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The Story of Why I Invented Private Joke ®, the Card Game Inspiring Brits to Learn Languages.

To celebrate Private Joke's ® first birthday, it feels important to celebrate and indeed elucidate the journey of how this all came to be. Because up until yesterday, I hadn't realised how the incremental, daily actions of the past year have snowballed into PJ's success today, and it's still just the beginning.

One of the highlights of Accelerate Cambridge during the first few months of 2024 was meeting Dr. Jan Storgårds. A games expert and brilliant mentor, every fortnight I would try to book multiple, back-to-back sessions with him ... much to the exacerbation of our program manager (sorry Jack🤓).

Yesterday, Jan invited me to share the story of how and why I invented PJ with his game development students. The audience posed poignant questions on how to promote a game if you are introverted, how to not take criticism personally, and how to manage time and sustain motivation.

Most importantly, they enjoyed playing the game as I integrated all Original, Girls Night In, and Franglais editions into one. So without further ado, along with a recording of the session which I'll post in the comments, here is PJ's story in print.

The initial idea 💡

I started with a lifelong passion of mine: inspiring and encouraging British people to learn foreign languages. I was feeling a bit lost in my life and was living in Paris trying (and failing) to get a job due to Brexit complications.

I came back to the UK to give a talk on what it’s like learning foreign languages at university; I asked 300 students to raise their hand if they wanted to study languages at university. ONE child raised their hand.

After the talk, the teachers took me to one side and said, “Olive. This is the problem to solve. Get those kids inspired.” But British people and foreign languages aren’t necessarily a match made in heaven, so after a few musings on what to create, I settled on a (simple) card game. Other ideas included a book, a journal, an events service.

I needed something that a group of men could play in the pub, or a bunch of women at a girls night, in school classrooms or university settings. I wanted it to be a card game that could transform the way British people saw languages. And so, Private Joke, the naughty love child of Scrabble and Cards Against Humanity was born. 

The creation process 💥

I spoke to a lot of people about languages including friends, teachers, specialists on LinkedIn etc. In addition to this, I spent about a 6 week period trying to speak to every single British person on the streets trying to understand what it is about British people that stops them from learning a language, and how to trick them into foreign language acquisition.

I reread “Watching the English” which is essentially a detailed Bible on how and why we (Brits) are what we are, and I came to realise humour had to be central. We also feel an element of shame and embarrassment at not being able to speak foreign languages, so the game had to encourage and not alienate. 

“The naughty love child of Scrabble and Cards Against Humanity” was my target. Cards Against Humanity for the funny, and Scrabble for the nerdy / linguistic element. The first prototype was a bunch of handwritten cards that I forced my friends (very much not games people) to play and test with me; the concept of “inventing words” has always been the same, but in the early days it was very rusty e.g. players would just invent words without much prompting. 

During the crowdfunding campaign, and with more and more games played with different audiences and for different purposes such as school classrooms, family occasions, and friends nights, the game ended up shifting.

Currently, as it stands, people tend to play it slightly differently. I’ve been working on a short, fast version of the game, and am in the process of designing an APP version, but it takes a lot of people and a lot of reiteration. I’ve learnt not to hold onto any particular version emotionally, and to just go with the flow according to users. 

The Financial Backing 💵

Despite only one month of preparation, my Kickstarter (which you can check out here) worked; over 21 days, I raised 4,500 GBP thanks to 130 backers which was +15% of the original goal. (If you're reading this and you supported me, thank you ❤️). If you'd like to support the next one, I'm running a crowdfunding campaign during the 12 days of Christmas to release the Franglais game.

I did this entirely by myself, and went to 5 different cities during the campaign, ran numerous events and not always with a very big turnout, have never cried so much in my life, and was burnt out afterwards. 

But, with this, I was able to get the first digital version of the game out there which was trialled with schools last year, produce the first 150 limited edition games, as well as pay back the marketing costs I initially invested. But it was tight, and the digital version needs more time.

Crowdfunding, for me anyway, was emotionally draining. I’m happy to relay more on this in future or a separate post, but I have a ton of tips on what I would have done better, as well as learnings to bring forward for the next crowdfunding campaign. 

The tough bits 🥲

Everything went smoothly with the games, except for a couple of games not making it through international customs, and one or two games not having the letters in them (factory error). Luckily, since the crowdfunding campaign was through friends and family, no one shouted at me!

On a much larger scale, and with paying customers with high expectations, however, this outcome might have been different, and it's something I'll be prepared for with the next crowdfunding campaign.

I also launched into the “Girls Night In” game very quickly, and when you look at our overall strategy of going into schools, it doesn’t hugely make sense! I became over-excited and didn’t do enough market research into who we were targeting. It’s certainly not a waste, but I think it is too early to expand our market at this stage, and building the games for schools as well as the single language games is the priority right now. 

Marketing. It is expensive, and I personally really don’t like making content on Instagram and TikTok. But I know this is a very very good route for exposure, and that the game has significant viral potential. I also put GNI on Amazon, but they squeezed our profits, with absolutely zero customer support, so I abandoned it within a month. Down with the monopolies. #Slay

Player feedback 🥳

The following list is from the very recent Franglais Focus Groups, and there are two very cool articles from modern foreign languages teachers in the UK who used the game in their lessons, which can be found on this same blog. The value of the game speaks for itself!

How do you feel after playing and creating new Franglais words? 

  • I want to play it again

  • I want to go back to learn more words but also just use my French!

  • I feel a lot more creative, I think this was really fun to get out of my head and just engage with French in a more fun and casual way

  • I feel quite inspired and I think it was really funny to play with words

  • I had a lot of fun and it makes me want to do it more in regular conversations

  • I honestly wanted to play some more because of how much I loved the unexpected side of the game and the time limit also makes it exciting!

  • I feel inspired and motivated to use French more! It was really fun.

  • It’s fun and a good way to spend time with friends that feels productive.

  • More motivated because I found learning the new quirky works inspiring

How would you describe playing Private Joke in 3 words? Fun, inspiring, cultural / Brainy linguistic and entertaining / Exciting Creative Funny / Laughter, inspiring, rewarding. / Humorous, cheeky, cocky / Interactive creative inclusive / Funny, mood-boosting, relaxed / It was difficult / considered, challenging, collaborative / Fun, inspiring, challenging / great, unexpected, creative

Next steps 😎

1/ Workshops for schools & corporates 

2/ Development of our APP (2025) 

3/ Franglais Christmas crowdfunding

The next stages are to ramp up the school and corporate workshops. These are great for exposure, spreading our mission, and getting cash into the business for future games. Next summer I would like to get the APP up and running, which we can expand into schools and for individual game play. 

I am starting a teacher training course in September, so with a student status I will be able to access more funding, competitions, and support from various bodies, not to mention being in the heart of British secondary schools where I can play the game myself with future students.

As mentioned previously, I'm not looking for investment and am happy to see the game grow organically, through word of mouth, our wonderful team of Ambassadors, and via workshops. The best way you can support Olea is to invest in a game for your family and friends, or purchase a schools pack for a local state school.

Finally, a big thank you to Jan and Luca for hosting me during yesterday's talk ! ❤️ The best way to keep up with Olea's journey is via our monthly newsletters here.


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