State of Play
A South Park couple brings game night to households across the nation
Few people see an unused airsickness bag while traveling and think, Oooh! Game! But for professional game makers Jean and Matthew Rivaldi, it’s bound to happen.
When the husband-and-wife team were stuck without wireless on an airplane, they used the downtime to brainstorm ways to incorporate social media into their company, Wiggity Bang Games. Matthew says, “Our silliest ideas come out when there’s no distractions, no phones ringing.”
Jean picked up the bag, wrote “Guess What’s In the Barf Bag?” on it, and voila! The couple now plays GWITBB with their Facebook followers. Answers have ranged from Lucha Libre figurines to a Mr. T bobblehead to mustard.
Still, while Jean and Matthew use social media to connect with fans (as they did with each other—they met on Match.com), there’s nothing digital about their business products.
The Rivaldis make board games.
Such creativity and offbeat humor have put their games—Quelf, FlapDoodle, QUAO, and FURT—on the map. Even Jimmy Kimmel played Quelf, Wiggity Bang’s premier game, on his late night talk show.
It’s a curious endeavor, considering a 2010 study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids between ages eight and 18 spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using digital media a day. To thousands of entrepreneurs, this validates jumping into the overcrowded app market. To the Rivaldis, this simply means there are 16 other hours in the day to play a screen-free game with friends and family.
“There are people who still play no matter how much technology comes down the line,” explains Matthew, who received his MBA from San Diego State. “Technology will never replace the time you can spend with somebody, face-to-face, talking. For that aspect alone, I don’t think this will ever go away.”
He could be right. A 2011 report from the NPD Group revealed that toys and board games captured more dollar share for kids during the 2010 holiday period than video and PC games. Game night, it seems, still has a solid market.
Started in 2004, Wiggity Bang is managed out of the Rivaldis’ home in South Park. The couple’s birch-top desks sit side-by-side in the detached garage they converted into a hardwood-floored office. Both have a view of the backyard where sons Jack, 5, and Alex, 3, play, as Jean and Matthew take turns parenting and working. While one watches the kids, the other e-mails writers, prepares game samples for shipping, books tickets for trade shows, or sketches prototypes. Meanwhile, Riley, the family dog, lies at the foot of Jean’s desk patiently waiting for a work break.
In the Rivaldis’ latest game, Magic Feather, players personify animals that collect magic feathers around an enchanted neighborhood, all while avoiding a snarky murder of crows. Adding to the fun is the inclusion of several South Park spots—Grant’s Marketplace, The Daily Scoop, Ginseng Yoga, and Fire Station No. 9.
“We love this neighborhood,” says Jean, the game’s head writer. “I feel like everyone here is watching out for each other. We hope to never leave.”