I’m not a gamer.
In either sense of the word. I’m terrible at video games unless the only controls are “up/down” and “fire.” And I’m not that excited about spending long evenings with wizards, knights, or dragons.
But I do love to play.
If you ask my wife, I have a habit of making everything into a game, even something as mundane as preparing a cup of tea: How far away can you stand and still toss the teabag into the cup?
Or emptying the dishwasher: How many forks can you grab in one hand in one go?
Or listening to music.
It started as a game of “Who can out-DJ the other person?” This involved long evenings spent dancing around the house seeing who could come up with the perfect next song to keep the good times rolling.
Over time we added more rules like, if you played a bad song you lost your turn, but if you played a great song, you could go twice, but only if everyone agreed.
The game got more and more complicated until the only ones who could ever possibly understand how to play it were myself and my wife. We even had a Google doc full of notes to help us settle any disputes.
“Who can out-DJ the other person?” was never going to be a #1 hit, but the idea that we could gamify music streaming apps stuck with me.
Steve Jobs famously said we could have “1,000 songs in our pocket,” and now with Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, etc., most of us have millions more.
Given the easy accessibility of all this great music, I wondered, was there a simple version of our complicated game that other people might want to play?
While this idea was percolating we went away for a weekend with friends. And as it happens it was the anniversary of my wife’s father’s funeral, or graduation as she likes to call it.
So while we were all sitting around sipping wine, she asked if she could play a song in memory of her dad. Naturally, we all agreed and soon we were all singing along to the Beatle’s “Here Comes the Sun.”
She told the story of how she and her Dad used to listen to records together in his woodshop. And how they used to crank it up and dance in the sawdust. And how his love of music fostered her own.
When the song ended, one of our friends said: “I have a song that reminds me of my Dad and a story I could share.” REM’s “Losing My Religion” became the backing track to her tale of growing up in an extremely religious environment, and then finally, as a teenager, running away from home.
I followed up by playing Cat Steven’s “Father and Son” and sharing a memory of listening to this album at one of my Dad’s friend’s houses while they were upstairs trying to install a toilet.
And then someone else played a hilarious children’s song and spoke about bath time being some of the best quality time he could recall spending with his Dad.
It was so much fun that we chose a new topic and played again. And again. And again. The whole time discovering new music and new things about each other.
It wasn’t about winning. It was about connecting.
We were sharing stories that would have otherwise been unlikely to come out. And listening to music we loved or could laugh at.
On the way home I said to my wife, “I think that’s the game.”
The next day I wrote up a bunch of prompt cards and had a stab at some simple rules.
A few days later a graphic designer who works for my wife took my hand-drawn logo and card ideas and made them beautiful and real.
And one week later we had our first real prototype.
The day the prototype arrived I took it with me on an annual boys ski weekend. The year before I had brought Cards Against Humanity, which everyone loved and I had been reminded several times not to forget to bring it again.
So as we were unpacking I put Cards Against Humanity and Song Saga on the table. And then I waited.
Finally, on the second night of our trip, someone suggested we play Cards, but by then one of the other guys had picked up our prototype and said: “Hey this looks cool, we should play this.”
For me that was a big win. The box design and back of the box copy worked!
But not everyone was immediately sold. So we agreed to play Song Saga for an hour and then play Cards Against Humanity.
What happened next will forever be one of the greatest nights of my life. I watched with fascination and joy as my friends laughed and danced and told stories and played music and had a blast.
My favourite quote from the night (and there were many) was:
“Dude, I’ve known you for like twenty years, and I never knew this about you!”
We played until 3 am. The entire time I was taking pictures and texting updates to my wife. And finally, when everyone was too tired to keep going, I told them they were the first people to ever play Song Saga.
So now here we are, one year later. We’ve got thousands of games on the way, a global distributor and all our fingers and toes crossed that everyone loves our game as much as the boys did on that unforgettable ski weekend.
If you don’t already, I’m pretty sure you will.