Transcript of our podcast from 30 April 2010

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Influential Game Companies of the Past

by Moritz Eggert

This show I would like to start a little series about game companies which are now defunct, but which once played an important role in the gaming scene.

The first of these game companies is one that many of you might never heard of - simply because you are too young - but which in it's heyday was considered the leading company in the world of games, publishing many classics that are still beloved and played today.

And no, I'm not talking about Avalon Hill, but about 3M, which many consider to be its predecessor.

We have to be specific here: 3M is a huge company still powerful today, and mostly known in the realm of industrial adhesives, office accessories and car paints. But during its most successful period the company tried to branch out in new directions and one of these directions was... boardgaming. This process began 1962, when the company decided to go with the new trend of leisure activities after World War II, which was really kicked off by a rise in living standards and the fact that people were hungry for new diversions instead of worrying about the Cold War. In an ingenious move the line was called "bookshelf" games, and it used a format that is still popular with many games until today, the rectangular, upright standing game that simply looks good in a bookshelf, is easy to store and more sturdy than the flimsy, oblong game boxes that were used until then.

3M games had a very distinctive visual style - the game boxes were usually done in a unified design that was very 60's like, often with stylish drawings of beautiful people pondering futuristic looking, abstract gameboards. The covers alone say a lot about the time they were produced in. Like a folder the game could then be pulled out of its casing, usually to reveal a mapboard and playing pieces, which were usually done in plastic.

But all this would of course not say a lot about the longevity of 3M games - there were 2 factors that made them so influential.

The first of these was the fact that 3M as an international company could use a vast international distribution. This meant that 3M games were published in many languages, also in Germany, were they were very influential in creating the first big gamer generation after the war.

The second factor was the sheer quality of most of their games. And this had to do with a selective screening process that encouraged people sending their game designs to 3M games, where a whole department took care to try out everything and to develop interesting ideas. 2 giants of game design were absolutely instrumental in the development of the company, each of which would deserve his own segment on this show: the first one being Alex Randolph, and the second one being Sid Sackson.

Ever heard of games like Acquire, Twixt, Executive Decision or Facts in Five? If you dare to call yourself a gamer you should have heard of at least two of these games by these 2 designers, Acquire by Sackson probably being the game that is still considered to be one of the most influential games ever, especially for the Euro-line of games.

Just imagine - at the time of 3M games the only economical game of note was Monopoly. And we all know that Monopoly is broken, too luck-driven and takes too long, even if there are some fun elements to it. If you compare Monopoly to an efficient, intelligent and exciting game-design like Acquire you can immediately understand how important 3M's influence on game design was.

3M's main focus quickly turned out to be 2 types of games - either elegantly simple abstract games that looked good and sophisticated if seen on a table during a cocktail party while having guests, or nifty economical or otherwise unusually themed games that were interesting to play for adults.

The former would be represented by titles like Feudal, Oh-Wah-Ree or Ploy, the latter by games as Stocks and Bonds, High Bid or Point of Law. In short - 3M mostly made its name by NOT producing kid's games but by catering to a target audience of sophisticated, high-income people with lots of free time.

With this kind of business model no company would survive today, but in it's time 3M was very successful simply because it didn't have to compete with toys or being forced to dumb down their games to a mass market. Even today, 3M games are beautiful to look at, and some of them are coveted collector's items. Günther Rosenbaum of our Westpark-Gamers is one of the most known collectors of 3M-Games worldwide and even has his own homepage for their games. If you want to delve further in the history of this fascinating company you could do worse then visiting his page at

1975 3M decided to discontinue their line of games and sold it to a new upstart company, Avalon Hill. But that is another story.

Until next time, have fun gaming.

Moritz over and out.

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