“It’s my swan song to the brand”: All Things Equal’s Eric Poses on celebrating 26 years of Loaded Questions with a Greatest Hits edition
Eric, I’m delighted to catch up. To kick us off, how did you find your way into game design?
I grew up playing games and I tend to turn everything into a game, but I fell into this with an idea I had back in 1997 when I was 23.
I was at the airport waiting for an ex-girlfriend to come into town, wondering what we might talk about after not seeing each other for so long. I had this simple idea centred on how a single question could spark a long discussion. For no good reason, and certainly not a romantic reason, the question I thought of was: If you were President of the United States, what’s the first thing you would do in office? That was the first Loaded Question, before it was even a fully thought-out game.
And what would your answer be to that question?
My answer at the time – and this was in 1996 – was mandatory Seinfeld viewing. It was my favourite show at the time, but you could answer that question however you wanted… You could make a political statement or something shocking or you could say ‘mandatory Seinfeld viewing’!
Did Loaded Questions take shape there and then at the airport, or did it become a game later?
In the 30 minutes that I was waiting at the airport, I wrote down every question I could think of. They had to be open-ended questions where the answer could be different from one person to the next. Then, for the next six months, I started tweaking the gameplay and writing more questions… I even quit my horrible job as a copywriter at a boutique ad agency to work on this full time. Through pizza parties with friends and gameplay experiments with family and strangers, I had something I felt very strongly about.
And you self-published the game?
Yes, I produced 5,000 copies of that first run of Loaded Questions… Then I had to sell these games! I went from inventing a board game to having to form a company. I had to become a salesman and a marketer and handle accounting and everything else that I still do to this day.
Amazing. So, you have 5,000 copies of your game. You want to sell them. Where did you go?
I remember sitting in a house I rented with two friends making cold calls to every toy store I could find. I got nowhere! I decided I needed to hit the road… So, in April 1997, I filled up my trunk with games and a folding table, hopped into my car and set off to meet as many toy stores as possible.
How long were you travelling?
I drove for 16 weeks around the country. I couch-surfed with friends, slept in rest stops, camped… If I splurged it would’ve been on a Motel 6.
Ha! And was it a successful 16 weeks?
By the end of the trip, I’d sold around 1,000 units of Loaded Questions, but more importantly, I’d drummed up a lot of press. In every city I went to, I’d call the local radio stations and newspapers to see if they’d cover the story of a 23-year-old guy driving around the country with his board game invention.
Thankfully, my dental hygienist had a cousin who was a former merchandising manager at Toys R Us. This guy was nice enough to meet with me where he lived, in Las Vegas. His name was Howard Moore. He put me in touch with the Toys R Us buyer, whose assistant buyer had actually bought a copy of Loaded Questions at a store in New Jersey that I’d sold to on my road trip. Toys R Us then placed an initial order for around 7,500 units.
When the game hit stores, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal both covered the story of my road trip and so the timing of that really worked to my advantage. We had great early sales and Toys R Us became my first big account.
An amazing story and proper validation for the road trip! Did you ever tell the dental hygienist how she played a role in your success story?
I would like to think I gave her a free copy of Loaded Questions as a thank you! And I’m still cavity-free!
Haha! You mentioned earlier that before Loaded Questions you were a copywriter. Does having that string to your bow help when it comes to game design?
I’ve always credited two things to my success with what I do. One is that I like to think I’m a good writer. The second thing is that I’m very organized. But writing is the big one, and what I most enjoy doing… coming up with the names, the content, and the rules. The copywriter job was a three-month stint, and frankly, everything I wrote there was edited to death – but writing is something I feel strongly about… at least more so than my sales and marketing hats!
Going back to Loaded Questions. Once that was out and successful, was the plan always to create more games and have a line-up like you have today?
When I formed All Things Equal and launched Loaded Questions, I didn’t think I’d be creating more games. I saw myself as a one game guy – but in my second year, I had an idea for a kids’ game called Group Photo. I actually licensed it to USAopoly and they launched a Disney Princess version, a Scooby Doo version and one based on The Simpsons. It was not a huge financial success, but it was a great experience and I’m still friendly with the folks at USAopoly.
I try to launch one to three games per year. At every New York Toy Fair, I always aim to have at least one new item – either as a prototype or a finished product ready to sell.
Do you have a set process for coming up with new game ideas?
