This is our story of creating a digital tabletop game companion for all players and publishers. It’s been a long journey with many lessons to learn, unexpected twists and turns, and how we’ve been trying to stay fluid in our approach. This is the story of Dized.
I have known the company’s co-founder Tomi since elementary school. This was before the internet in the early 90s, at which point we’d already been interested in games for years — both video and tabletop. Growing up in the 80s my family had a Commodore 64, and I believe Tomi had an Amiga 500. I remember Tomi was usually the one who managed to get his hands on the latest cool titles. We often created scenarios for games like AD&D and HeroQuest. I had started “modding” games even earlier, as I remember crafting an extra bit of road with a couple of more estates to the board game called Hotel, and using a butter knife to detach all the tiles from the Labyrinth board so that every row and column was moveable.
In the early 2000’s we were involved with some video game related projects but nothing considering tabletop games, until in 2013 we coincidentally had both started designing a board game at the same time. This led to a discussion about us potentially doing something in the tabletop game industry, and in 2014 we decided to found Playmore Games Inc.
An important aspect for us was to combine the possibilities of digital content and board games. We both have backgrounds in IT and this was something we could already start to see happening in the Board Game industry, with titles like XCOM: The Board Game and the Unlock! Series.
In 2015 we published our own board game Race to the North Pole, and with that we visited several international game expos in 2015 and 2016. At those shows we pitched a variety of digital content ideas to many publishers. The one that resonated the most and pretty much universally was the “interactive tutorial”. At the time we pitched it as being like a video game tutorial which teaches you while you play, but for a board game. You know, a “skip the rulebook and play immediately” sort of thing. This seemed to be so interesting for publishers that we decided to pursue this avenue first.
We hired our first employees and created some prototypes. We tested these in practice at expos and conducted some surveys. According to our findings we determined that a good size of the audience prefers learning games from others. It seems that in the 21st century people prefer to be able to lean back and simply enjoy a new game. Perhaps a trend started by the video game industry by ditching the manuals in the 90s? Anyway, this easiness in getting into a game was the leading principle when we started developing the model for the Dized tutorials. By the way, we picked the name Dized as it’s the first and last letters of the word “digitalized”, and also a wordplay on dice. I believe we finally settled on the name when we were able to secure dized.com for a few hundred dollars, which felt like a pretty good deal.
So, the idea of a digital play-along tutorial seemed to be viable in theory but we wanted to test the commercial aspect of it as well. For this, we ran an Indiegogo (IGG) campaign in 2017. We chose IGG because running a Kickstarter (KS) campaign as a Finnish company was not possible, or rather would’ve required a lot of extra steps. The campaign did okay and Dized actually became one of the most crowdfunded apps ever.
We had however underestimated both the amount of effort it would take us to get the platform built, and the amount of resources we would have available. During the Indiegogo campaign we estimated it would take us about a year to get the platform up and running. And to be fair, this might’ve been the case if we would’ve been able to raise something in the millions, but a $150k campaign wasn’t going to get us there so quickly.
We did our best with the resources we had and were able to publish Dized Rules tool by the end of 2018. Dized Rules is basically a digital version of a rulebook that includes the game FAQ and a search engine. These rules are created on a browser-based tool and can easily be updated. The reason we focused on the Rules tool first was simply because it was the easiest part to get done, and something that could already on its own be beneficial for players.
The Rules tool was created because we had determined that the ability to ask any question at any moment of the learning process was important to players. With the Rules tool you can check a rule, no matter if it’s already been covered by the tutorial, or if you just simply want to know it. That’s why we felt that the tutorial alone wasn’t enough, and that the service should include the full game rules and an FAQ, all fully indexed, cross-referenced, searchable, and updateable. This is similar to how some games come with two manuals; a quick play guide and a thorough rulebook. We’ve learned that it’s quite difficult to create a single rulebook that is great for both teaching the game and acting as an efficient source material for solving rule-related questions. Thus we divided Dized’s method of providing rules into Tutorials and Rules, and started with the easier one to develop.
We had also gotten a decent amount of feedback during the IGG that more people would’ve backed the campaign, if it would’ve been on KS instead. Feeling that we might’ve missed some potential, and with the help of a recent investor who had a US based company, we ran a KS at the end of 2018. That’s also when the Dized Rules tool was published. And true enough, while the campaign wasn’t a runaway success, it did raise over $100k, which again was really good for a digital product.
