It's a riot in the board-room

Invention: new games ideas rarely make it to the parlour, but two enthusiasts have cleared the financial hurdles
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The Independent Online
CHRISTMAS might well be the season of goodwill, but it is also the time for parlour games. Out of annual sales of between pounds 110m and pounds 120m in the UK, up to 70 per cent comes in the eight weeks before the festive period.

Although the likes of Mono-poly and Scrabble are proof that old favourites have a key part to play in this industry, each year brings new pretenders. As might be expected, the competition to join this list is intense.

Iain Kidney, at the Games Talk consultancy, handles about 6,000 games submissions from members of the public every year. Of these, 30 to 40 are assessed for licensing and only about 10 are actually developed. Games Talk, which acts among other things as a games agent, only finds it worthwhile to become involved with three or four proposals a year.

One idea that it did assist is Riotous Applause, a "back-to-basics" game devised by South Africans Denis Daly and Michael Symington. The idea was referred to Games Talk, all six of whose staff are former WH Smith employees, by a number of manufacturers that the pair had approached with their proposal.

Mr Daly, a barrister by training who is suspending the start of his practice while he attends to the game's launch, and Mr Symington, an accountant, had decided to pursue the idea themselves rather than license it to a games company. So Mr Kidney and his team helped them put together a package they could present to would-be buyers. "We refined it, did the graphics, sourced it for them and advised on the selling," adds Mr Kidney.

However, there is another key contribution that Games Talk can make on the strength of its six years' experience as a separate entity: it can inform clients of changes in the market. "Things go in waves. It's a question of being first there," says Mr Kidney, adding that the current trend is for games to be fun rather than follow the intellectual challenges, such as Trivial Pursuit, that were so popular in the 1980s.

Games Talk's assistance has helped Riotous Applause make an initial dent in the market: priced at pounds 24.99, it is now available in such stores as Hamleys, Harrods, Selfridges, House of Fraser, WH Smith and the John Lewis Partnership.

But as Mr Daly explains, it has taken a long time to get there. About three years ago, he and Mr Symington took the view that the games on offer were so repetitive that there had to be a market for something with more variety.

Their solution attempts to recreate the spirit of the old parlour games by combining five characteristics in one.

The categories - cross-examination, charades, "impromptu waffle" and vocabulary-based and taboo-type situations - are designed to use different intellectual abilities. The changes between the stages are dramatic, adds Mr Daly.

Devising the basic concept was only the start of their quest, however.

They initially invested about pounds 15,000 in order to develop the idea to the stage where it could be taken to an agent. When it came to the next phase of making an initial 5,000 copies of the game, they had to raise another pounds 65,000.

As with most start-ups, the institutions were not interested in helping with funds, so the pair turned to other friends working in the professions in South Africa.

But this was not the end of their troubles. Even if they like a product, many large buyers will not deal with new start-ups or single-product companies for fear that they will not be robust enough to deliver the goods when they say they will.

Mr Daly says he convinced them to change their minds by insisting that, while the Riotous Games Company was new, it was also professionally run with proper offices rather than a base in the garage or back bedroom.

Nor is he content to settle for one product. There are plans for other games as well as derivatives of Riotous Applause such as children's and international versions. Mr Daly is also looking to move into the US and other overseas territories, probably through licensing - which is less risky than producing the games themselves.

But this Christmas his main concern is ensuring that his brainchild gets a fair share of the shelfspace in the packed toy- shops.

The massive amount of space devoted to the stalwarts such as Scrabble and Monopoly "dwarfs our product, but we feel the merit of the game will come out," says Mr Daly, pointing to the modest Depression-era origins of those mighty competitors.