Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How To Make Millions Creating Sudoku Puzzles And Kakuro

Will there be another puzzle craze after sudoku? Perhaps kakuro? What about nurikabe?

If so, chances are it will spring from a Japanese company called Nikoli, run by the self-proclaimed godfather of sudoku, Maki Kaji.

While no one knows how much revenue is generated by the global sudoku business, most agree it has easily topped $250 million over the last two years from an estimated 80 million devotees.

Nikoli received only a sliver of that money. Mr. Kaji says his private company, with just 20 employees, had annual sales of about $4 million.

Sudoku’s popularity in the United States caught Mr. Kaji by such surprise that he did not try to get the trademark there until it was too late. As a result, Nikoli receives no royalties from sudoku-related sales overseas by other publishers.

In hindsight, though, he now thinks that oversight was a brilliant mistake. The fact that no one controlled sudoku’s intellectual property rights let the game’s popularity grow unfettered, Mr. Kaji says. Nikoli does not plan to trademark other new games, either, in hopes this will also help them take off.

“This openness is more in keeping with Nikoli’s open culture,” said Mr. Kaji, who sat on a sofa in his Tokyo office among pillows adorned with printed faces of racehorses. “We’re prolific because we do it for the love of games, not for the money.”

Even so, he says he wants to pursue a bigger piece of the global sudoku market by selling books of the puzzles written by Nikoli. In the United States, Nikoli is a co-publisher of pocket-size books and sudoku-a-day calendars that together have sold more than a million copies.

Game publishers say that because of its Zen-like simplicity, sudoku will be a tough act to match. But they say that if anyone comes up with the next craze, it will be Nikoli.

“No one is as inventive as Nikoli,” said Andrew Stuart, co-author and contributor to more than 20 books about logic puzzles, including “Extreme Sudoku for Dummies.” “If sudoku has a successor, it will come from them.”

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