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Game changers

Fast 50 winner

Shaking up the trading card game industry

James White has been in the games industry for over 20 years. In that time, he has seen games come and go. Products released with much buzz and fanfare that fizzle out. Games that moved online, away from the local games shops that are the backbone of the industry. That’s what led James and Robbie Wen to start their own game design, development and publishing company, Legend Story Studios.

Started back in 2012, the goal was to create a completely immersive trading card game that could rival the big players in the industry. For Legend Story Studios, every part of their strategy and operations are intentional, carefully considered and never at odds with the original vision, in James’ words “to bring people together in the flesh and blood through the common language of playing great games.” But good things take time. James and Robbie spent seven years developing Flesh and Blood, the trading card game that hit the shelves in October 2019 and is now stocked in 3,200 stores in 35 countries across the world. Those years were spent designing, developing, and creating depth in the world that James and Robbie have built.

“We wanted to make sure that we had the design foundations to elegantly evolve the game over time,” says James, noting a common pitfall that publishers can fall in to. But for Legend Story Studios, it has opened several key opportunities and enabled them to achieve rapid growth, placing them firmly at the top of this year’s Fast 50 index as New Zealand’s fastest-growing business with a growth rate unmatched by any previous Fast 50 winner.

A feat like this has been achieved through James and his team’s clear vision for Flesh and Blood and staying true to it, but most importantly, by keeping the end-user at the heart of everything they do. With the big-name publishers in the industry shifting towards online platforms, James identified a demand for in-person play experiences. “It opened a space for someone to step in and fill that need but I also personally believe that it’s important that there are places in society for people to come together through common interests.” James speaks about community and the importance of shared interests often. It holds personal relevance and a depth of meaning to him. “For my friends and I, our local gaming store is where we have built a community. For me, it was important to do something to preserve this culture of beautiful, tangible in-person experiences.” Now, competitive Flesh and Blood events are held all over the world, bringing players and fans together to compete in regional and national events.

But this would be hampered by an unanticipated threat. Shortly after Flesh and Blood’s launch, the global pandemic forced game shops to close and people to stay at home. A scary prospect for a business built around a product designed to bring people together in person. “It seemed like it could kill our business and industry,” reflects James. But it presented a new opportunity. Legend Story Studios came up with clever and innovative ways to shift their messaging to engage an audience who were at home with time on their hands. “We pivoted our strategy. During lockdown, people needed other things to do, something that they could do together around the kitchen table.” Legend Story Studios began partnering with YouTube influencers who could showcase the game on their channels, and 3,500 introductory kits were delivered into homes across America. “That was the turning point,” says James, recalling the snowball effect that this would have. As more started to play the game, they’d share with their friends and through their online platforms, creating hype through word of mouth.

I’m not interested in a short-term hype product. We’re trying to make a game and a brand that will stand the test of time.

– James White, founder, Legend Story Studios

“We always intended to achieve this. We weren’t doing this to be a little business, we’re doing it to fundamentally shake up the industry.” James isn’t surprised by the sustained success of Flesh and Blood since its release. It’s clear that he and his team have considered everything. From design foundations to warehousing, distribution to packaging, and everything in between. Flesh and Blood is the first trading card game to roll out fully recyclable paper packaging. With consumers now expecting businesses to not only deliver a great product but to do it responsibly too, it’s yet another example of Legend Story Studios leading the way, showcasing the pioneering spirit that has enabled them to aggressively rival the juggernauts of their industry.

“I’m not interested in a short-term hype product. We’re trying to make a game and a brand that will stand the test of time,” says James boldly, alluding to the future of Flesh and Blood. “We’re more than a game, we’re an IP suite.”With the game now played in 35 countries, fans and players flocking to competitive events, warehouses spread across the globe, a thriving secondary card market and exciting plans on the horizon, Legend Story Studios knows that they can continue to go up against the heavyweights of the industry, and win. “We hold ourselves to high standards. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved but we’re always pushing ourselves to do better.”

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