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Game On!

Game-makers are definitely not sleeping in Seattle.

Seattle, long the coffeehouse hometown of the ultrahip, is also home to some of the hottest board games. Entrepreneurs have picked up the torch lit by Seattle-based games like Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit. Is there something in the air that inspires game creativity? "Seattle is a magnet for smaller companies," says Jonathan Albin, marketing director of The Game Manufacturers Association. Even VCs are taking notice.

  • Cranium Inc., makers of Cranium:
  • Founders Richard Tait, 40, and Whit Alexander, 42, got their start in 1998, and their game became a cultural phenomenon among the Starbucks crowd-it's sold 3.5 million copies as of December 2003. Named "Game of the Year" by the Toy Industry Association (TIA) in 2001, Cranium invites players to compete at 14 different activities-from sketching to spelling backward. They've recently raised $21 million in venture capital to expand into 20 international markets and create new games for adults, families and children. Successful with a children's line (Cranium Cadoo was "Game of the Year" in 2002), Tait notes Seattle "has always been a pioneering market." With cool weather and emphasis on family, says Tait, "you have a city with a hotbed of gaming productivity."
  • Screenlife LLC, makers of Scene It?:
  • Dave Long, 42, and Craig Kinzer, 47, started their company in 2001. At a 1992 Halloween party, Long came up with the idea of showing horror movie clips to guests; the team guessing the correct movie title wins. It was a hit, but the limitations of VHS technology made it hard to go further. When Long bought a DVD player in 2000, he realized it was possible to watch clips in a nonlinear way. Securing licensing rights from movie studios was priority No. 1. They partnered with Mattel to distribute the board/DVD game-which was in 8,500 stores in 2003-and raised $10 million in venture capital to distribute the game worldwide. "Our [annual] flight to the Toy Fair in New York City [a TIA event] is filled with [Seattle] game companies. There's camaraderie-it's great to get together with everybody."
  • Entspire, makers of Derivation:
  • After a discussion with friends on the origin of words and phrases like "happy as a clam," and "the whole kit and caboodle," Brad Chase, 43, set out to make a board game based on the idea. In fall 2002, he created his company. He says Seattle is a hotbed for online and board games. With his own game sold in retail stores Wizards of the Coast and The Game Keeper, and online via Toysrus.com, Chase is thinking locally and globally: He plans to devote 25 percent of profits to charity.

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This article was originally published in the April 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Game On!.

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