Big Potato Games’ James Vaughan on Get the Ick, You Can’t Say Umm and The Big Inventor Challenge

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

James, it’s always great to chat. After a trial run last year, Big Potato has now officially launched its Big Inventor Challenge, aimed at inspiring the next generation of game designers. For anyone new to it, how does it work?
The Big Inventor Challenge is a nationwide challenge for schools across the UK, aimed at students aged 11 to 18. It sets the challenge: Can you design the next big party game? Kids can work solo or as part of a group and the Challenge starts in September.

Each school will pick their top three concepts, they will all then come through to us and we’ll crown a top three out of all of those. Those three finalists will each get a cash prize, a potato plushie and some games, but the big prize is that there’s a very real chance their game could become one of the games in our range. If they do, we’ll give them royalties for that just as we would with any other inventor.

What’s the appeal of tapping into this younger pool of talent for ideas?
Whenever we’re playtesting concepts in the office, the biggest battle is keeping people’s attention. If someone gets their phone out, you know you’ve got to go back to the drawing board. Kids aged 11 to 18 are some of the biggest culprits of that, so when they’re designing a game – and we put an emphasis on testing – they’re trying games out on people with low attention spans anyway! The end results they get are nuts – there’s a mad, physical party element to all of the submissions we get. They come at things from a fresh perspective.

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

Is there an element of the initiative focused on educating students about the industry?
Absolutely. We’re doing it in partnership with Jack Andrews, Head of Design at Tadcaster Grammar School and was also behind TOMY’s Active Snap and a bunch of other really cool projects. We’re handling game side of things and Jack is the educational mastermind behind it. It’s a great introduction to product design, graphics, sustainability and making something that consumers will actually want. There’s a lot of real-world education in there, especially for the ones that might want to end up in the board game industry.

Do you see it as an important part of your role to meet with and bring new inventors into the community?
Definitely. I love meeting with the inventors we already know, and they can be really handy when it comes to handling briefs for things we can’t figure out. We had this recently with the team at Fuse; our brief was ‘Can we make a game that you play with your dog?’ We couldn’t solve it, but Fuse cracked it immediately with 10 Bone Bowling.

Around 30% of our games have come from external inventors – and around half of those were inventors that had never made a game before. That includes some of our big hitters, like Herd Mentality and P for Pizza. It’s always interesting getting submissions from people that don’t have a foot in the door of the industry.

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

Absolutely. Now, before I let you go, I wanted to dive into some recent Big Potato launches.
Let’s do it!

First up is Get the Ick. Now, interestingly, my other half’s friends had just started discussing ‘the ick’ a few weeks back and the following day your game landed! Very on-trend! How long had this idea been bubbling away?
It’s an interesting story actually. Previously, whenever we wanted to make a game, it could take as long as 18 months from idea to shelf. If we had an idea we liked, but didn’t have capacity to make, we’d park it and push it into the next year’s slate… The problem with that is if the game is based on anything current, that trend is over by the time the game comes out. So, Get the Ick came from an experiment to see how quickly we could make a game.

We wanted to do it in four months, from idea to shelf. For that to work, it needed to be based around a trend and so we asked our marketing and social media team to put together a presentation on any trends they’d noticed that could have a gameplay hook. One of those was ‘Get the Ick’ – they thought it was a big one. The nice thing about the idea is that they’re all really funny, and something everyone can agree on.

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

And we should mention, for anyone new to the term, an ‘ick’ is a moment where your initial attraction or goodwill to someone flips to disgust due to something they’ve done. So an ick could be ‘people who run up the stairs on all fours’.
Exactly. I had one this weekend. It was really windy, I was walking down Tottenham Court Road and my hat blew off, so I had to chase after it. I told my girlfriend – who was at a BBQ with all of her mates ­– and they all said “That’s an ick”.

Haha! There’s one in the game that I’m guilty of: ‘They insist on total silence when watching a film together.’
Well, that’s the nice thing about the game. The main game is about guessing what your main ick will be out of three cards. But, if you actually like one of them, you can instead put a love heart down on that card – and people can choose to guess that you might actually like one of them instead.

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

Nice! And when did work start on Get the Ick?
We had the idea in December and it launched in July, so it took six months in the end; which is better than 18!

Is that a model you’ll look to repeat?
Definitely. It’s also exciting for the development team to be working on nine games that will be out in a year and one game that’ll be out in a few months. It’s challenging but good fun, so we’ll do one or two of those each year.

Fab. Now, onto You Can’t Say Umm… It’s a very simple idea – you have to describe weird things without hesitating. How did this one come about?
It ties back to the Big Inventor Challenge. Before launching this nationwide competition, we’d do a similar thing each year with the University of Lincoln and their Game Design module. There was one game we got pitched called Erm. It wasn’t the right game for us, because it was quite complicated and has lots of different elements to it… But, one aspect of the game was this idea that the other team couldn’t say “erm”. If they did, you’d get a point. We didn’t vibe with the overall game, but we were obsessed with that bit!

It raised the question: If we took that bit out of the game and built a really simple party game around it, what would that look like? I then worked with our designer Ed Naujokas and the three students to develop it and it’s become one of our funniest games. We did wonder if it might be too simple, but it’s ended up being the perfect party game.

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

Amazing, and great for the students to have a game out.
Yes, and one of the students – Josh Dale – has pitched me other games since, and they’re all really good. I imagine he’ll be a name in the industry soon.

Josh Dale – you heard it here first! I also wanted to ask about your Aardman collaboration, Obey the Clay. How do you approach licensed games? What sorts of brands work for you?
There’s more and more licensed games out there – which isn’t a bad thing – but it means some big licences feel tired as a result of there being lots of games out centred on that IP. When we hunt for licences, we try to look in less obvious places. Blockbuster is a great example; no-one was going for that brand but it’s one of our bestselling games.

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

We also look for the nostalgia factor; you get that with Blockbuster and Aardman. It’s also there with USPS. The reason we did that game was that we looked online for the most beloved American brands and USPS came up! And because people weren’t making USPS game, their licensing department were well into it; they were great.

Before we wrap up, you mentioned 10 Bone Bowling earlier – a game you play with your dog. This sees you throw a ball over some bowling pins for your dog to chase, and you bet on how many pins they’ll knock over. As the owner of a Rhodesian Ridgeback, I’m in!
Ha! It’s been an interesting one! There’s a lot of ‘games for dogs’ out there, but in all of them, you’re sat watching your dog attempt this kind of puzzle filled with treats. It’s not loads of fun! We wanted to see what a game that you genuinely play with your dog might look like. We had loads of ideas, but they all placed too much importance on what the dog was going to do. If the dog didn’t act a certain way, the game didn’t work. So we put a brief out to some inventing houses and Fuse came up with something perfect. All the dog needs to do is run after something you’ve thrown; something than most dogs will do.

James Vaughan, Big Potato Games

The best thing about it is that it doesn’t matter if the dog knocks over all of the pins or none of them, because you’re betting on the amount that’ll fall down. It works regardless of how your dog behaves. And because everyone is excited and betting, the dog has a great time as well!

Everybody wins! James, this has been fun. Thanks again!

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