With the crowdfunding campaigns under our belts and wanting to push out the tools as soon as possible we launched a private equity investment round in early 2019. We were aiming to be able to raise enough somewhat quickly so that we could deliver the tutorial tool by the end of the year. Unfortunately we did not hit the goals and instead of growing the team we had to downsize it, which naturally made the progress even slower.
We got the first version of the Tutorial tool live in the spring of 2020, just after the pandemic started. We were hoping to show our new content creation tools to many industry operators but the lack of expos made it a much bigger challenge. The pandemic also caused the global shipping prices to rise and we felt like the uncertain times made it more difficult to get publishers to hop on board to a new digital platform. At the same time focusing fully on sales was difficult as we were still fixing bugs and developing new features for our content creation tools. The industry survived the pandemic quite well overall, but for us the timing didn’t work since our product wasn’t ready enough.
Instead of officially launching the platform during the pandemic we focused on developing new and improving existing features. In May 2020 we published the Dized Rules on the web so that it was easier to share and could be search engine optimized. Until this point content had only been available on the iOS and Android apps. The first tool made tutorials were published in summer of 2020, and included Time Breaker, Carcassonne and 7 Wonders. In total we managed to publish 10 tutorials in 2020. Before this the few tutorials we had on Dized were custom made with Unity 3D.
In 2021 the lack of expos continued and even though the digital versions of them were quite well organized, they did not match the experience and success we’ve had at in-person shows. During this time we still continued on bringing more important features to Dized; all content including Tutorials was made available on the web, and we added localization support, so that any content created on the platform could be localized to other languages. We were able to publish 18 tutorials, which wasn’t nearly as much as we had hoped for, but at least it was an increase from the year before.
This year (2022) has been quite a challenge for us. We have continued working with a very small team and limited resources with the goal of getting the platform officially published, as this would also mean revenue streams. With a tremendous push from our team we were able to make this happen now in December, and somehow we even managed to double the speed of new content, publishing some 40 new contents to Dized this year! We’ve also seen the first DLCs (downloadable contents), which we call Extras. Dized Extras are used together with a board game for some additional content, like a score calculator, soundtrack, dice roller or even full blown digital game expansions.
So, we did eventually get there! Definitely not in the desired timeline, and not exactly with the size of library we were hoping to launch with. It’s frankly amazing that we were able to publish the platform at all after all this time. The thanks for that goes for the unbelievably amazing and resilient Dized team, our critically important investors (many of them from the board game industry), and the people who have constantly reminded us that what we do, matters.
Board games are an awesome power in the world and apart from being just for entertainment they do a lot of good for helping people deal with a vast variety of different challenges. A lot of inspiration and motivation can stem from knowing that you’re building something that could have a real positive impact in the world. And perhaps this is already happening, as in December alone players have seen well over 1 million tutorial steps on Dized, and we’ve had over 200,000 users on the platform this year. It feels like a promising start!
I’m sure more talented people could’ve made this happen faster. We didn’t really have relevant experience in running a company, working in the board game industry, or building a global brand. In the end we were just enthusiastic gamers with an exciting idea, who have learned a lot on the way. In retrospect there are many, many things we should’ve-could’ve-would’ve done differently. I don’t even fully understand how it is suddenly 5 years later that we got this out, although I guess the past 3 years have been a bit of a haze for many others as well.
Knowing now how long it took us to get the platform built we did our crowdfunding efforts way too early (well, unless we would’ve been able to raise a lot more that is). We also tried to achieve too many things at once which is probably mostly my fault. I believed it was important to get Dized out on all platforms, all languages, and serve every operator from publishers to retailers for it to truly be an inclusive platform. And to be honest, I still believe that, but I do admit we should’ve started with smaller goals and better focus to get to publishing sooner.
We’ve gotten amazing user feedback this year and for the first time it now really feels like this could actually become something. There is so much more we want to achieve with this platform, and hopefully with the sales now starting and some VERY exciting projects in the pipeline (some of which we cannot publicly even talk about yet), we are looking for a promising new year!
There are so many stories from over the years I wish I could tell, but I believe this post is already too long. Thank you for reading it, and please let me hear in the comments if you already have an experience with Dized, or what would you wish to see on our platform in the future.
With that I hope you will all have a game-rich (and rulebook-light) 2023!
-Jouni (CEO, Dized)