The Best Advice on Children's Products

What Makes a Game a “Classic”?

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by Arline Wall, contributor to

Ask any toy industry veteran and you’ll get enough answers to fill several books, but the true test is staying power. Enduring games such as Monopoly, Life, and Candy Land (soon to be a motion picture) were invented many years ago and are still played today.

I was fortunate enough to be involved in the launch of another, albeit younger, classic, Trivial Pursuit. In 1983, I was Director of R&D at Selchow & Righter, a small family-owned game manufacturer who’d been making Scrabble for many years. At the time, Selchow sold about $25M of Scrabble and related products per year, all of which were manufactured on-site in Long Island. The owner was active in his church, a staunch Republican, and an ardent supporter of then U.S. President Reagan.

Trivial Pursuit had recently been introduced in Canada with modest success. When the inventors, Scott Abbott and Chris Haney, just showed up at the Selchow offices one day asking to see someone in product development, I agreed to meet with them. At staid Selchow, I was used to meeting with older, eccentric inventors. These two were anything but. Chris Haney, a photo editor at a newspaper in Montreal, and Scott Abbott, a sports journalist, were brash, profane, and full of fun.

They presented the game along with recent sales figures which, when extrapolated for the U.S. population, were impressive. Scott and Chris had first come up with the game one evening when they couldn’t find the requisite letter tiles to play Scrabble. They felt it was fate that they should present Trivial Pursuit to the Scrabble Company, but they came to the idea late. They’d already been turned down by the largest U.S. game manufacturers, Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley.

Trivial Pursuit was not your average game of skill. You needed more than a precursory knowledge of topics and some of the questions were erudite. The game was costly to make with an intricately scored playing board that didn’t conform to the standard living hinge style. Add to that a large amount of playing cards that required the questions be printed on one side and the answers on the other, a nightmare for printer registration. The playing pieces were not made of inexpensive paperboard, but were multiple injection molded pie-shaped pieces.

The game was boxed beautifully with smaller, individual boxes for the playing cards. All of this necessitated an unprecedented high price of $15 retail at the time. The inventors were also asking for what was then a princely advance sum to license the game. Twenty-five thousand dollars would have been considered usury; they wanted three times that.

Manufacturing costs and advance royalty aside, my larger concern was that the average “Joe” might find the game too highbrow. So I went into the warehouse during a production break and asked three of the linemen to join me in a game. We had an uproarious time. The broad spectrum of topics was such that someone was always able to answer a question in each round, an equalizer that made it anyone’s game to win. It was then that I knew the game could be a huge hit.

Presenting the game to my conservative management wouldn’t be easy and I declined the inventors’ offer to attend. I asked them for a two-week window to review the game further and paid them a modest sum to do so.

Our normally reclusive president, Dick Selchow, deigned to play one round of the game and all was going swimmingly. I may have even detected the hint of a smile on his face until he nearly fell off of his chair when he was asked the question, “How many months pregnant was Nancy Davis when she married Ronald Reagan?” He drew himself up to his full height of 5 feet, puffed up his chest and said, “Tell the inventors to go through every question and rewrite any that offend and we have a deal.”

Trivial Pursuit broke all sales records, was named Game of the Year by Games magazine and won the Toy of the Year award from the Toy Industry Association. Hasbro currently owns the rights to Trivial Pursuit. The link to their dedicated site has links to retailers who sell the game, i.e. Toys R Us, Amazon, etc. The 25th Anniversary edition is $15.97 on Amazon. Further testimony to its ‘classic’ status that as of 2004, 88 million games have sold in 26 countries. Now, that’s a classic!

Arline Wall began her career with Mego Corp. as a marketing manager and has held senior management positions at several major toy companies including Hasbro. Wall was instrumental in the development and distribution of the original toy classics Magnadoodle and Trivial Pursuit and has won 12 prestigious toy awards. She also has extensive retail experience across multiple channels of distribution and was the Global Brand Director for Core Toys at Toys R Us from 1998-2004. In 1999, Wall was President of Women In Toys where she co-founded the WIT Foundation which raised more than $25,000 to fight pediatric leukemia. Most recently Senior Vice President Product Development & Marketing at Russ Berrie, Wall is currently looking for a new opportunity. She can be reached via LinkedIn.

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