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November 14, 2005

Company thinks outside the box

By Zach Brokenrope

The people at Out of the Box Publishing Inc. like to play games.

In fact, it’s part of the job.

In 1998, a small group of acquaintances decided to form a company based around a game designed by Mark Osterhaus, now president of the company, his former wife Ellen Winter, and their son, Max Osterhaus.

That game -- Bosworth --  was the springboard for Out of the Box, publisher of such award-winning and best-selling games as Apples to Apples.

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It’s easy to tell that Out of the Box employees enjoy their jobs.

“I love it,” says Matt Mariani, the spokesman for the company. “It’s a very family-oriented corporation.”

The company, based in Madison, Wis., allows all 10 of its employees to work from home, and sometimes even their children get in on the act.

“The first game was designed by my ex-husband, our son, and myself,” said Winter, director of research and development for Out of the Box.

The company, which currently has more than 30 games on the market and more on the way, has yet to discontinue a game.

The average lifespan for a game is just three years, according to freelance game creator Alan R. Moon, who co-designed 10 Days in Africa for Out of the Box.

Among new games planned for release later this year is 10 Days in Europe, which is another addition to the company’s  10 Days in… series.

Also expected from Out of the Box this year is a game called Cineplexity that John Kovalic, another company founder, described as a movie version of  “Apples to Apples.”

The company receives 500 to 700 idea submissions a year, Mariani said. Of those, about 90 percent are from freelance game designers.

Osterhaus considers each game idea and narrows them to down to about 30.

Out of the Box staff get together every couple months, Mariani said, and play the games that Osterhaus selects. Finally, seven or eight of the best games makes it to production.

Out of the Box generally likes to publish games that appeal to a family market and are easy for all to understand, Mariani said, which means that games with long, complicated rules and directions don’t make it through the initial testing phase.

However, some games prove to be hidden gems. For instance; the popular game Apples to Apples was originally a long and complicated game, Mariani said, but after several edits it became an easy and understandable family and party game.

The company’s criteria for a new game submission is simple.

“When we play a game, we look for how fun it is,” said Mariani. “When it comes down to it, that’s what it’s all about. Fun.”

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