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Millionaire’s Game

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Lagali president Arne Lauwers on being crazy, changing the rules, and his limited edition work of art that is actually a board game for millionaires

Forty-three-year-old Arne had a ready smile as I approached him during the Overseas Journalist’s Breakfast Meeting at the recent Hong Kong Gifts and Premium Fair.

Asked about his product, he readily blurted out, “Oh, this is a result of my craziness. My craziness to bring something new and unique to the market.”

Arne was talking about his board game, the new Gnome Race Millionaire’s edition. It doesn’t look like a board game; it is closer to an adventure. Arne’s creation looks more like the art one displays in an office or foyer. It is a hand-scupted 3D wonder.

China Business: Tell me how Lagali began.
At 35, I wanted to do something completely new with my life. [I thought] what would be the most fun thing to do. I’ve always loved games and I always wanted to change the rules so the game would become more fun. However, the other players considered this cheating, so I thought, “What if I become a game inventor so I can write my own set of rules?”

So, in 2002, I put up a small company and brought my first game to the market. It was important to me that we do everything by ourselves, so we needed no external help or financing. It was, honestly, hard at first.

But it allowed us to learn a lot and grow the business to an international level.

What’s the most difficult thing about creating a new game?
There is no training, education, or diploma available [for it]. You need to have a number of skills, both on the creative side and on the business side. Creating a game is very hard as it must be simple enough to be liked by people but, on the other hand, refreshing enough to grab their attention. Also, there is a huge difference in taste [that you must account for] according to the place in the world where you want to sell the game.

What’s your profession, by the way?
I have a master’s degree in Southeast Asian culture. And I am president and owner of Lagali. But I like to be called a game inventor. This is what I do.

The company started in Luxembourg, right? What made you come to Asia?
Lagali is indeed based in Luxembourg. Last year, we opened Lagali Asia, our Hong Kong office that caters to the specific demands of the Southeast Asian market.

Tell me something about your products?
Lagali has a range of games that are available both as real games and apps. All the games have these elements in common: They are suited to a wide audience, use unique game mechanics that are our own, do not portrait any violence, and have educational value.

Who are your target clients?
We have several kinds of clients, from small distributors in emerging markets to Hasbro, the world’s largest game company. They [Hasbro] licensed one of our games called Pictureka. It is a big success all over the world, including the Philippines. In the US, Pictureka even has its own TV show.

How has the market received your games? Specifically in China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and other Asian countries?
A very good question. It really depends on the country. For instance, in Thailand one of our card games is called ‘+/-’ and part of the income goes to the well being of endangered species. In the Philippines and Hong Kong, you can find the full range of Pictureka. At present, we are negotiating with local partners to get other products into these countries, as well.

Tell me more about Gnome Race Millionaire’s edition.
It is a US$5,000-version of one of our games. We have tried to make the game so exclusive and beautiful that it is a piece of art. Imagine, we used the same kind of undercarriage you find in pianos (points) for this shiny black lacquered wood as its base! The entire game is fully handcrafted. It is over 12 kilograms in weight, uses handcrafted metal coins, laser-engraved dice, a full 55×55 centimeter hand-carved 3D playing board, and 12 unique hand-sculpted playing pieces all made of polyresin. It takes a couple of months to make one of these games and buyers will need to be patient to get one. It is a very exclusive limited edition. Every game is numbered and comes with a certificate of ownership.

What was your inspiration for doing this?
Well, everybody always wants to make things cheaper and the quality suffers from that. So I decided to do just the opposite. The result is a must-have item.

How many of these are currently in the market?
At present, in the whole world, there is just one, the prototype you see in Hong Kong. Number 2 and 3 will be finished by July. We really do not aim to have this produced in mass quantities. The buyer will really have an unique item and that is exactly how we like it.

What was it like exhibiting here (HKTDC Gifts and Premium Fair)?
It was the first time we participated in this fair. At the end of it, we came to the conclusion that we were offering something nobody else was offering. Many people, at first, had difficulty understanding what we make.

However, they all came back and I never did so many interviews with journalists! It seems there is a demand for unique things. The more crazy, the more interested they are. I think this has to do with the fact that there is a huge competition for ‘standard’ items. If you try to offer something unique, you stand out and people want to know about it.

During the fair, there were representatives of large companies and banks that really liked the idea of having a super-expensive game to put in their headquarters.

Any plans of expanding more in Asia?
Yes, we hope to establish a network that will cater to the whole of Southeast Asia. A couple of months ago, I traveled to Manila to meet some people to see if we can get our products into the Philippines. I was impressed by the kindness of the people and the demand for our kinds of products. In the months to come, I will see with whom we can best team up. We are not in a hurry as we really want to team up with the best suited partner, and that always takes some time.

So how crazy do you get?
If crazy is being willing to travel to the other side of the world and spend a considerable amount of money in the creation of a product that you have no guarantee will work, then I am guilty as charged. But what about this: If I want to bring products into a market that have no distinct difference from the available, known things, would anybody really be interested?

So far, I have spent half my life traveling and meeting people to learn about their habits and cultures. I like to translate this and create exciting things that are simply different. I am bad at doing what was already been done a million times.

Print ed: 06/11


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