Playlearn is 3 years old today. It’s been a rollercoaster-year, full of highs and lows. Close to our last anniversary, we decided to change our custom games creation model because it was keeping us in a rather unhealthy loop. It was so overwhelming when we had to create 7 custom-made games at the same time! In order to do so, we were going to create our own games, license them and thus make Playlearn less dependent on ourselves and on our time.
Really awesome opportunities came our way at the beginning of the year, but we had to give them up because they were not aligned with our goal. We had this tendency of postponing what was important to us and no longer wanted to follow that pattern. We chose to take only one paying project in order to leave us enough time to focus on creating our own games. We were working on 3 learning games. And then March came.
The pandemic hit us hard. All our previous work did not make sense anymore. Everything we had created was physical and required people to meet and play at the same table. Impossible. At first, we literally did not know what to do and could not imagine how the world was going to work from then on. We did the math and realized we could last until September - October with what we had in our bank accounts and that was it.
We started investing all our time and effort in only one of the 3 games we had in plan, hoping to find solutions to make it work in the new context. It didn’t work. It was July already. We literally started to ask ourselves if Playlearn was going to survive. We were feeling low and wondering whether we should start doing something else.
Since there was nothing worse than closing Playlearn, we thought, why not give our all until the end?
New plan. We were going to test 2 ideas. It had to be without much investment because our bank account couldn’t take it. It had to be fast and it had to be validated by the market before we proceeded any further.
1st, Swaps, the Zero Waste card game
Swaps was going to be a card game that taught people how to generate less waste in their day to day lives. It was going to be produced on 100% recycled cardboard, with eco-friendly, non-toxic ink, and wrapped in a reusable cotton bag.
We only had a working prototype that we drew, rudimentary, on paper cards. The game mechanics were done. ‘Let’s see if this game is wanted or needed’, we thought. The minimum quantity we could print was 50, so we created a small crowdfunding campaign on our website. We had so many questions! Would people interested in Zero Waste living actually play games? Is component sustainability desired by the user?
Initially, we targeted individuals, but soon we switched to Zero Waste shops around the world. Swaps was expensive when compared to a card game, due to its sustainable components. This was the greatest paradox - compromising sustainability in any way in order to cut the cost made it undesirable for Zero Waste shop owners and made no sense to us or the philosophy of the game either. But no one wanted to pay for an expensive game either.
What’s better, a game produced with plastic and raw materials that taught players how to lead a less waste lifestyle or a sustainable game that never existed? Swaps is still a dream in an envelope.
On the bright side:
We failed fast.
We failed with little investment.
We validated the market before the product existed.
We became aware of our faults in judgement early on.
2nd, Value fit, a digital game
Keeping the same criteria in mind, we asked a friend to create the simplest, lowest investment digital prototype that we’re currently presenting to potential clients. It’s definitely better fitted for the times we live in and seems to be having better odds at becoming real.
It’s inspired by a physical game we created and we ended up working on it because we received validation from potential customers who said they would be interested in it.
We’re definitely better equipped at dealing with everything than we were before. We used to spend too much time on product development and get astray from the market and its needs. Our minds could get fascinated by a concept, idea, or mechanic and also biased that reality would meet us with the same level of enthusiasm.
We’re making the transition from a product development mindset to a business owner mindset. This year has made us better, it accelerated our growth. Life gave us lemons and we’re squeezing them like there’s no tomorrow. We’ll be tasting some lemonade pretty soon!