I tend to have a bunch of ideas – too many for me to do! – and so I have to pick one, two or three that I’ll actually publish each year. My newest game – coming out next year – is a good example of how game ideas come to me… My in-laws took the family to France last year and it was one of the hottest summers on record – there were a lot of mishaps… It wasn’t a great trip! We came back and were talking about it at my brother-in-law’s house and his wife said: “The good news is we’re all safe and sound… The bad news is we should’ve planned things better.”
Immediately, a lightbulb went off for a game where the good news served as a prompt for funny bad news. For the next 20 minutes, I kept saying prompts for the eight people around the table to fill in the bad news. “The good news is there’s a half-drunk bottle of wine on the table… The bad news is…” So that’s the focus on a new game I’ll be launching next year.
Sounds great! And all because of an off the cuff comment from your brother-in-law’s wife!
Exactly! The process is a little different each time, but for the most part ideas come from stuff that pops up in conversation; especially because I enjoy developing conversational, humour-based games.
The party game space seems very trend-driven. How do you engage with trends? Does it dictate how you design games?
I’m the least trendy guy – to my detriment!
Ha! But your Awkward Family Photos game seemed to tap into pop culture with the memes and it being a big thing on social media.
I’ve had that license for 11 years and thankfully have managed to keep the content fresh, introduce new titles and keep in it mass and speciality. When I was first introduced to the brand owner, I’d never heard of Awkward Family Photos, but I could see a way to introduce gameplay to the idea and they had – and still have – a huge following.
I actually remember a few years into the game being out, the owner of Awkward Family Photos said to me: “Why don’t we do a meme game?” I didn’t even know what a meme was; I thought it was absurd! Literally a year later, What Do You Meme? came out and killed it! How stupid was I not to jump on that! So, as that story highlights, I do not follow trends.
You mentioned earlier about having too many ideas – have you ever been tempted to license concepts to other companies?
Last year I sold my best-selling title – The Worst-Case Scenario Game – to Moose Toys. I launched the game in Fall 2021 at Target and experienced a great launch there. Then the game started to do well everywhere else…and Moose took notice. We announced the deal at the September 2022 Dallas Toy Show.
That said, I still develop my games with the purpose that I’ll sell them and build the brand up myself. I’m not developing ideas that I’d pitch to other companies first. If I launch a game and another company wants to make me a fair offer for it, I’m happy to listen.
Before we wrap up, what would you say is your most underrated game? We can give it some love!
I’d say the most underrated game that I’m currently selling is Miss Bernard is a Wild Card: The My Weird School Game. It’s based on a popular kids’ book series and the game has something like 700 five-star reviews on Amazon. It sells well on Amazon and specialty bookstores, but hasn’t penetrated mass yet. To me, it’s the perfect game for elementary school kids; it’s educational, it’s silly, parents enjoy it…
Despite underwhelming sales, I have a great relationship with the author, and we keep renewing. He’s proud of it, I’m proud of it. I said to him: “As long as you’re letting me produce this game, I’ll keep making this until I’m dead!” Even if we only sell 5,000 a year, this is a win to me. It’s such a great game and I’m proud to have it out there.
In terms of a game I no longer sell… I did a game with Unilever centred on their Klondike brand. It was called What Would You Do for a Klondike Bar? Like so many other games on the market today, you had to perform stunts or answer trivia questions and you had to collect all the different flavours of Klondike bar. I guess people didn’t need an ice cream novelty game, but the gameplay was fun!
Eric, this has been fun! I have one last question and it brings us back to Loaded Questions. You’re marking the game’s 26th anniversary with a Greatest Hits edition – and you’re heading back on the road with that!
I’m about to become a tired 50-year-old dude who sits in front of his computer writing and answering emails for most of the day. I thought ‘Am I about to have a mid-life crisis?’ The new games keep me young, but I really felt like hitting the road again.
The game had its 25th anniversary last year, and I intended to do the road trip then, but the supply chain crisis scuppered that plan. So, I waited for this year to celebrate the 26th anniversary with a road trip instead. I’ve been planning the trip for the past three months and it keeps evolving, but New York Toy Fair is one of the stops.
We’ll see you there! And what’s new in Loaded Questions: Greatest Hits?
It takes into account so much fan feedback. I actually spoke with Loaded Questions superfans – and I’ve struck up friendships with some of these people – about what they loved and how I could improve previous Loaded Questions games. I eventually identified the best 125 questions from all the past editions and combined those with 125 new questions. On every turn, you’ll get a quality, open-ended question that allows for a lot of different answers. I’m looking at it as my swansong to the brand. I can’t imagine coming out with a better edition of the game than this one.
Eric, a huge thanks again. Good luck with Loaded Questions: Greatest Hits and see you in New York!
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