Can you introduce yourself and your company to those who might not know?
My name is Laura, and I’m managing the German subsidiary of the originally-Japanese company Oink Games Inc.
The Japanese company was established seven years ago in Tokyo by designer Jun Sasaki. Jun always loved board games (which is not as common in Japan as in Germany) and finally decided to enter the board game world after working as a graphic designer.
Today, Oink Games Japan has published over 10 games – of which Deep Sea Adventure is the most popular. The characteristics of our games are their small size, their unusual, minimalistic but beautiful design and their rather simple but well thought-out rules. The games have a variety of different themes, so everyone can find their personal favorite, while their outer appearance is always consistent and thus very recognizable.
What does the name Oink Games mean?
I asked that too, when I got to know them two years ago! I asked several times afterwards, but now I think about it there were several answers, and none of them seemed to be ‘the one answer’.
The name is mysterious after all… 😉
How did you come to work for Oink Games?
I met Jun and the other Oink Games people in October 2015, while working for them as an interpreter in Essen.
I’d never heard of them before then, but I fell in love with their games, and the chemistry between us was so good that I continued working for them (translating things, helping them with their English email) until Jun asked me in February last year if I could imagine establishing the European subsidiary of Oink Games in Germany.
And that’s what I did. Oink Games GmbH is now one year old and business is running well so far – though there’s still much to do!
You founded Oink Games GmbH in Germany last year. Can you tell us a bit more about this development?
Yes, the GmbH is actually one year old now.
The founding process took forever since it’s not very common to establish a GmbH subsidiary of a Japanese Inc. mother company. Since I never studied economics or marketing, I felt a little insecure at first and I believe our first business partners must have had their own thoughts about that too. In the first months we visited several game or toy stores and talked to the shop owners without even warning them that we’d come.
It was very random at first, but through doing so we learned about Spiel-Direkt (a distribution platform for smaller publishers) which we are now part of, and also made several good contacts.
After one year, I’ve learned a lot and I guess the next step is to find more contacts in the other European countries. So far, I’ve managed to find distributors in Switzerland and France. I am currently talking to other distributors in the UK, the Scandinavian region, Benelux and Spain.
Someone told me the first two years of a company are the most important and vital years and I totally agree and hope that there will be even more progress in year number two.
Oink Games always come in small, stylish boxes. Is this a core design principle, or could Oink Games also come in bigger boxes one day?
I would say it is a design principle. If we started making bigger boxes now, that would probably partly destroy the brand recognition value. I wouldn’t say it is impossible, but unlikely in the next future.
How would you describe the differences in the board game cultures in Japan and in Germany?
I would say playing board games is culturally more deeply rooted in Europe as it is in Asia. They have traditional games like Go or Shogi, but those games are comparable to Chess, for example.
Board games in Japan are becoming more and more popular now, but compared to Germany there are far fewer families that would play board games at home on a regular basis. The question I am nearly always asked when I tell a Japanese person that our company makes and sells boardgames is “Oh, it must be something like The Game of Life then, right?”
That‘s the one Western game they all seem to know.
The board game market in Japan is just much smaller than the German one and while Oink Games Japan is one of the better known companies there, the German GmbH is now one among so many.
Many Oink games are designed by the owner Jun Sasaki, but some are from other designers such as Jean-Claude Pellin and Reiner Knizia. How did the cooperation with those designers happen? Do they design specifically for the small, stylish Oink Games box?
No, they didn’t.
Jean-Claude Pellin approached us in Essen and showed us his game idea; Jun liked it, and then designed the box and contents. One of the group of people who had the idea for Insider is also an acquaintance of someone Jun worked with. He uploaded the idea and Jun saw it and approached him.
It’s also different when it comes to the Knizia games. We actively approached their office to ask for the rights of making new versions of their games (Modern Art and Twins) because Jun is a fan of Knizia.
I guess you can say we are not actively looking for new games, but are always open to new ideas.
Any new games on the horizon?
It’s not yet decided if there will be a new game in Essen this year. I can tell you the decision of whether there will be a game or not is nearly always a last-minute decision!