December 30, 2005

Games Accelerating for Faster-Paced Lives

NEW YORK -- When Kelli McNamara's friend brought over a "Scene It?" DVD game to play after Thanksgiving dinner, McNamara admits she was skeptical.

The movie-based DVD trivia game, manufactured by Mattel Inc., began by asking simple multiple-choice questions, leaving McNamara to quickly conclude that it was just an excuse to put part of a game on a disc instead of a board.

But as the game progressed, the DVD started showing short movie clips or scrambled pictures of actors, which were used as clues for questions. It also played dramatic music as time ticked down to answer a question.

From there, McNamara says she was hooked, high-fiving her cousins and her friend when they would get a question right.

"We ended up playing for 30 minutes or 40 minutes. It whizzed by," said the New York music marketing executive.

Her experience is music to the ears of board game makers, which have been looking for ways to update their games and keep them relevant in a world of high-speed Internet connections, flashy video games and multiple cable television channels.

Some board game makers have devised shortened rules so their traditional games, like Monopoly, can be played faster, or they have been adding an interactive DVD to accompany older games, like Candy Land.

They have also developed entirely new games that are DVD-based and can often be played quickly.

"A lot of people are strapped for time, and they don't want to pull out a game if they know it's going to be an hour or more," said Reyne Rice, toy trends specialist at the Toy Industry Association.

Faster games are easier for families to fit into their hectic lives, she said.


"What we call 'time compression' is becoming an overbearing trend in our industry," said Richard Tait, co-founder of board game company, Cranium.

With kids' schedules packed with after-school activities and homework, and the rise in dual-income or single-parent families, Tait said it is hard for families to find time to play board games -- especially new ones they haven't played.

"In today's world, if there's a new entertainment experience, it's got to be quick to learn and quick to play," he said.

Tait said Cranium is coming out with a DVD version of its Hullabaloo game that will be in stores in 2006. Hullabaloo, for children 4 years and older, is a cross between Twister and Simon Says and can be played in 15 minutes. The DVD will feature a host who guides the children through the game.

Snap TV also focuses on DVD games, producing NCAA football and basketball DVD trivia games.

"Our games are designed so that you don't have to read the rules ... and then they're all designed to be played in less than 20 minutes," said Chief Executive Nicholas Wodtke.

Snap TV, whose games are sold at Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is coming out with a new "game snacks" DVD line in January. Wodtke describes the line as trivia games that give players a "quick bite" of play in even less time.

Rice said game companies could do a better job of letting consumers know that their board games come with a version of rules that can speed up playing time.

For instance, Hasbro Inc.'s Trivial Pursuit game and its Monopoly come with shortened rules. The Monopoly Nascar Nextel Cup Series Edition, made by USAopoly, advertises on the back of its box that it includes a 60-minute "Speed Play" rule.

"Everyone thinks Monopoly takes hours and hours and hours, and it doesn't have to," said Heather Campbell, a spokeswoman for USAopoly.

Despite the time they may take to play, board game sales continue to rise. U.S. sales of board games totaled $980 million in 2003 and rose to $1 billion in 2004, accounting for 5 percent of the total U.S. traditional toy industry, according to market researcher NPD Group.

"There will always be room for board games," Wodtke said. But he added: "It's no longer the '50s and people just don't have that much time."