Well, here we are – home from Chicago just in time to join the masses at the grocery store for last minute Thanksgiving food items. It was a full trip – 2 days driving down, 3 days there, and 2 days driving back. I became best friends with TomTom, the borrowed GPS. We ate lots of cheese sticks, mixed nuts and apples. We listened to an audio book. The kids played and read in the backseat. I even survived driving in and out of the craziest traffic I have ever experienced. Chicago was booming.
The saddest part of the trip was the fact that my camera battery was dead on arrival. And I had grabbed the wrong battery recharger. Fortunately Eva had her little camera, and we used that during the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTaG). It’s not quite the camera mine is, but I sure was glad to have it.
The first day in Chicago, the kids and I headed down to Grant Park along Lake Michigan and plunged into the Field Museum. It’s a massive building, beautiful, ornate, white, with a ceiling full of skylights. Just being in the main lobby area was a treat. But we meandered through the exhibits, exploring an Egyptian pyramid (with some original 5,000 year old stones), looking for hidden critters in the nature walk, and finally winding up in the Evolving Planet exhibit, watching the story of our planet and the life on it unfold.
Our plan at this point was to head up to the Art Institute, but as we looked out the window, we noticed the huge Shedd Aquarium just outside. The Art Institute was a bus ride away, and it was already going on 2:00, so we opted instead to walk over to the Aquarium. And though the kids felt the loss of the da Vinci’s and the Botticelli’s keenly, they were immediately rewarded with a living feast for the eyes as we stepped into Shedd. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but we saw beluga whales, dolphins, sharks, sea lions, jellies, and a host of other beautiful, strange creatures. It was breathtaking and so thrilling to be surrounded by so much life after the stillness of the Field Museum.
Day 2 brought the ChiTaG Young Inventor’s Challenge, the reason we drove all that way to begin with. We lugged Ian’s display via taxi across town, and set him up alongside the other 80 or so kids, all eager to show their game inventions. He pitched and sold all day long. Eva and I kept taking short dives into the professional portion of ChiTaG which made up the majority of the show, making small discoveries of games we wanted to try out the next day.
Star Wars characters roamed the floor, and Eva – sweet, shy Eva – boldly went up to them with Ian’s business card and asked them to visit him at his booth. And they did! This pretty much made Ian’s whole weekend.
Lots of other folks came by too, and there were a whole lot of people who wanted to buy Animal Attack right there and then, but according to contest rules, we weren’t allowed to make sales. Still, great feedback.
He didn’t win at the end of the day, and I was impressed with how well he took it. I think I was more disappointed than he was, even though I had been repeating my “it’s not about winning” motto for 3 weeks. We didn’t get to meet folks from Hasbro, and he won’t be going to the New York Toy Fair (both were prizes for the winner). We packed up and headed back to the hotel to regroup.
And regroup we did. The contest for kids was only one day, but ChiTaG ran for two, so we boldly went back the next day, ready to do some serious gaming, and equipped with copies of Animal Attack in case anyone would give us pitch time. Ian played a new version of Stratego, “Quad” Chess for 4 players, and a deck building game called Dominion. Eva and roamed around playing other games and making Lego mini-fig purchase selections. I secured a meeting with Educational Insights for Ian at noon; he pitched to them at their booth. And while he was pitching to them, my phone rang with a follow up call from ThinkFun, who could also fit him in.
Though Educational Insights didn’t really “get” the game, the woman from ThinkFun did. ThinkFun couldn’t take it, but the woman we met with, one Tanya Thompson, was a breath of fresh air. She understood Animal Attack immediately, and where the folks at Educational Insights said the rules and presentation were too confusing, Tanya praised Ian for his clarity and straight-forward presentation. She pressed us to stay in contact with her, and committed to helping Ian find a home for his game. She even gave the kids a copy of one of ThinkFun’s new games, called Swish. It looks fun.
Exhausted, with new purchases in hand, we headed back towards home the next morning. But we were destined for one last surprise: a return phone call from MindWare, a gaming company just outside of Minneapolis. I couldn’t believe it, but they were willing to fit Ian in for a short presentation as we cruised through. We went, and it was interesting to see a gaming company in motion (lots of cubicles, and not nearly as interactive and lab-like as we might want to imagine). Our meeting lasted 15 minutes, and MindWare gave us another rejection. But it was not without valuable insights.
We realize now that what makes Animal Attack so special – it’s mix of the traditional trading card game format and educational content – also makes it quite difficult to find it a home. Educational companies want simple, straight-forward games that teach clear-cut skills and can be taught in under 30 seconds. Trading card game companies really aren’t in the market to offer educational products. Ian’s whole pitch and fervent belief is that kids will be more interested in Animal Attack (an educational game), specifically because it mirrors the trading card approach, appealing to young gamers’ attraction to stat and attribute memorization. However, we’re pitching to adults, not kids. And for adults, we’ve learned that we have to sell the sale, not the game. They have to be able to visualize it in their catalog, and they have to visualize parents getting the hook.
So that’s where we’re at. I’m toying with the idea of offering a short sale of homemade copies of the game for the holiday season, and we’re looking into ways we can manufacture more games without burdening the family for time and money. Ian will be revising his pitch, and I’ll help him develop a one-page catalog snapshot to help adults see the potential. And we’ll keep identifying new companies to present to.
It’s a fun ride, and I can’t wait to see what’s next!
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