Game Companies Playing Games

About six or seven years ago I created a game called “In All Likelihood.” I used my family as test subjects and they found it moderately amusing. The premise was this — one person read a card, on which a scenario was listed (example: most likely to talk their way out of a ticket). Everyone wrote down the name of the player they felt was the best choice. Afterward, people gave their answer, and those who had chosen the most popular answer each got a point. If the person indicated had actually done the thing, everybody who picked it got two points. You played to ten, as I recall. Some cards were risqué, others embarrassing, and some had special rules reversing it to being LEAST likely, etc. But that was the premise.

When I was finished, I sent the game off to a consultant who regularly pitches to Hasbro for analysis. Although the game seemed fun, he said that it was fatally flawed because it didn’t have a “gimmick.” A “gimmick,” is essentially a thing–a prop, really– that comes in the box that makes the game more fun to play, and that you would have to buy to “get the full experience.”  The Taboo buzzer, for instance, is an obvious example. My game could be done by anybody with paper and pencils, and no one would need to buy anything.  Come up with that gimmick, and you have something you can sell.

He said that if I was committed to the game as is, I would probably have to go Indie, the way Cards Against Humanity did, and to great reception. I determined that if I was going to go indie on anything, it would be something I wrote, since that was my primary calling.  I shelved the prototype.

Fast forward to the future, and I realize now what the consultant was telling me, as Hasbro has launched a game that is pretty much the same damn thing. The difference with Pointing Fingers is that, once everyone has identified the likeliest culprit, the players actually point the large foam fingers fitted over their index fingers at the person they chose. Other than that, pretty much the same.

My response was not “they stole my game.” They didn’t. The consultant was right: anyone could have come up with that game and played some variation of it. My reaction was “dammit, I was that close. I should have thought of that.”  So I guess the point of this story is that if people are inclined to look down the path toward game creation, it’s best to keep the “gimmick” in mind. Probably even to start there. In fact, you don’t even need a game to go around it — I could probably come up with a game to fit your gadget or gizmo. (If you have a fun novelty invention of this nature, call me…).

So along with the sour grapes, I leave you simply with this observation for the modern family game shelf: mainstream games of the twenty-first century aren’t card games, board games, or dice games any more. They’re just toys with a list of rules.



Author of over sixty children's books, as well writer of textbook materials and standardized exam text. I may have helped teach your children...

Posted in Adventures in Consumer Tracking
One comment on “Game Companies Playing Games
  1. Jason Ruona says:

    We have a game called Loaded Questions, which was also a concept that needed a gimmick. In this case, it’s a board where players move toward a goal, and which determines the category for each question. Players all answer a question, and the asker tries to determine who wrote which answer.

    We’ve NEVER played it with the board (well, maybe for 10 minutes the first time). We just take turns asking questions and guessing answers. The asker gets to determine the category. If you have a big enough group, there are always a few that ham it up and others that submit outrageous lies. It’s a bunch of laughs, and points don’t matter.

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