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PLUGGING IN THE BOARD GAME
SOFT / GAMES / European Union / Friday, 08 October 2010 10:42
PLUGGING IN THE BOARD GAME

The first board games like Go were originated in ancient China more than 2,500 years ago and despite the arrival of fast-action computer games, board games are increasingly popular a century later and, surprisingly, still a good seller. What could possibly replace the social experience they provide

And it’s not just the old classics that are selling. Many European countries have dynamic businesses that invent and sell dozens of new board games and new versions of old games every year in both their national markets and abroad. SagaMedia in Iceland is one of them. It employs just four people, but a word game it released last year called Alias sold 15,000. “It was a record in Iceland,” says SagaMedia founder and Chief Executive Helgi Sigurdsson whose three children like many northern Europeans, regularly meet friends in the evenings to play Alias and other board games.
Success has not bred complacency at SagaMedia, however. When Mr. Sigurdsson learnt of an Israeli company that wanted to link the traditional board game to a terminal like a computer, TV or DVD, he saw a chance for his small company to take low-technology board games to gadget-loving gamesters across the world. He talked into the Israeli company Kipee to let SagaMedia get involved and the pair turned to EUREKA to help secure grants to fund what they knew would be a commercial, long-term gamble. “This was a futuristic kind of project,” says Mr. Sigurdsson. “It’s hard for companies to spend money in something that won’t generate any income for at least five years.”
For children this can be used to add more fun into board games: more pictures, more graphics, more visual aids.
Helgi Sigurdsson,
CEO SagaMedia, Iceland
The challenges were numerous. Though a few game makers had used electronics to give board game characters voices and flashing lights, no one had ever managed to have a board send information to a screen that would then display messages changing the direction of the moves on the board – or at least, not without using technology that would make the board game excessively expensive.
Part of the solution was offered by a larger games company, a third partner that joined what became E!4526 INTERACTIVE BOARDGAME. Finland’s Tactic secured funding in its home country, and it set about developing an electrically conductive ink that could be used to send information about the location of game counters to a control unit.
With SagaMedia finding funding in its home country, the partners had to research and trial the best methods to link the board up to a screen, what information should be sent and how the screen should change the course of the game play on the board. “The board needs to recognise the dice and should always know where the counter is,” explains Mr. Sigurdsson.
Ambitiously, the partners didn’t just want to develop one original board game that used the newest available technology; they wanted their technology to be suitable for any type of game, from quiz games to games of risk and strategy, so that they could offer to give an electronic edge to any existing product on the market.
I think combining the world of new media with the board game is a very interesting idea for the Asian market.
The project, started in early 2008 and two years after the partners have completed all the components they need to deliver games at an affordable price of about 30 euros. Players will open up the board and plug in a unit to their computer. Its functioning principle is quite easy, the unit sits in the middle of the board and transmits messages to the computer, triggered by the counters touching the conductive ink on the board. “Players can go to a special website we are developing that will start the game and the unit will recognise the game they are playing,” explains Mr. Sigurdsson.
Player’s options in strategy games or questions in quiz games will appear on the screen. “For children this can be used to add more fun into board games: more pictures, more graphics, more visual aids”.
The partners have already shown a prototype of a simple game to interested retailers and games makers. Several companies are interested in the possibilities of the technology. SagaMedia and Tactic are also putting the knowhow they developed during the project to use on other products in their companies. SagaMedia, for instance, has used it for some of its educational games for children.
Computer games are often more action – jumping, moving, shooting things. With board games you are more relaxed, sitting and you think before you play.
The old meets the new
By 2011/12, the partners hope their affordable technology board games will be available on the market and that they can attract new customers by bridging the gap between the experience of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit and that of the Playstation and the Wii. “I think combining the world of new media with the board game is a very interesting idea for the Asian market. It might even catch on faster than in Europe where the tradition of board games is so strong”.
As well as winning over new fans to board games, the electronic board games could prove popular for parents keen to preserve a family game experience. Mr. Sigurdsson says while his children used to play a lot of board games there were phases when they were growing up when, like many parents, he worried they played too many computer games at home.
“It is good to have a variety because board games and computer games have a different approach,” he says. “Computer games are often more action – jumping, moving, shooting things. With board games you are more relaxed, sitting and you think before you play.”

eureka label
Main contact
Helgi Sigurdsson
SagaMedia games
Akralind 2
201 Kopavogur
Iceland
Tel. +354 564 1916
Email helgi@sagamedia.is
http://www.sagamedia.is/


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Last Updated on Friday, 08 October 2010 15:18
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