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You recently ran into a bit of a legal issue with Rush Hour and the early iPhone game Unblock Me. Can you fill in the details of this matter?
BR: In terms of Rush Hour and legal issues... In the mid-2000's we entered into a disadvantageous license for the Rush Hour mobile app with a large media company, who decided not to move forward with the project themselves but held on to the rights through the end of the contract term. By the time we got the rights back, the iPhone had hit and there were a number of Rush Hour knockoffs already on the App store.
In one sense, this was not news; we have been fighting physical versions as well as digital knockoffs for many years, generally adopting a "pick your battles" strategy. What was new is that Apple had created a market where games were worth something to the developer, so there was a lot of effort and energy by different people to create different knockoff versions.
We did go after Unblock Me. The developer agreed to take their game off the App Store and did so for three weeks, but then put it back on.
The problem we face is that it is an offshore company who developed that game, which makes it much more difficult to pursue legal action. As a general matter, we are unhappy with Unblock Me and condemn them as rip off artists of our intellectual property, but they are by no means the only people who have knocked off Rush Hour.
Are you concerned about digital knockoffs eroding your brand or intellectual property rights?
BR: Of course we are concerned about digital knockoffs eroding our property rights, we do monitor this and we will sue developers who post knockoff versions of any of our games.
However, we also recognize that our job needs to be to develop digital versions of our games to be the best that they can be, better than the knockoffs, and that we need to do a better job of projecting our brand and telling our story. We will succeed not by stamping out the cheats and knock off artists, but rather by convincing people that they want to go with authentic ThinkFun games.
Was Rush Hour on the iPhone a success for your company? Considering the fact that ThinkFun is releasing two new titles for the platform it seems obvious that it must have been. Perhaps it was merely promising, though?
BR: Rush Hour has been a success its first year. We are closing in now on a million Rush Hour App downloads and players give it rave reviews. Rush Hour is now on the Game Center and we are delivering ads with Rush Hour Free, so we keep progressing it and learning from it. We are very excited about the idea of having three Apps in the market, working on how to cross promote one game through the others.
What made you choose Solitaire Chess and Chocolate Fix for your next wave of iPhone games? Was it simply a matter of choosing your best selling physical games to move into the digital space or did you analyze what would work well for the platform in a design sense?
BR: Solitaire Chess and Chocolate Fix are games that will work well on the iPhone interface and are strong sellers for us; these considerations helped make these games obvious choices.
But more than this, we at ThinkFun believe that our games are more than just casual entertainment. We believe that (with appropriate further work) that they can be used to help people build thinking skills. Together, the three games Rush Hour, Solitaire Chess, and Chocolate Fix provide a great platform for us to push this idea forward.
We have one more game coming soon – MathDice, which focuses on number skills – and the four of these games together will be the basis for a killer suite of Thinking Skill games. There are many more on the horizon, but we believe that these four combine the most fun combined with the clearest articulation of thinking skills.
Who designed the original Rush Hour, Solitaire Chess, and Chocolate Fix?
BR: Rush Hour was invented by the famous, now deceased, Japanese puzzle inventor Nob Yoshigahara. Solitaire Chess was invented by the Finnish puzzle inventor Vesa Timonen. Chocolate Fix was an adaption of several earlier games; the rules were developed by Mark Engelberg.
What was the story behind each of these titles?
BR: We brought Rush Hour to market in 1996, it caused an immediate sensation and won many major toy awards. It continues to sell strongly all around the world. Solitaire Chess is new to market in the summer of 2010, it is selling strongly and much success lies ahead.
Chocolate Fix started with my quest to find a good simple game based on logical deduction. I thought I had found one, but the game creator had different ideas than I did so I commissioned a consultant to develop a game for us.
The first version we came up with was called GridWorks, but we added too many rules and it was only a modest success. We changed the game to a candy theme and simplifying the rules, introducing Chocolate Fix in 2008, this version has been more successful.