How 30 Seconds became an Irish board game phenomenon

Podcast Ep 44: With more than 30,000 units of 30 Seconds sold in 2020, Greg Dooley tells ThinkBusiness how the popular board game became a hit in Ireland.

The idea for an Irish version of the popular South African board game 30 Seconds occurred during a phone call between two Irish friends, Greg Dooley and Liam Ryan.

Under the company name of Woodland Games, the pair, alongside the original inventor of the game, Calie Esterhuyse, carried out extensive market research before releasing the game in  2010.

“That’s the essence and that’s what makes it a hit with people. It’s kind of relevant”

Easy to play and huge fun, 30 Seconds is now widely stocked in the UK and Ireland.

In May last year, during the first lockdown, 30 Seconds completely sold out in retailers across Ireland. Greg had forecasted stock would comfortably last him until October but sales were just huge.

In 2019, Greg sold 20,000 units of 30 Seconds. Last year’s numbers will reach over 30,000 units. The game is a firm favourite for many and is currently Smyths top-selling board game and Eason’s bestselling board game ever.

A household game

 

Dooley chuckles modestly as I rattle off these accomplishments.

A former teacher from Cork who spent time working in Africa, he says what makes the game so popular is its broad appeal across general knowledge, sports, politics, pop culture, celebrities, you name it. And, as the de facto editor of the Irish edition, it is his job to keep it current and topical. A question on a card might relate to Roy Keane, or the 1916 Rising or Lionel Messi, plenty of international but also Irish personalities too.

“That’s the essence and that’s what makes it a hit with people. It’s kind of relevant.”

Every March or April he would sit down and go through more than 2,400 names in the game and work on updating a new edition. “If we left it the same it just wouldn’t work. The vital thing is that every year everything must be kept up to date.”

Despite the popularity of smartphones, apps, games consoles and VR, there is something about board games that seems to endure. And in lockdown Ireland board games can provide the glue for family harmony.

“Boardgames have always been a kind of evergreen product. They survived world wars, droughts, immigration and famines. And they’ve always been there in some shape or form, whether its cards or board games or chess or whatever.”

Before he embarked on creating the Irish edition of 30 Seconds, he did his research online but also by walking into toy stores and it was apparent that retailers from bespoke specialists to large chains like Smyths Toys are still dedicating lots of space to board games.

“It was clear that board game are still very much prime real estate on the shelves so they must be selling.”

Dooley said that when he started out in 2010 the board games market in Ireland was worth around €15m per annum and today it is worth in the region of €30m. “So even though they were always an evergreen product, board games have always been selling and I see massive growth globally and a kind of resurgence.”

Dooley and Ryan both found themselves working in Zimbabwe in the late 1980s and then South Africa. Dooley returned to Ireland went into banking for a career change and eventually worked as a finance broker. Ryan remained in South Africa, but they stayed in touch.

“Because I was self-employed, he suggested I look at 30 Seconds as a project. He said: ‘Look, this game is huge. Every second household has it and it is very popular with young people.’ He sent me over a few versions and I got the gist of it and we went about making a version with Irish content t test. And we did a lot of testing to get initial feedback.

He initially launched the first Irish edition of the game in time for the Irish market in December 2010. “Everything takes three times as long when there’s manufacturing involved,” he recalled, also pointing out that timing is everything and every little mistake would set you back. “We got it to market a week before Christmas 2010 in just two stores.”

Grassroots marketing on local radio and getting stocked by independent shops as well as Smyths and ToyMaster’s saw the company sell 1,500 games in 2011 and gradually he grew sales to 3,000 in year three and 5,000 by 2014. After five years 20,000 games had been sold and the company had ramped up its promotion and PR considerably.

2020, he admits, was an unusual year with sales rocketing by 60pc because of the lockdown. “We saw a huge surge in March and April and any spare units we had in the warehouse that would last us until December were gone by May.”

The demand encouraged him to manufacture more units which again were sold out by October and he admits forecasting the right amount for sales ahead of Christmas was a very tricky balancing act.

Right now Dooley is in the midst of working on this year’s edition and I ask him will there be a mention of Covid-19. “Well, Dr Tony Holohan might be in there alright, because he’s actually become a celebrity.”

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By John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 29 January 2021