I recently sat down with Co-Founder and President of ThinkFun, Bill Ritchie to talk about ThinkFun’s newest offering, Play Online. This new and improved section of the site features thousands of challenges for some of your favorite ThinkFun games like Laser Maze, Chocolate Fix and Solitaire Chess. While talking to Bill, I wanted to get his thoughts on the future of digital and physical products and how learning can be incorporated.
Co-Founder and President Bill Ritchie playing his favorite Play online game, Chocolate Fix!
Q: ThinkFun is mainly known for their physical games; what inspired the addition of a more robust Play Online offering?
A: The Play Online program is very exciting because this is our first showing of a much larger idea that we’ve been working on for years. When we launched Rush Hour in the mid 1990’s online versions of our games started to surface – some we supported and some of them were pirate knockoffs. What never felt right to us was an online game version where players only got to play a fixed number of challenges. That meant that players would play some and then leave, and we wanted them to keep coming back.
Our Play Online program is built as a BLITZ GAME, which means that each game comes with a reservoir of 1000 challenges, specifically selected by us. These are randomly served each time a new player comes to play a challenge; so they can play to their hearts’ content and never face the same challenge twice. Then we can put on our Admin hats and refresh the challenge reservoir with a new collection of challenges, so players will continually get a whole different ThinkFun gaming experience.
For each of the five new games in Play Online, we now have tens of thousands of challenges in our database. We continue to develop and refine to find which of these challenges are the most fun and which are the best to help you stretch your brain to build your thinking skills.
In terms of motivation, it was mainly us trying to give our fans what they wanted. We noticed players definitely wanted to engage with our games in digital form as well as in physical, hands-on logic puzzle form. We hope the end result is a “BOTH/AND” experience—a ThinkFun puzzle challenge experience that doesn’t just mimic our physical game play, but enhanced it in an inherently digital manner.
Q: What has been the reaction so far to the online offering?
A: People are definitely starting to find the Play Online section. It’s becoming one of our top pages! This feature is a great way for consumers to test our games out prior to purchase, so it’s perfect for the upcoming holidays.
Q: Which are the newest games? Which are updates or upgrades to older games?
A: Our newest Play Online game is Laser Maze, which has been a huge hit for us. The physical version of the game sold out on Amazon at holiday 2013, is now selling better than ever on both Amazon and in-store at Target, nationwide. This is one that everybody really should try—we got the play experience just right with the Play Online version, all the brainwork plus a great payoff when you hit the FIRE button.
Rush Hour is our most famous game, and one that everyone seems to want to play in both physical and digital forms. We’ve updated this game so that it’s accessible to more people. We want everybody to experience the fun of getting lost in these wonderful challenges!
Solitaire Chess is worth mentioning here also. I describe it as “The distilled essence of chess” because it’s an exercise in both critical thinking and strategic thinking. Playing the online Solitaire Chess will give players a leg up at mastering the offline version of this marvelous puzzle.
Q: Can you tell us about your plans for your digital games roadmap? What’s next for you?
A: We’re moving toward developing a more sophisticated set of digital challenges that will allow us to measure the effect on critical thinking skills in a more standardized manner. We want to help players to build mental models and to learn about the mathematical structures that underlie these puzzles. This wasn’t possible with physical games only, because we didn’t have access to how kids’ play progressed without a repeatable way to track their activity.
Coming in 2015, we will be launching our ThinkFun BrainLab Tournament Competition program along with ThinkFun University where we teach university level thinking skills to grade school kids. I’ve been working on this for more than 10 years now and it’s finally starting to come together. It’s all very exciting, and it really takes the ability to track progress to the next level.
Q: For you personally, what is your favorite Play Online game by ThinkFun, and why?
A: I love them all but my personal favorite Play Online game has to be Chocolate Fix. We have put so much development energy and love into this one over so many years. Chocolate Fix is clever and fun, kind of like a mini-Sudoku style game, but underneath it is really just a manifestation of pure logical reasoning. In various experiments we have taught kids how to analyze the tree structure of a given challenge and also to understand different types of logical contradiction and how to describe your reasoning in the form of a mathematical proof. In one pilot program, we taught kids how to make their own Chocolate Fix puzzles that they could send out to their friends to challenge them. This was fun!
Feeling ready to give Play Online a go? Log on now!