm wide and 25.93mm high. It can be scaled but must be within a magnification factor of 0.8 to 2.0. this means the smallest your bar code may be is 29.83mm wide by 20.74mm and the largest it may be is 74.58mm wide and 51.86mm high.
There’s a lot more information on barcodes at: http://www.codeproject.com/Articles/10162/Creating-EAN-13-Barcodes-with-C
7. Safety Testing
The hardest part for me was trying to get information on CE marking. In the EU any product should display a CE mark and have the certificate to back it up. The CE mark is a passport for your game to show any country in the EU that your game meets the safety standards required for retail in Europe. There’s a lot more information on the web now thankfully, Wikipedia now has a very good run down of the tests needed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy_safety
The 3 tests you’ll need for a basic indoor board game will be:
- EN71-1, Safety of toys: Mechanical and physical properties
- EN71-2, Flammability requirements
- EN71-3, Specification for migration of certain elements
If it’s possible it’s best to get the factory manufacturing your game to do these tests. They usually know how to do it, they’ll get the tests for a decent price, and most importantly they’ll catch anything during the manufacturing process rather than after the final production run.
8. Legal Blurb
Your game will need to have certain legal text, symbols, company information and warnings on the box, based on sales in the UK it should have the following:
- Logo (with TM or R) – Firstly you’ll want your company logo on the box so everyone knows it belongs to your company.
- Barcode – Your EAN-13 barcode, remember it should be on a white background and be the correct size as mentioned above.
- Not for under 3 years logo – This is important if your board game isn’t aimed at small children, as small pieces can choke little kids. There should also be text to say “warning not for children under 36 months” and if it contains small parts it must say “warning may contain small parts”. If your game is for children under 3 years then you’ll have to do a lot more safety tests on it, unfortunately that’s beyond this article.
- The CE mark – When you have your CE test pass certificate you can put the CE mark on your box. This is your passport to sell the game in any European country that participates in the CE mark.
- Your company name address –This allows you to be contacted, I also put my web address www.totalstrategygames.com for extra information.
- Place where the game is manufactured – Made in UK, Made in USA, made in China etc.
- Number of players and suggested age range – Eg for 2-4 players, recommended age 8 and up.
- Colours and contents may vary from those shown – chances are that all the images of game play on the box will be from your prototype and not from the finished version. You should put this on the box just to cover yourself.
This is the biggest and most expensive step, when you have everything in place you can finally get your game manufactured. From your prototype you’ll be able to get an idea of how to keep costs down and how easy your game is to manufacture. It’ll also allow the factory you choose to give you an accurate quote and to see what’s required so there’s no confusion.
Your cost for the total production will be: Tooling costs + (unit cost x number of units) + delivery
Your choice is UK vs Overseas.
Having your game made in the UK is the most straight forward method, the shipping will be cheaper and you can easily meet the people who will be making your game. However the drawback is the cost, if you have a low order quantity (500 or less units) then the cost to do a print run.UK Custom Board Game Manufacturers,
Shannon Games are a small company in Scotland who I approached in the UK, they were friendly: www.shannongames.com
If you’re from the USA
I also approached MJS Creations who were a nice bunch: www.BoardGameManufacturing.com
A popular choice for overseas manufacturing is China, the production costs are lower than in the UK, in fact the more labour intensive your games construction is then the better value you can get from having it manufactured in China. This is less so if your game is more automated construction.
The drawback however is finding a factory you can work with when the chances are you’ll never meet with them face to face.
10. Shipping and Import
Airmail vs Sea Freight
Airmail much faster, approx 2-3 days but much more expensive and will probably push your prices up too much if you’re not careful. Your best option will be sea freight. Sea freight varies in time, for me it took 5 weeks from China to UK.
Usually the factory/manufacturer will load your goods onto the ship FOB (Free on Board), you then deal with the shipping company, in my case it was Davis Turner. The shipping company handle the shipping and the import, you then pay them for shipping, import, taxes, UK delivery and insurance.
For your first import you’ll need to apply to HMRC for an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number. The factory/manufacturer will supply you with part of the information required, the other part is supplied by the shipping company when it docks in the UK, you can then apply to HMRC for an EORI number to complete the import. You keep this number for any future imports:
When your game arrives (well actually before it arrives) you’ll need to work out where you’re going to store it.
Your choices are
Use a UK Fulfilment Company – This is the most costly but they can help you with the distribution of the game. Useful if you’re selling a lot of them straight away.
Store at home – If you’ve got the space then this is the cheapest option.
Pay for private storage – You can hire storage from a local company to store your games.
12. Selling The Game
So to the last part, you’re the proud owner of a big stack of games, all you have to do is sell them.
Go to your local shops and see if any of them would be prepared to sell them on a “sale or return” basis. This is a good way to persuade shops to stock your game as it minimises the risk to them. What it means is that if they sell your games then they pay you a percentage otherwise you take the games back.
In order to reach customers all over the world you should have an online shop. The obvious choices are Ebay & Amazon. You can also sell on your own website with Sagepay or Paypal.
