Game on: Inside TinkerTini’s latest innovation for game companies

Kate Soanes, TinkerTini
My introduction to the toy and game industry can only be described as sudden immersion. There was no dipping of toes in the shallow end for me, that’s not the TinkerTini way! Go big or go home, right? So it went… a gate crashing, running-start cannon-ball into the deep end at the Inventor Relations pool party.

Thankfully, I was welcomed by some excellent company. Inventors are some of the most interesting, vibrant, relentless people I’ve come across.

Now I’m one year in, and so glad to be here! Granted, with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, the landscape is already decidedly different than when I started last summer, but I’ve already learned that this industry is, and has always been, a dynamic one, and challenges aren’t something I shy away from.

My background is in Roller Derby… if you’ve ever spent any time with derby girls, you know we’re tough, and that problem solving, obstacle jumping, and lightning-quick adaptability are all part of the territory for us (physically and metaphorically).

When Trina McFarland first approached me about joining her team at TinkerTini, I was a stranger to the toy and game industry and had a lot of questions about how my experience might translate to an Inventor Relations role.

She let me in on a secret she had learned as a long-time veteran of the industry: IR is a people business – 50% is personality and grit, and the rest can be taught. Fantastic! I was already halfway there!

Prior to playing roller derby, I had never considered myself to be an athlete, either. Aside from neighbourhood kickball games, I’d never even played another sport. But once I felt the calling, I didn’t let any of that stop me from learning what I needed to know to build a regional women’s sports league from the ground up. A league which is still thriving more than a decade later, by the way. Gritty, right?

Kate Soanes, TinkerTini
It’s likely that no one cares whether their IR rep can roller skate. However, (while I am a decent skater) my greatest value as a player was never my athletic prowess; it was my ability to think quickly and strategically to react and keep the action of the game moving in my team’s favour. Sounds like IR, right? These are skills I largely attribute to decades of joyful tabletop gaming! In fact, game night was probably the only thing I prioritised as highly as roller derby. Little did I realise just how relevant my love for tabletop (and especially strategy games) would become over the next few months.

When I joined the TinkerTeam, I spent a lot of time privately poring over new and archived concept submissions and creating the Tinkerlist to familiarise myself with concepts. What was placed? What sold? What was passed over and why?

A benefit of managing multiple clients includes a wide view of the breadth and variety of ideas that professional inventors can bring to the table. After a while, I started to realise that as fun and fascinating as toy concepts were, I found myself gravitating toward the games. Alllll the games! I also began to see how different toy and game inventors really are. Their personalities, the concepts, the review process; all of it was different.

Y’all, the pool of professional game inventors is enormous. This community is an ever growing and evolving goldmine of talent. And because the threshold to start in games inventing is different than more traditional toy invention, talent and great concepts can come from some pretty unexpected places. Amidst the massive volume of game concepts coming in, I was floored by how many of them were really good!

It bummed me out to realise that we were seeing way more valuable game concepts than our current client roster could support. All the passes that I liked so much were constantly on my mind, and I felt it was a real shame that we couldn’t find a home for them. I crossed my fingers for those inventors and wished them well in placing their games, while thinking to myself: “Why aren’t we supporting more game companies?”

Well seriously, why not? So I brought it up to the TinkerTeam. We discussed what I believe is an opportunity – my personal passion for games – and some of the obstacles that have kept game companies from leveraging the invention community in a meaningful way up to this point. Both game companies and games-focused inventors are global and fragmented. It’s not exactly easy for them to find each other and stay connected. We can fix that. In true TinkerTini form, we’ve decided to go for it!

Over the last year and a half, TinkerTini has created a new business model for Inventor Relations by offering access to an outsourced “IR Department” to multiple clients without the internal investment. Surely, with a few tweaks to customise, our approach could work in the games space, too? This is the idea that’s been swirling around in my mind since ChiTAG last year, and even more so as we work through finishing development on our new innovation portal, Tinkerly.

It was clear that Tinkerly had the required functionality to handle the volume and unique challenges of a games-specific outreach in a way that hasn’t been done before.

And honestly, I’m not sure the timing could be better. Our circumstances during this pandemic may be unprecedented and not exactly ideal, but like any cloud with its silver linings, it does give rise to a new set of opportunities. I see our current situation as a chance to be flexible and adapt in order to harness new solutions, especially digital platforms for engagement like Tinkerly.

Tinkerly really is the piece I’ve been missing to make a games-focused outreach viable, and she’s almost here! So wish me luck, I’m lacing up my IR skates and rolling with it!

Kate Soanes is Inventor Relations Associate at TinkerTini, home of the Tinkerly Innovation Portal. She can be contacted at: kate@tinkertini.net.

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