When Dr. Jody Crosno, an associate professor of marketing and the marketing Ph.D. coordinator at the WVU College of Business and Economics, found out that board game sales experienced double-digit growth between 2010 and 2015, the idea lightbulb appeared above her head. She capitalized on the trend and brought the concept into her Marketing 350: Product and Price Policies course with a hands-on, student project.
Marketing 350 students were tasked with developing a new board game targeted to the 6-9 age range that focused on current trends in the board game industry. They had to research the current trends, develop a new game concept to be play tested by families with children in the target age group in the Morgantown area, revise the product based on feedback and present the final product at a trade show.
“The key takeaway was for students to recognize the importance of consumer input in the new product development process. Students could have simply conducted secondary research on trends in the board game industry and developed a new board game concept,” Crosno said. “However, the next step in new product development – concept testing – is pivotal. It is here where my students learned that their board game directions were not clear, that their packaging was not appropriate nor eye-catching, that the game play was too long, that the game play was too easy or that they needed to have some female characters, too.”
Some might assume the ever-changing world of technology destroyed the concept of board games, but in fact, it resurrected these family-friendly pastimes. New tools and gadgets have opened up new doors and the minds of independent designers to bring innovative board games to the store shelves and online shops.
With this project, Crosno transformed the classroom into a real-world marketing operation, implementing marketing concepts and product development strategies that famous brands and companies are using today.
“Many companies are tapping consumers for new product ideas, such as the Lays Do-Us-A-Flavor contest, whereas other companies, like Sara Lee and Proctor and Gamble, are using consumer feedback during the development process to refine product concepts. Similar to these big companies, students were able to tap into actual consumers to help develop their ideas,” Crosno said.
Students were divided into groups to develop their board games. Wheeling, West Virginia, senior Natalie Marquart and her team put their innovative minds together and designed “Mold It,” a team game where one player draws a card and attempts to mold the object on the card. The other player wears a blind fold and tries to guess the object. The team that gets it right first wins a point.
“The project was really fun and put our team’s creativity to work. Dr. Crosno always incorporates fun learning activities into the classroom, and it was so rewarding to create something and then see the happiness and fun it brought to the children and their families,” Marquart said. “Activities with a hands-on approach provide a more realistic learning experience. Learning concepts in class and then being able to put them to the test is really enjoyable and much more memorable.”
Once the games were designed, it was time to test the young marketers’ game ideas with 11 Morgantown area families who served as play testers for the project. Each game was played by two families, and the students received detailed feedback, went back to the drawing board to refine their games and then took them to the next level. Based on play tester feedback, students changed everything from the directions to the packaging to the actual game play.
“When I launched the project, the students were eager to get started. Some students thought it was going to be a fun and easy project. Interestingly, however, many of the students are not familiar with likes and dislikes or needs and wants of a six- to nine-year-old. It proved to be quite challenging for the students to develop a concept that was age appropriate,” Crosno said. “For example, educational board games are trending, so a few of the groups developed educational games. Yet most of the educational games developed by the students were too easy. “Batter Up,” for example, was developed to help children refine their math skills. Yet, play testing revealed that the game was too easy, so the students had to bolster the difficulty of the math problems to make it more engaging for a six- to nine-year-old.”
Parents and children embraced their roles in the project as concept testers and playing the different board games. Some of the participants are part of the B&E family, including Dr. Li Wang, teaching assistant professor of marketing, and her six-year-old daughter, Ellie.
“Overall, it was a great experience. Ellie really enjoyed the game. We had a lot of fun playing it together as a family. She even requested to play the game again after I returned the prototype,” Wang said. “I always enjoy working with students and they always surprise me with their talent, creativity and commitment. It was well showcased in the board game we tested. To make the board game successful as it was, students had to put in hours of work to decide on the basic design and then operationalize their concepts. The prototype we tested was really well-rounded.”
In addition to developing and revising the game concept, the students also presented their final product at a trade show. With students giving several PowerPoint presentations for their courses each semester, Crosno wanted to give them a different presentation experience.
“For this project, students had to design a tradeshow booth that attracted attendees to the booth and provide information about the game,” Crosno said. “In addition to the trade show being open to faculty, students and the public, I planted 10 individuals in the trade show to go around and assess how well the students were performing. Overall, the students did a great job!”