Inside Out of Order – Part Two: Product Development

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order

Part two of our series on getting a game to market sees product developer Emily Charles discuss the changes Gibsons needed.

Emily, thanks for joining us! As you know, we’re looking to give new inventors a 360° view of the inventing process… To do that, we’re using a game you worked on with Billy Langsworthy, Lesley Singleton and me: Out of Order. Can you remind me: what was your first experience of it?
Well, you’re asking me to dig out some distant memories now! Myself and our MD Kate Gibson met you and Billy at BLE in 2019. I remember Kate telling me she’d arranged to catch up with Billy, and would I tag along to see some ideas he wanted to show her.

Sounds like a hijacking…
It was a very polite hijacking! I’m always up for new ideas though, and I think at that point I needed a rest from walking the stands at Excel… So I went along – and what an experience! I hadn’t met you before and that was my first introduction to your infuriating golf ball in a jar ‘business card’.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
The word infuriating is, I think, well chosen here. Sorry about that! You’re right though; we’d not met…

It certainly made for a memorable first impression. I can’t actually recall what the other pitches were but I’m sure there was at least one other; I’m sure it involved puzzles…

You’re right. A client of mine had asked me to show it to you, which I did.
Anyway, I think we gave you some feedback on that, and then you moved on to Out of Order. You pulled out a big old desk bell, a sand timer and a deck of round cards with holes in the middle. You explained the concept and then did a little demo between yourselves.

Wow. Your memory is so much better than mine. You’re right: at that point, the cards and styling were completely different. And we were still using a bell to move things along?! In terms of your first impressions, then, what did you think? What was most interesting about it?
My immediate thought was “Wow, that looks really stressful, but I REALLY want to have a go!”. Kate and I were both intrigued so we played a couple of rounds and immediately got really competitive about it. I was super irritated when Kate jumped in on the bonus question on my turn. That was when I realised it was a game that engaged everyone at the table, not just the quizmaster and the person answering the questions.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
Everyone’s on their toes…

Right – I found myself giggling away listening to Kate answering her questions because the answers sounded so funny in reply to the wrong questions. So when she got one wrong and it was my turn to take over I realised I had no idea what was going on and needed to pay attention! The questions were really simple in themselves but having to hold the previous answer in your mind while listening to the next question is really hard. It was obvious straight away that it was a simple yet brilliant concept for a game.

Conversely, what was your biggest concern at that point?
Aside from the crazy people we’d have to license it from you mean?

I do!
Then the biggest concern was how we would ever be able to cost a massive desk bell for an otherwise simple trivia game! That jumped straight into my mind. It was a great bit of theatre, but not really important to how the game worked. And you had a little score board and some meeples and a sand timer in your prototype. It would all have added up so I think initially it was a case of “Love the concept, but how would Gibsons make it all work at retail?”

Brilliant feedback. And ironic, in a way, because we didn’t think all that stuff was necessary but we’d had earlier feedback saying, “You need to put a bit more in the box…”! In any case, when you and Kate left us, what was the tone and nature of the conversation you had?
I think we were both stressed from answering questions against the clock, but quietly excited. I think we both felt we’d just seen something with a lot of potential. You let us take the prototype sample away with us so we could test it more back at the office. That was really helpful and kept it at the forefront of our minds. Kate really liked the concept but she left it with me to follow up on as that’s my job. I knew it had her backing from the start though, so I felt confident in championing it to the rest of the team.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
So in regard to that, we’d already written maybe 20 or 30 cards when we first pitched the idea. Then, just to be sure we were all on the same page, we rounded that up to 100 when we got the green light… And you signed them off. As I recall, you made very few changes on the grounds of taste alone. Where you did make changes, though, what was your thinking?

I read them all through out loud and many of the changes I suggested were based on whether or not I could read them out quickly and clearly without fumbling over the words. There were a few questions that only made sense when asked in a particular way but the words just didn’t sound right when read out… I felt that would really mess with the flow of the game. I think I suggested taking a few out because some subjects were repeated too often.