Sell them yourself – Lastly you can’t beat a bit of old graft, you could just go out and sell them yourself for cash!
Well that’s it, that’s pretty much my journey to market so far, If you’ve gotten this far then now the fun part begins for you…marketing your game! At some point I’ll add a chapter 13 for marketing but only when I get a little better at it. In the mean time If you’ve got any questions or want to get in touch then you can find me at the following:
Good luck with your inventions!
Note: The information and prices in this article are correct as I write this in 2012. Information does change especially the safety requirements so remember to double check yourself.
If you are putting together a sell sheet for your new invention idea you probably need some good images to make your sell sheet look more convincing. Let’s say for example you are creating a sell sheet for a new toy invention and you need pictures of happy children, then avoid the clip art as it generally looks cheap and unprofessional and instead here are a range of sites where you can find free or cheap royalty free photos.
Cheap Royalty Free Photos for your Invention Sell Sheet
This is one of the websites I use most frequently for my design work and sell sheets. There are a large range of photos (and illustrations) to choose from and you can either buy them by purchasing credits or on a subscription.
Each photo only costs a pound/dollar or two or you can buy a subscription if you use a lot.
Probably one of the most well known of all the photo libraries, and they also do illustration, video and music too. A few years ago I used to use them almost exclusively but then they were acquired by Getty Images and the price went up quite a bit. That being said the prices are still relatively cheap.
A reasonable sized photo costs from about £10 ($16) or you can buy a subscription if you use a lot.
Another large collection of royalty free images of decent quality
A reasonable sized photo costs from about £10 ($16) or you can buy a subscription if you use a lot.
A collection of royalty free images that are very cheap to buy
Each photo only costs a pound/dollar or two or you can buy a subscription if you use a lot.
Free Photos for your Invention Sell Sheets
Morgue file has a selection of completely free to use photos. In general the photos are not as good as the paid libraries, but you can’t argue with the price.
This is a another website that offers free photos. I have only used it very occasionally.
Public Domain Photos
A site which shows public domain photos.
Please note: the links to the cheap royalty free images sites are affiliate links. This means if you buy through my link, you pay the same but I will make a commission and be rich, rich, rich 😉 well I might be able to save up to buy a few pics for my sell sheets too.
Peter Wachtel www.coroflot.com/kidtoyology is a Toy Inventor and also teaches Toy design to Students in the USA. You can find out more about Peter in the Inventor Interview I did with him a little while ago, but I was really curious to hear about his new project to create a TV Show about Student Toy Inventors.
Check out the video below to see a trailor for the proposed student toy inventors show
If you like the idea please show your support by leaving a comment on Youtube by the video
Peter was also kind enough to tell me a bit more about the invention show:
Tara: Please could you tell me a bit about the premise for the TV show about student Toy Inventors?
Peter: Kid/ Students from across the world are given a weekly toy challenge to create a new toy each week. The winner gets a chance to have their toy distributed across the world! Host(s) travel around the country in search of the coolest Toys and Toy Challenges! Contestants win a chance at a licensing deal for their toy, and/ or a $5000 scholarship for students! Contestants don’t get voted off, they simply join the winning teams, and challenges become more difficult each week.
- Some proposed Show Taglines: It’s TOY-tastic!, We Play, therefore We Are!, Work Hard & Play Hard!
- “Weekly Toy Challenges” with inventors each week based on a theme. Possible different contestants each week: Students, real inventors, Parents (Mom & Dad) & Kids!Viewers can vote online or text for best toy each week, and Toy giveaways each week to viewers. The Toy challenges/ season are sponsored by a toy company.
- Extras: Clips on how toys are made/ work: Showing people/ kids designing a toy from idea to the shelves, and the “Toy Wall of Fame”, Pop-Up videos that tell secrets and the History of Toys, and Street interviews/ feedback with kids, parents & toys each week (“Toys on the Street”). Kid & Adult “Toy Play Time” & Toy testing.
- Sponsors, Judges, Guests & Field trips: Numerous toy companies and toy industry executives, crazy judges,Toy Museums, Toy design programs, toy and child play specialists, inventors and visits to their shops, etc.
- Specials of the BIG TOY shows: Toy Fair, Gift Show, Licensing show. Show the best toys of Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, Holiday toys and All-Time Best toys!
Tara: How did you get involved with the project and how did the idea come about?
Peter: When watching TV I see all kinds of reality shows & contests. I thought that toys and kids are “Real Reality” as well as their creativity. I then started developing the idea about a show where kids/ students from around the world would design and invent toys on TV, and partnered with a few of my TV friends…
Tara: What are you hoping to do with the TV pitch?
Peter: We are actively pitching to kids networks, and have about 5 toy companies on board when Wild World of Toys is picked up. We are hoping that a Kids Network would see it and adopt the idea into their programming – There would be great benefits to learning and teaching, as well as a promotional tool for toys.
Tara: How can people get in touch with you if they can help with the project or want to find out more?
Peter: They can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org