There is a strong undercurrent in the market for games with no technology in them, and most attempts to add technology have failed. Think back to games with CDs and DVDs in the… or even games tied to apps. Almost all have failed spectacularly. The only thing that has worked is stand-alone apps, like Angry Birds and Candy Crush. We are having great success in turning our successful board games into apps with Triominos already released and others coming soon.
I had the pleasure of interviewing David Norman the President of Goliath. He enjoys creating, marketing and selling phenomenal toys and games. Goliath is the third largest game manufacturer in North America and has been one of the world’s fastest-growing independent toy companies. Goliath products now sell in more than 75 countries worldwide and have offices in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Poland, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Canada.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?
I think everyone in the gaming world has a unique story and I’m no exception. I worked for Exxon selling lubrication oil to Alaskan fishermen after the Valdez spill at putting them all out of work. Truth be told I wasn’t very successful.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Every year at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair my company participates in the Young Inventor Challenge. This is where we select great games made by kids and produce the best ones. So far, we have brought games made by three winners to the market. The last one, Betch Can’t! was invented by the kids of one of my friendly competitors in the industry. Of course, I had no idea! We just placed the game in Target and I expect it to be a hit. Strange to get a hit product from your competitor.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ll have to cheat and name a couple. My wife, for supporting me quitting my job at Exxon without having another job lined up with the grand idea of joining a toy company. Jill Hall, from Toys R Us, who provided me with my first mass-market orders when our company was just the two of us working out of my house. I told her we would run TV, she believed me, we ran the TV and that is when the success of the company started.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I strongly believe that there isn’t enough family time and creating phenomenal games helps bring families together.
Ok, fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in toys or games that you are working on?
A couple of points. One, there is a strong undercurrent in the market for games with no technology in them, and most attempts to add technology have failed. Think back to games with CDs and DVDs in the… or even games tied to apps. Almost all have failed spectacularly. The only thing that has worked is stand-alone apps, like Angry Birds and Candy Crush. We are having great success in turning our successful board games into apps with Triominos already released and others coming soon.
How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?
The big challenge we all have now is how to reach the consumer to tell them about our games. It is extremely costly to run TV targeted to adults and are often not successful from a cost perspective. However, digital marketing to your exact demographic is proving to be successful.
You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?
Our motto is to be clever together. Together is obvious, the world of screens has taken so much quality interaction away from us. Even when we are together we are often distracted and not living in the moment. Clever is more interesting. It can mean figuring things out being more artful, creative or imaginative in your approach.
I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage toys or gamification to enhance education?
Absolutely. We all learn best by doing and we like doing things that are fun. We have games like SMATH, Make 7, Mancala and Pop the Pig that is great for that. Pop the Pig is a game about a pig that eats a lot of hamburgers. However, counting is a big part of that game and it is very popular with teachers and therapists.
I know that this question may be outside of your core expertise, but I’m sure you will be able to share some important insight. In your opinion, how is the US doing with regard to engaging young people, and particularly girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?
There is a company, Goldiblox, which made its mark by saying that we aren’t doing it. Their founder, a Stanford Engineer, made a video about it that launched the company. I think the problem again, is making learning fun and we have to figure out ways to make learning fun that works for both sexes. I recommend things like:
- Teaching subject matter with more games.
- Make the modeling interesting for all. For instance, a popular economics model is how to fill a sports stadium. Perhaps some other types of examples can be used.
- Put in STEM toys early in the curriculum for kids.
How would you define a “successful” game or toy? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?
Sequence. Here are some things it does right.
- Easy to learn — people can start playing in under a minute and has a good mix of luck and skill. The most skilled player will not win every time.
- Has the ability to be played by varying sized groups of people.
- Fun or a wide variety of ages.
- Quality is there. The games have to last.
- Has stood the test of time. This game was launched around 1980.
What are the “5 Things You Need to Know To Create Successful Games or Toys” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
The product has to be fun or it won’t succeed long term. I’ve yet to have a product that has been successful if people don’t think it is fun. It seems simple — but it is not easy to make an incredibly fun product.
Sometimes you have to go against the grain. If you make something similar to what everyone else makes you will not get amazing results. Take our hit game, Doggie Doo. At the time, no major toy company would touch a game that had a dog eating food and farting loudly until it pooped. But it was fun, both kids and parents loved it and it has gone on to be a multimillion game seller.
It doesn’t count to make a great game unless you have a plan to share it with consumers. Just putting it on the retail shelf rarely works. Whether your plan is demonstrations, TV or radio advertising, digital advertising, print advertising or something else, you have to have a plan that makes sense.
You need to have the patience to test, test and test again with the right consumers. Make sure the product is fun and make sure it can stand up to consumer use. One of our most successful games, Pop the Pig passed all testing for our target age group of 6–8. However, what happened is younger kids wanted to play it, but it was getting poor feedback because these younger kids were not physically strong enough to play. After getting these results we redesigned the entire game to make it easier to play for younger children.
Just because retailers tell you no, doesn’t mean they are right. It took us three years to get substantial distribution on our best item Pop the Pig. We heard many “no’s” to start. Yet, we stayed the course and have now sold over 10 million games.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
National Random Actos of Kindness Day is on February 17th. I’d like to find a way to play up that day to be bigger in everyone’s psyche so there can be more good in the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Predicting rain doesn’t count, building an ark does.” Warren Buffett. Basically, we can all talk and say I told you so or I thought of this. In the end, what counts is having the courage and effort to build something important that will last.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.