Can you remember what they might have been?
I got the impression at least one of you was a fan of Star Wars and The Simpsons!

I think two of us are fans; three if you count the third… That’s a good point, though, because each of us did one third of the questions. Somehow, we missed the fact that some subjects came up over and over. In fact, Elton John was on eight cards! Proving, I suppose, that there really is no substitute for a fresh pair of eyes.
Right! That said, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading through game content so much before though! I spent the whole time giggling to myself and I was working from home as it was during the first lockdown… I thoroughly annoyed my husband with constant interruptions to test questions on him because I thought they were hilarious.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
You’re kind to say so! And apologies to your husband… You’ve reminded me, by the way, that – over the course of the game’s development – we had several different names and looks for it. In your personal opinion, did we end up with the best one?

I definitely think we landed on the best name, which ironically was the original one! It’s so often the case people overthink these things but the first instinct you had was right all along. It makes sense and it’s catchy – win-win! In terms of the look of the packaging, the one we’ve ended up with isn’t the one I personally would’ve chosen, but that goes to show that I’m not always right, as much as I’d like to believe I am!

I feel your pain! Actually, there’s something else I want to follow up on… As inventors, we desperately wanted to avoid the meeples and board you mentioned earlier. If I remember rightly, though, when we suggested arrows around the lip of the box, it wasn’t greeted with great jubilance at Gibsons! Dare I ask why not?
You’re right, it definitely wasn’t greeted with great joy to begin with. I think at the time we were trying to cost it in a special shaped box and it was already looking expensive so throwing this curveball on top was a bit scary.

That would be around the time we thought about a triangular box…
Plus we were going for UK sourcing, which is nice and simple if you’re talking about cards in a box, but much more complicated when you start thinking about additional components. I also don’t think I appreciated the genius of the idea in the beginning, that’s my bad and I’m really glad you pushed for it because it’s a lovely feature!

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
Well, credit to Gibsons there: when we saw the concept drawings, it was pleasantly surprising to see the score track. Also, the arrows were made of paper which had never occurred to me. How did Gibsons look at the game through an environmental lens?

This all links back to the plan for UK sourcing. We’ve been looking at all our products through an environmental lens, as you put it, in the last couple of years. It started with our Perfect Puzzle project that led to us reducing our box size by around 30%. We also removed all the shrink wrap, and we’re now in the next stages of our ‘Green Game Plan’ – and looking at our games in the same way.

And for those that don’t know, where do you manufacture?
We manufacture the majority of our puzzles in the UK… So when we were looking at sourcing a brand new game, we knew we needed to look close to home and see what would be possible. By making the arrows out of paper, we were able to make the whole product at one UK source. That keeps the carbon footprint low and makes the whole thing completely plastic free.

Brilliant! Alright, here comes a long question… During playtesting, one of the criticisms was that some questions were too hard. But if all the questions are easy, there’re fewer chances for other players to jump in and score. That means there’s not as much reason to pay attention at all times. In other words, harder questions actually improve the gameplay! The question is this: what factors ultimately influence your thinking when it could so easily be called either way?
Not only a long question, but a really tough one! It all comes down to playtesting in the end, and taking a measured view once you’ve tested it on enough people. If no one can answer a question, then it’s probably too hard for a simple trivia or party game. I also spent some time looking up the answers that I personally didn’t know on my first read through. I wanted to see if they were things that are widely known – just maybe not to me. We also felt it was important to include a balance of questions for people with different interests and of different generations.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
On the subject of playtesting, another causality was the sand timer we’d originally envisioned. Where does a publisher get off pissing on an inventor’s chips and taking THAT out? I’m asking for a friend…

Hahaha! We mostly did that to annoy you! No seriously, that was a decision that came from the numerous playtests. In the end, the timer wasn’t adding value to the game, it was only adding stress! The original idea was that you would have 30 seconds to get through each card, but that relies on the person reading out the questions getting through them without fumbling any words.

