Newsweek: Articolo sulla Eagle Games

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Su Newsweek è apparso un articolo relativo alla Eagle Games intitolato No Joystick required - A company turns hit PC titles into old-style board games.

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By Peter Suciu

March 21 issue - As a 10-year sales veteran of the industry, Glenn Drover knew the wonders of computer games. Through the magic of bits and bytes, he could lead a worldwide empire, take on the role of swashbuckling pirate or even possess supernatural powers. But for all the rich digital detail and compelling gameplay, he concluded that even the most popular PC titles were missing something basic to games—social interaction. With PC games, says the 39-year-old CEO, "you don't have the ability to touch or feel anything." (Or verbally taunt your opponents.) Four years ago, Drover founded Eagle Games and gave it a counterintuitive mission: to transform popular PC games into good old-fashioned board games. Now he's expanding—with three new titles in 2005.

In the age of Jobs and Gates, the trend, of course, has been to turn existing board games like Monopoly and Scrabble—the analog stuff of yesteryear—into on-screen, bells-and-whistles experiences. In turning that around, Drover's company represents part of a resurgence that began in Europe with small, independent publishers and focused on simple rules and detailed art; popular games included Princes of Florence (a Renaissance trading game) and Settlers of Catan (where players build cities and try to become the dominant force on an island). The "Euro-gaming" movement spread to North America, helped in part by Wizards of the Coast stores at shopping malls across the country. Eagle Games says its sales have doubled every year, hitting $4 million in 2004. This year, Drover is projecting sales of $10 million.

One reason: the planned July release of Sid Meier's Pirates, long a favorite computer game that dates to 1987. In its newest electronic incarnation, it was one of the most popular PC games during the 2004 holiday season. Players get the chance to be a rogue Caribbean captain: they fire broadsides, sack villages, hunt for treasure and generally carry on like Johnny Depp. In Drover's board version, you'll still get to behave badly, but with retro maps, detailed plastic figures and a deck of cards. At the recent American International Toy Fair in Manhattan, the buccaneer game was all the buzz. In late summer, Eagle Games will be releasing another board game based on a cult favorite from Meier—Railroad Tycoon, in which players try to become successful robber barons.

Drover's first two board games, Sid Meier's Civilization and Age of Mythology, both continue to sell well. The games seemed to attract those who had played them on screen, as well as newcomers chiefly interested in a new board game. According to the company, Civilization has sold more than 60,000 copies, at about $50 each. That's small compared with electronic hits for computers and consoles like Xbox. But in the board-game business, aside from major players like Hasbro, the numbers are impressive. It doesn't hurt that Eagle doesn't have a lot of competition. Its main rival is Minnesota-based Fantasy Flight Games, which has board-game versions of Doom and Warcraft III.

Eagle has avoided venture capitalists to date. Based outside Chicago, it has low overhead, choosing to employ only seven people full time and farm out the rest of the work. Partner companies handle graphic design, assembly, warehousing and the plastic injection molding for the various games' pieces. The biggest change occurred last year, when growth was so large that some manufacturing was outsourced to China. Despite its size, Eagle has been very successful getting its games in mass-retail channels like Barnes & Noble, and Toys "R" Us.

The key part of the business obviously is to pick the correct PC games to re-create on a board. It helps to partner with major computer-gaming publishers, including Atari and Microsoft. "The games we choose to do have to be multimillion sellers," says Drover, pointing to the longevity of titles like Civilization and Railroad Tycoon. Nonetheless, Eagle is taking a gamble with Age of Empires III, due out in the fall. It's based on the latest title in a series of PC games of world conquest and will be published by Microsoft. If the computer version flops, so, too, may Drover's. While the other titles have been hits, Drover understands that the roughly simultaneous release of the board game with the PC game represents a new chapter in his company's evolution. In a small business's attempt to grow, you have to roll the dice.