By Garrett J Donner, President, and Michael S Steer, Vice President,
Random Games & Toys
We have had over 30 brand extensions published in our 30+ years. These inventions didn't require "epic new inventions" or "perfect pitches" (we're not particularly good at either). They did require quite a bit of detective work. We had to ask ourselves lots of questions: What the brand meant to people? What they enjoyed the most? Where the essence of the brand's flavor came from? How this brand's games were different from other games? What were the one or two, or three things that if they were taken away, would ruin the experience? Now that we've gotten you started, you can probably think of more detective work that could be done.
To answer these questions we dredge up all of our memories about playing the game, but more importantly we play the game many times. We play the game with different people -- ages and gaming background have a huge impact on how you experience a game. We play the game with different numbers of players -- some games are best for two, or the two-player game is a dramatically more intense cutthroat game; other games really need 4 players before all of the nuances come out. In today's world, we can also look online to see what lots of other people say about the game. As a filter for all of the data we collect, we have to keep in mind the target market/demographic -- BoardGameGeek reviews of the game cater to the avid gamer while Amazon reviews cater to the more casual game player. Then we ask, in what ways does our client want or need to grow the brand – older, or younger, more strategic, or more active? There are lots of opportunities to talk with our client about what is working, what isn't, and where they want to go.
Next we ask ourselves, How can we express the essence of the brand in a different way -- but not too different? What other gaming mechanics are there for expressing the essential elements? In addition to finding new or different mechanics, how do we achieve the growth that our client wants? Will the new mechanics attract a new segment of the game playing public? Will they allow the current players to expand the number of people who will play the game with them? A key question that our client will ask is, "Will this game cannibalize existing sales of the original game? If it doesn't enlarge the market, we aren't interested."
Finally, developing brand extensions is a two-edged sword. If you’ve chosen well, there is equity in the brand name, often meaning that retailers will be more willing to carry your new branded game, than a new un-branded game. However, extensions don’t usually stay on the market for long periods, and never measure up to the original product. We have had some exceptions (at least as far longevity is concerned): Travel Memory, Monopoly Express, Phase-10 Dice, and Sequence for Kids are four which have survived much longer than the typical 2 or 3 year runs for brand extensions. Royalty rates may also be an issue in developing brand extensions – the inventor of the original game usually gets his or her royalty, or at least a part of it too, so your piece of the pie may be a little skinnier. The strategy has paid off for us, but then we’ve worked this particular mine very hard, for a very long time