Which is no small challenge?
Right! If the quizmaster wasn’t on the ball, the person answering the questions had no chance of finishing a card. We actually found that not many people could do it. That meant no bonus questions and no chances to jump in and steal points. Putting people on such a short time limit made them so stressed they weren’t enjoying the game anymore.

It was that dramatic an effect…
It really was. After we took the timer away, people started laughing a lot more – and we thought that had to be a win for a party game. If you get pleasure from putting yourself under pressure, though, then you’re welcome to use a timer of your own to set some limits. Also, everyone has a timer on their phone these days, so why throw in another piece of plastic for an option that not many people will choose to use?

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
Well, joking aside, you were completely right to take it out. To paraphrase something you said: that’s my bad, and I’m really glad you pushed against it because it was a horrible feature! And I’m being emphatic because, at the time, I thought we were sacrificing a holy cow. In fact, we were taking a knackered old heifer to the abattoir and I think it’s useful for new inventors to see that. Alright! So at some point in this story, you took maternity leave. At what stage of development was Out of Order when you left?

I was genuinely very sad to be leaving this game in development as I was really excited about it and really enjoying the process. I worked right up to about four days before my son was born and I think Out of Order was one of the last things I looked at. If you remember, we’d gone round the houses on the name and landed back on Out of Order…

Yes, we’d gone round like a kid at a funfair! What else?
Contracts were all signed, the first stages of box design were in discussion, the first hundred sets of questions written, and we were working through a few edits. I was also working with a couple of suppliers discussing options for the box shape, size, content and so on.

And to complete this picture, we’re lining up an interview with your maternity cover, Emma Kilby… When you came back from maternity leave, though, how close was the game to publication?
So that would’ve been nine months later, and the game was on the verge of going off to be printed. We had a first set of samples on their way from the factory for review and the artwork was almost finished. It just needed a little refining and a few rounds of proof reading.

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
Oh, my god; the proof reading… Billy and I both had hair before that stage – and STILL we missed stuff! What did you notice had changed about the game during its development?

I mentioned before that the box design wasn’t the one I’d have gone with. That was completely different to what it had been when I left, and there were also a lot of changes to the questions… But that’s to be expected after nine more months of development and play testing. Before I left, I don’t think many of the Gibsons team had seen the content of the game; they only knew the basic idea of the concept. So when more people read through the original questions I understand that some queries were raised over some of the ruder questions and whether or not they were right for the Gibson brand.

Which is, I think, where the work became harder… Trying to work out the difference between cheeky and rude! And, out of interest, do you think some of the ruder questions that came out would ever see light the day under the Gibsons name?
Personally, I’d love to see Out of Order ‘After Dark’ make an appearance. It would be all about marketing it in the right way. I think it’s too early to say though. Ask me again after Christmas!

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order
Consider it done! We need to start wrapping this up, Emily, but let me ask you this… If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the process from your perspective, what would it be?

Honestly, I would’ve changed the timing and not gone on maternity leave in the middle. It’s such a difficult thing to hand your job over to another person to look after for nine months to a year, but I think it’s especially difficult in a fairly creative role – and a role that I truly love doing.

You are noticeably passionate about the role. In a good way, let me add!
Thank you! The products I work on do become more than just jobs; they’re like lots of babies – and it’s hard to leave them for someone else to bring to life. So even though my maternity cover did a brilliant job, I would’ve loved to have been there for the whole thing and developed it from start to finish.

Great answer, thank you! Final question then… With all your work on the game finished, how’s it selling?
Really well! We’re really pleased with it so far. It’s great to get a fantastic retailer like John Lewis on board straight away so hopefully they’ll see some strong sales results during the Christmas board game rush during Q4, especially with you guys doing in-store demos! We’ve had some excellent PR including a video we made in the office of us playing the game going viral on Tiktok, and that led to some excellent online sales through amazon and our own website. We’ll have a proper review of the launch performance after Christmas, but yes – we’re very happy at the moment.

Terrific! Great answers… Emily Charles, thank you so much for giving us your Inside Out of Order insight out of the kindness of your heart!

Emily Charles, Gibsons, Out of Order

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