The world’s most successful board game was created as a metaphor for hard times

Successful entrepreneurs are people who always see opportunities in any situation. By nature they are positive and constantly seek innovations that address the wants and needs they identify in their contemporary environment. We are currently in a bleak economic period, and this will prove to be a fertile time for the introduction of novel innovations that will reward their creators with significant profits.

The most famous, played and sold board game in the world is Monopoly. Lizzie Phillips created the first version of the game that would become modern Monopoly. Her game was meant to promote Henry George’s single tax theories, and the rules of the game were heavily influenced by her populist philosophy. Mrs. Phillips filed several patents on versions of her game around 1904. It enjoyed modest commercial success.

The game and its rules of the game have been modified over the years. Subsequently, the various forms of Mrs. Phillips’ rudimentary game that were introduced never enjoyed any great sales, but the game never completely disappeared. Then came the Great Depression.

The many causes of the Great Depression have been well documented, and today most people are aware of at least the broader reasons for the implosion of the world economy. Greed was the most frequently cited cause at the time of assigning blame. Society was highly segmented by wealth, education, geography, and class. Charles Darrow recognized the opportunity in the misery of so many and crafted his classic version of Monopoly to address the perceived social sins of the day.

Little changed to this day, the game rules and component elements of Monopoly reflect the deep divisions in society. Darrow’s game, released in 1935, showed the full range of opportunities for failure and success that could occur in a capitalist society. You could go to jail, pay taxes, be fined, go bankrupt, or land on property you own and have to pay rent to the hated landlord if the dice roll unlucky for a player.

Similarly, you could “pass” and collect $200, earn dividends, buy property, build houses and hotels, own railroads (the classic metaphor for greedy capitalists), and collect rent if the dice roll favors you. Also, you could bankrupt your opponents and this happened with alarming regularity in real life during the 1930s.

Clearly, Monopoly was a game that resonated during the darkest days of the Depression and still functions as a leisure activity to this day. Darrow made great wealth from the sales of his version of the monopoly. Monopoly was licensed by the British Secret Service through John Waddington Ltd. during World War II. The International Red Cross sent Monopoly games to British prisoners of war imprisoned in Nazi camps. These games included hidden packages of real money, maps, communication devices, and tools to be used in escape attempts.

Parker Brothers secured the rights to Monopoly and managed to internationalize the game by assigning country-specific game features. For example, in the American game, the most prized real estate titles are Park Place and Boardwalk. In the British version, the most prized building blocks to own are the well-worn Park Lane and Mayfair.

The game’s origins, history, and ownership are surrounded by a great deal of controversy. Parker Brothers attributes all creativity, copyright, game rules, and component design for Monopoly to Charles Darrow. This led to decades of legal disputes over true ownership, as Lizzie Phillips and others claimed creative ownership of the game. These legal issues were not resolved until the 1980s.

There are a number of lessons that modern inventors can learn from the profitable but stormy history of the simple Monopoly board game.

If the game has game rules that anyone can easily understand, the game is fluid, the pieces are simple and attractive; then there is potential for commercial success.

You must protect your game with copyrights, trademarks and patents where applicable. Failing to properly protect these valuable assets leads to many costly and lengthy legal disputes and disagreements in the Monopoly case.

My consumer product development and marketing consulting company sees more shipments of toys and games than almost any other product category. The barriers to entry to this kind of trade are reasonable if the inventor is willing and able to push his offer. We recommend a gaming focus group to confirm that the target players affirm the appeal and commercial appeal of the game or toy.

Recently, for a class project, a third grade teacher lent us her class of 23 students to play a new sports board game for half a day. We filmed the session. We also had the children answer a series of simple questions about their gaming experience. Based on your feedback, we were able to adjust a basic game rule to further simplify and broaden the appeal of the game. The change resulted in the final outcome of the game becoming much more closely contested, and therefore exciting.

The perfect time to launch a new product is always now. Time is never the entrepreneur’s friend. If you wait for the perfect moment, for the best market conditions to appear, someone can beat you to the market with a product that cannibalizes the best parts of your idea. This happens all too often. Waiting for a better climate is an excuse for inaction and a sure path to mediocrity. Charles Darrow’s 1935 launch of Monopoly at the height of the Great Depression is a wonderful example to study.

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