Looking back: 20 years on

Twenty years ago, on 9th October 2001, Freeform Games was incorporated.

So that’s the day we celebrate as our birthday.

We made our first sale ten weeks later, on 17th December.

In 2001…

There was no iPhone, iPad, Facebook or Twitter. Google was three years old, and Amazon was nothing like the behemoth it is now. And Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 5 was the most common internet browser.

Payment over the Internet was relatively novel when we started, so we still accepted checks/ cheques. Not that checks have been popular – we’ve processed fewer than ten checks in 20 years.

Our first game was Death on the Gambia. It was initially more complicated: combat was fiddlier, you could catch river fever, and each character had a success or failure epilogue depending on how the player felt they did. We’ve simplified our games since then to make them easier to run.

In our early games, some characters had more abilities than others. (You can still see this in some of our older games that we haven’t updated to our new format, such as Curse of the Pharaoh.) In our more recent games, everyone has just three abilities.

Over time, we’ve improved our games’ layout to make them easier to run and play. We’re also more consistent with our look and feel so that when you buy a Freeform Games murder mystery game, you know what you’re getting. (Although we still have a backlog of games to update into the latest format.)

Foreign-language games

We live in the UK, and we initially expected that most of our customers would be here and in other English-speaking countries. But it quickly became clear that offering downloadable PDFs instead of physical games meant that people from all over the world would be keen to join the party.

We’ve had customers in 84 countries (at least—PayPal doesn’t always tell us where a customer is based). However, about two-thirds of our customers come from the USA—by far our biggest market.

We offered our first translated murder mystery in 2003 (Tod auf dem Gambia – a German translation of Death on the Gambia), and we offer 13 translated games. We now have two partners, Die Besten Familienspiele in Germany and FranceMurder in France.

Curse of the Pharaoh – played in New Zealand

Challenges

The last 20 years have not been without their challenges.

Our biggest challenge has undoubtedly been the pandemic, where our sales dropped off a cliff in March 2020. However, as we reported in January, things have been picking up ever since and hopefully will continue to improve as we learn to live with coronavirus.

Other challenges have included unreliable web hosts (in one case causing us to lose a week’s traffic in October, our busiest period) and changes to Google’s algorithm.

We get most of our traffic from Google, and as they have been trying to weed out low-quality sites from their search results, we have occasionally been affected by those changes. But as you might expect, we only remember the changes that affect us negatively – we don’t remember the good changes!

Murder on the Istanbul Express – our latest game

20 years old

We had no idea that 20 years later we would still be running Freeform Games, with over 30 games to our name.

But we’re happy we are – and here’s to the next 20 years!

3 thoughts on “Looking back: 20 years on

  1. Mike Taylor

    And keep up the good work!

    One area where I think the pandemic has created a new demand is for much smaller games. My wife and i would be happy to host one or two other couples who we trust to be Covid-safe, but not more and certainly not a large group. There are almost no options (not just on your site, I mean anywhere!) for four-player games; and now we’ve played Death In Venice, not many options for three couples either. I suspect there might be a lot of people like us.

    Reply
  2. Steve HatherleySteve Hatherley Post author

    Yes, I agree.

    We’ve noticed that our smaller games are currently selling well, whereas before the pandemic our larger games (12-14 people) were most popular.

    Four player games present a particular challenge for our style of game as it helps to have lots of different plots and things going on. But perhaps that’s something for us to think about!

    Reply
  3. Jeremy Gustafson

    After reading this, I think next time I order a game I will request to pay for it by mailing a check 🙂

    Reply

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