Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Play dates aren’t only for children

Marketplace Staff Jun 26, 2009
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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Play dates aren’t only for children

Marketplace Staff Jun 26, 2009
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TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL:The release of the new “Transformers” movie this week is just the latest offering of Hasbro products up on the big screen. We’re also in line for movies based on some of company’s most popular board games, too. Monopoly and Candy Land coming soon to a theater near you. That’s a testimony to the enduring popularity of certain games. Also our fascination with all things retro. You throw in a bad economy and you’ve got yourself a business model.

Gigi Douban reports now from Birmingham, Ala.


Gigi Douban: It’s 10 o’clock on a Saturday night. Over a thousand people are packed into the ballroom of a downtown hotel. There’s food, a cash bar. Old school hip hop blares from the sound system. And the people here are looking for trouble.

[Sound of the Trouble bubble being pressed]

Trouble, the board game. Remember that one? It’s all part of a monthly event recently launched in Birmingham. Here’s the deal: You pay $10 to go to a place where there’s a huge spread of games — everything from Connect Four to Rock’ em Sock ’em Robots. And people just play.

Thirty-eight-year-old Terra Tuck brought a few girlfriends along. They’re playing Operation

Terra Tuck: I wasn’t ever able to conquer it, but tonight as you can see, I have three of his body parts.

Tuck’s no doctor. But she is an administrator with the Alabama Department of Public Health. She says as a state employee, she didn’t get a raise this year.

Tuck: This makes you forget about anything that’s going on economically.

And that’s kind of the point. This event in Birmingham was organized by a company called Play Date. Its goal is to provide an inexpensive alternative to the bar and club scene. The company started in Atlanta five years ago. Today there are Play Dates in 20 cities.

Rickey White ran this event.

Rickey White: You can have a Xbox 360, HD elite, blah blah blah blah. But, you break out a pack of Uno and the response far trumps the Xbox 360.

Play Date may offer old-school games, but its marketing strategy is typical of the digital age. It advertises online with banner ads. And it has a fan page on Facebook.

Author Andrew Keen says it makes perfect sense that a business would use online sites to promote face-to-face interaction. He wrote a book on how the Internet is killing our culture.

Andrew Keen: We are lonelier and lonelier, more and more fragmented. So we’ll do anything to meet people. So we use the internet to find people to play Monopoly with.

And perhaps to find that special someone.

About a half dozen people were swaying and head-bobbing around a skyscraper of wood blocks for a round of Jenga. George Corra was among them. Corra read about Play Date on Facebook. After sidling up to various women in the Jenga circle, he ultimately landed here at the Pac-Man game.

Corra remained hopeful, though. After all, the party wouldn’t end until 2 a.m.

George Corra: The good part is there’s a lot of singles coming in. I’m going to meet as many people as I can until I find the right one.

It’s like going to a house party, Corra says. All that’s missing is Spin the Bottle.

In Birmingham, I’m Gigi Douban for Marketplace.

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