The Invention Process: From idea to game app

Mother’s wisdom

My mother has often said “Nothing you ever learn is wasted”. Though I have my doubts about my disco dancing lessons in 1976, in general I have found this to be true. Certainly in the case of the development of Rogo, many things previously learned have proved invaluable.

Innovation

In an article in The Press about innovation Ezra Klein suggests that “genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent timing.” Our experiences with the innovation of Rogo and moving it from idea to reality suggest a similar ratio for the idea and the work involved. A successful product is 1 per cent great idea, and 99 per cent work.  It is great to have a great idea, but without all the support mechanisms to get it to market, it remains only a great idea. And, Mr Klein, timing is also important.

The moment of creation

Dr Rogo and the vehicle of inspiration.

The idea for Rogo could be said to have arrived while I was biking along Innes Rd to work on 18 August 2009. But what led to that? A few months earlier I had started rogaining, and before that I had heard about rogaining at an Operations Research Conference. However, I was prepared for that idea by orienteering which I had participated in on my way to earning my Queen’s Scout Award in my teens. Another contributing factor was my love for board games (a major motivation for having children was the hope that they would play board games with me),  and enjoyment of computer games such as Civilisation and Settlers.  So all those factors led to my idea on the bike: I could make a board game based on a Rogaine, using squares.

Partnership

Now we come to Shane. He too is interested in games of all kinds, and has a very good mathematical mind. We have adjacent offices in the Department of Management at the University of Canterbury and have worked together on multiple projects, most of which had been successful. (We will cast a veil over our attempt to revolutionise the teaching of Linear Programming, flying in the face of all the popular textbooks, the authors of some of which probably rejected our paper!)

Exploration

The boards for the original Rogo game.

The first incarnation of a board for the Rogaine board game

I made a game board for the game, using Excel, and got the tutors to play it in our weekly tutors’ meeting. It went well, but obviously needed more work. Shane took home a copy of the board to try with his children. They enjoyed it, and as they were playing had drawn on the board, to overcome the problem of not retracing routes. Shane told me about this, then we went off to a lecture, where he was distributing teaching surveys for me.  As he was handing them out, it came to me – make a puzzle instead! I had a picture in my mind of a pad of puzzles. And thus the embryo was formed of a great idea.
For the next few days we worked on some of the details. How long should the route be? We picked on 20 squares to start with. What should the board look like? We started with a Sudoku grid. Was it solvable on a computer? We started thinking about solution methods. Was it any fun? We tried using the Press Sudokus each morning as Rogo boards, and yes – we had fun.

Market Research

But it was necessary for other people to find them fun as well. A month or so later Shane was about to give his “Operations Research for intermediate school students” presentation the next day to his brother-in-law’s class from St Joseph’s, Papanui and I realised we had a captive set of guinea pigs. Quickly I generated a set of ten Rogo puzzles using an Excel grid, and turned them into a little booklet for the kids to try out. Looking back it is amazing they liked them. The puzzles were far too difficult, not all that interesting to look at, and the instructions needed a lot of work. But like them they did -  a lot. I remember Shane saying, “I think we’re onto something!”.

Support

Another piece of good fortune lay in our employment at the University of Canterbury. Not only had it meant that Shane and I were working together, but it was also an environment which nurtured innovation and getting ideas out into the world. The “Research and Innovation” office were extremely helpful in giving us advice on Intellectual Property and in enabling us to buy back the Intellectual Property from the University, while still allowing us to develop it in work time. Their enthusiastic support was also a morale booster. The University continues to help us in letting people know about Rogo.

The cover of the first Rogo booklet

We gave out copies of the booklet to various family, friends and colleagues and got different feedback. A comment from Bruce, who now works with us on the app, led to the introduction of black “forbidden” squares. A comment from Mike with an iPhone that we should make an app, (My response: “What’s an app?”) led to our making the Rogo math puzzle app.

Values

This is only an outline of the physical and intellectual early development of the idea. The emotional or psychological aspects have also proved interesting. Both Shane and I are keen to do something worthwhile in the world, as are most people involved in Operations Research, known as the Science of Better. Did inventing a puzzle class as making the world a better place? Was it right to try to make money out of something so trivial as a puzzle? Though our religious beliefs are poles apart our values are strongly aligned. But we are united in our aim to do good. In fact the company mission statement is “Have Fun, Make Money, Do Good.”

An answer to my existential crisis came from Kuki, a teenage boy I taught in a church class. We were discussing the role of riches and righteousness and relating it to our puzzle dilemma. Kuki asked, “Is it a good puzzle?”. That was the right question, and the answer was, “Yes – it is a good puzzle.” Good point Kuki!

Rogo is on its way

Rogo is a good puzzle. But being a good puzzle is not enough. We had to refine it, develop it in its various incarnations and market it. It is still making baby steps into the world. Keep following this blog and you can watch it blossom and burst forth on the world!