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Mayday Games History - Getting Serious About Casual Gaming (2013)

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This article was published in Casual Game Revolution in 2013


Humble Beginnings

Mayday Games entered the Board Gaming industry in late 2008 with a splash as big as you'd expect a company with a single product, a single person and not even a single marketing plan. I should say as big as you'd expect pre-Kickstarter. That is to say, no splash at all. Many board game companies come into this world because of a run-away hit or an amazing license or a great idea that sells so well that a company is almost accidentally created. They come from people who are at least initially board gamers first and business people second. Mayday came about as a business first, but from a family who absolutely loves board games. Mayday started out with only our own personal financing and a dream to help people who saw a need for something in the marketplace. Our first few products came from everyday gamers emailing us a "Mayday" call, asking for a sleeve that fit the odd-sized cards for Dominion or some cute little animal shaped tokens for Agricola. Variations of these sleeves and animeeple tokens grew and in late 2009 we launched our first game, a popular print-and-play found on Board Game Geek from a guy in Israel (Space Junkyard). By the end of 2010 we had 30+ items in our catalog and had hired our first couple of employees. At that time we had to decide what sort of company we wanted to be. I wanted to give Mayday a competitive advantage in the industry and focus on games I could love and therefore sell. We had met with luke-warm sales with our first couple of games, mostly because they took a long time to pitch at conventions and explain to people, and because of some quality issues with the products themselves. I love euro-style games, but with a very limited budget and staff, selling them at a convention or pitching them to a distributor was just... tough. In fact, most of the sales staff consisted of my three kids, then aged 12, 10 and 8. What we needed was a family-friendly product line with broad appeal. It needed to be easy to explain, even by my kids. A game that instantly came to mind was Get Bit, by Dave Chalker, and we obtained the rights to Get Bit in 2011.


A Change

As we did so we began getting new quotes from factories, mostly in China, for this and a couple of other games (our deck building game Eaten By Zombies among them). What I came to realize was that the quotes for the cost to produce a game varied widely from one company to another. The final manufacturing quality also varied widely and wasn't necessarily correlated to the unit cost either. We had been burned on a couple of games by a couple of factories with high prices or (even worse) with poor quality for our games/products. So I began to think critically about what sort of game company Mayday needed to become, not just in 2011 but in 2015 and 2020. What could set us apart and help us to survive in this tough industry? I wanted Mayday Games to have the strength of top-quality manufacturing at a low cost while having the sales of a major European game company. To accomplish this I unveiled my 6-year plan to my wife and family. We would sell everything and move to China to live nearer the manufacturing. We would stay in China for about 3 years, set up our own WOFE (Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise) in China to trade/haggle directly with the Chinese factories. We would also learn Chinese to talk to these factories more effectively about what we wanted. After China we would move to Germany or somewhere in Europe and learn German and develop really stellar distribution/sales while learning German. Also, we wanted to become a family-friendly product company that reflected the types of games my small family enjoys. So in 2011 we put our house up for sale, sold our cars and our entire family flew from Salt Lake City to Dusseldorf, Germany to run our booth at Essen. One suitcase each was dedicated to product to sell at the Spiel, so the carry-on and 2nd suitcase were the sum total of all the worldly possessions we brought with us to live in China. How serious were we about making Mayday a low-cost, high quality manufacturer of games? Pretty serious. We have now lived in Suzhou, China for just over 2 years and we have expanded our product offerings to include many filler/family games like Crokinole, Walk the Plank, Click Clack Lumberjack and most recently Coconuts. These dexterity and other "family friendly" games are generally low price point ($25 or less) and easy to explain in under 5 minutes. They also resonate with our Kickstarter fans as we've just finished up or 15th Kickstarter campaign since late 2011. Kickstarter has allowed us to expand our product line with great new games much quicker because we get the cash to print the game in advance.


The Future

We have great partners here in China but continue to explore relationships with new factories to ensure the quality and price of goods allows us to keep our retail pricing low. Our sales and profits have increased each year and we are so excited to have Ryan Bruns as Mayday's new President starting in early 2013. He came to Mayday with the objective of ensuring a quality experience for each of our customers and has worked wonders. Jeremy Blake is our new COO as well and has done amazing things for our website and the quality of the experience we deliver to our customers. We are just now starting to make in-roads into the larger markets and attract attention from major retailers, largely thanks to things like Get Bit winning an Origins Award and Walk the Plank winning a Major Fun Award, and we expect to continue to grow by leaps and bounds in 2014 with perhaps a dozen new games to be released in 2014. Get Bit is now being printed in 6 languages and we hope some of our other titles will meet with similar success. The casual game appeals to even the serious gamer sometimes, and we hope our casual games will equate to serious success in the future. I believe the next "big game" will be a relatively "casual" game like Dixit or No Thanks! or maybe even one of ours. If you think about the games in the mass market stores in the USA now, most of them are simple/easy to play and would be called a casual/filler game by most people in our industry. The sacrifice has been HUGE for our family personally, but we have grown a lot because of this experience. For many games may just be a fun hobby, but for us it is a way of life. If any of you are attending GenCon or Essen or any of the other conventions we have attended for the last several years, please stop by our booth and look for the geeky couple with three kids madly pitching product and trying to go off to hunt for their next favorite game, we'd love to meet you and show you a game or two in less than five minutes.


Seth Hiatt was born in Anchorage, Alaska and is the founder of Mayday Games, Inc. He has a Bachelor's in Accounting from Brigham Young University and an MBA from Utah State. Seth is also a licensed CPA and worked for a major accounting firm (KPMG) in São Paulo Brazil, San Francisco and Salt Lake for several years. He also worked as an accountant for a maufacturing company for several years. Seth enjoys sales, running, basketball, reading, learning languages and of course playing board games. His current favorite (non-Mayday) games are Dixit, Copycat, Race For The Galaxy and Rampage. Paula Hiatt is from Rexburg Idaho and has a Bachelor's in Fashion Design and a Master's in English Literature from Brigham Young University. She is the proud mother of Abby (16), Chase (13) and Porter (11). She also recently published her first novel, Secrets of the Apple, and is an avid reader and writer when she isn't editing rules or teaching her kids to be nerds. Her other interests include travel, history and service to others. Her favorite game by a MILE is Kingsburg, but she also enjoys Bananagrams, Puerto Rico and Blokus as long as she gets to be "RED". Seth and Paula will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in 2014.


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