Friday, June 04, 2010

The Story Of Trivia Pursuit

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Chris Haney was the co-inventor of Trivial Pursuit, one of the best-selling games ever and one that has inspired a raft of trivia questions based on its own success.

What game has the highest per-capita sales in Iceland? Which one has had its questions printed on Pringles chips? And what game was, at first, titled "Trivia Pursuit," until its inventor's wife suggested the name as a sly joke?

Mr. Haney, who died Monday at age 59 after a long illness, came up with the game one evening in 1979 while sharing a few beers with a friend and fellow Canadian journalist, Scott Abbott, and discussing what a great business Scrabble must be.

"We had spent a lot of time sitting in taverns ruminating about weird facts," Mr. Abbott told Britain's Express newspaper in 2004.

After producing a rudimentary Parcheesi-like board design and scraping together investment funds from friends and family, the two set about producing 6,000 trivia questions that would be the heart of Trivial Pursuit. Initial categories included geography, entertainment, history, art & literature, science & nature, sports & leisure.

"It got so all-consuming that we couldn't sit down at lunch without reading the ketchup bottle label," Mr. Abbott said in an interview.

In 1980, Mr. Haney quit his job as photo editor at the Montreal Gazette and traveled with a pile of reference books to Spain aboard a ship—flying made him nervous. He spent nearly a year on the Costa del Sol writing questions. Back in Canada in 1981, the two inventors began producing the game as Horn Abbot Ltd., combing Mr. Haney's nickname with a version of Mr. Abbott's last name. But, the start-up process had proven stressful for Mr. Haney, who spent the months leading up to Trivial Pursuit's official 1982 release in seclusion. Business conversations gave him panic attacks, which he could control only by copious amounts of brandy and up to four packs of Camel cigarettes a day, he told Canada's Globe and Mail in 1983.

After a slow start, Trivial Pursuit took off as had no game in recent years—Monopoly was introduced in 1930 and Scrabble in 1952 (each game had predecessors).

In a guerilla marketing coup, the game was mailed gratis to celebrities who appeared as answers to Trivial Pursuit questions. This helped spark a trivia craze, and in 1984, Trivial Pursuit sold 20 million copies in North America. Total sales are over 100 million around the world, said Hasbro, which bought the brand from its inventors in 2008 for $80 million. The game has been translated into dozens of languages, a process that involves coming up with entirely new lists of questions to suit local knowledge.

In the wake of Trivial Pursuit came a new wave of adult-oriented board games.

Q: What does Trivial Pursuit have in common with two other popular board games of the 1980s, Pictionary and Balderdash? A: Their creators were all Canadians (Yahtzee— originally "The Yacht Game"—was also a Canadian invention).

Profiles of Mr. Haney, a large man who sported a scraggly handle-bar moustache, frequently noted the cigarette holes burned in his jeans even while he was getting rich on game royalties.

He described himself to the Wall Street Journal in 1984 as "just a beer-swilling blue- jeaner."

In the late 1980s, when Mr. Haney found himself unable to get a tee-off time at his golf club, he once more teamed with Mr. Abbott, this time to build an extravagant Country Club called Devil's Pulpit. The course features two 18-hole golf courses with views of the Toronto skyline in the distance.

When it was preparing to open in 1989, Mr. Haney announced a series of Trivial Pursuit-style factoids: that his course at $19 million to construct was the most expensive in Canadian history; that it took the most sod of any Canadian course (80 acres); and had the largest sand trap (a 250-yard beach).

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[Via - The Wall Street Journal]

The Game Inventor's Guidebook: How to Invent and Sell Board Games, Card Games, Role-Playing Games, & Everything in Between!

Paid to Play: The Business of Game Design

The Million-Dollar Idea in Everyone: Easy New Ways to Make Money from Your Interests, Insights, and Inventions

IdeaSpotting: How to Find Your Next Great Idea

How to Make Millions with Your Ideas: An Entrepreneur's Guide by Dan S. Kennedy

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Make Your Ideas Mean Business

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