For 12 years, Amanda Carlson has been on the hunt for the “yes” that will turn her social gaming ideas into a viable company and a global concept.
She’s gotten close, but the goal has remained elusive. Still, Carlson isn’t ready to walk away from her company Parley Entertainment.
“I’ve stayed with it all this time because I believe that unless we figure out as a planet and as a civilization how to get along with each other, we will die. We will self-destruct,” Carlson said. “What I believe is that games are the fastest way to do that, playing together, laughter. All it takes is something that allows us to get out of our own mind and thought process.”
Social games, such as multi-layer video games or role-playing games, get people talking and working together sometimes toward a common goal or to solve a problem.
In 2003, Carlson invited 30 people to a party she was hosting at her Raleigh home in an effort to meet new people after moving to North Carolina from Los Angeles. As the date drew near, she got nervous.
“I started to panic that nobody knew each other.”
Carlson set out to find a good social game to get folks talking. All she could find was murder mystery dinner parties and Cranium, a social gaming concept that started at Starbucks.
“I decided to make my own game,” Carlson said. “It was April 13th so I did this tax game, and I gave everyone a financial portfolio and everyone was a financial character—taxpayers, the IRS, racketeers, banks, insurance agents.
“Everyone had such a wonderful time playing it and afterward they said, ‘Amanda you have to take this to market.’”
But it hasn’t happened yet, which frustrates Carlson.
“This is something that can be done off the shelf for $6 multiple use,” she said. “I had a focus group with Triangle Meeting planners, 25 of them, at the downtown Marriott. And everyone played the game; 100 percent of participants gave it a 10 for its ability to cause everyone in a room to speak to everyone else.”
In 2009, Carlson made Parley her full-time job. Over the past six years, she’s had interest from Viking Cruises and ClubCorp. She’s now courting banks, convinced Parley would be a good fit for financial literacy in schools. She envisions corporate sponsorships for the game, with their brands and logos on specific cards.
In 2012, Carlson completed three custom games for a clinical trials company to engage rural markets, but was not paid for the work.
More recently, she pitched Parley to a “big idea” competition sponsored by TED Talks, a “U.S. Social Open” where thousands could play Parley. She’s pitched to national companies such as Coca-Cola, Arhaus Furniture and Ashley Furniture looking for sponsors, thinking game incentives could be put on the tabs of cans, similar to past gaming campaigns adopted by the quick-serve industry.
Everything she’s tried has fallen through.
“I don’t hear back,” she said. “Even though I have contacts and I follow up, they just vanish into thin air.”
ThinkManagement, online gaming consultants, reports the U.S. social gaming industry could be worth $15 billion by 2015, but much of that growth is projected through social online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and mobile apps. Parley is not online.
But Carlson, 50, refuses to give up. She currently rents out her house and receives a small amount of money each month from investments she made when working in insurance.
“I’ve just kind of hung on,” she says.
Carlson has waitressed and also rented out rooms in her home, even sleeping on the floor. An inheritance from an aunt in 2012 helped her make ends meet.
She estimates she’s invested $65,000 of her own money into Parley, and her significant other has invested another $10,000.
“I absolutely have zero interest in hosting the game or doing a bootstrap kind of thing,” Carlson said. “My goal is, because I’m very small and I don’t have funding and I don’t want to try to get an investor, is to bootstrap by getting to market in a big way with a partner. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all along.”
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Advice from Amanda Carlson
▪ Figure out what your assumptions are and take them to the most successful people you know and ask them to punch holes in them.”
▪ Realize that doing something new is difficult and will take perseverance. Do whatever you can to not get discouraged.