Special Report: The Champion Series: Ravensburger: Thomas Kirchenkamp, ‘Specialists in using ideas to build entertaining products’

When Thomas Kirchenkamp joined Ravensburger two years ago, he was assigned to determine whether it made sense for the company to engage in the business of new media. The answer, as evidenced in the January 1996 launch of Ravensburger Interactive Media,...
August 1, 1996

When Thomas Kirchenkamp joined Ravensburger two years ago, he was assigned to determine whether it made sense for the company to engage in the business of new media. The answer, as evidenced in the January 1996 launch of Ravensburger Interactive Media, was ‘yes’. Today, Kirchenkamp is the general manager of the 16-person division.

The reputation Ravensburger has developed over its 100 years as a dependable supplier of board games and books for families and children was a key factor in the decision to develop new media at Ravensburger. ‘This is the main group of consumers of interactive products, and since we see our real competence as being a specialist in using ideas and concepts to build entertaining and educational products, we moved ahead.’

In 1995, the division was not yet created, but Kirchenkamp and his colleagues tested the waters with four CD-ROMs, the first of which was Do Not Disturb, an award-winning interactive title on sex education for teens.

Today, there are 22 properties in development and production at the subsidiary, and two-thirds of them are licensed properties, mainly from the United States and Canada. The remaining third are either new developments at Ravensburger or based on Ravensburger properties.

Latest on the list is Witches Academy, a CD-ROM created in conjunction with the New York company, Organa (founded by former Voyager partner Aleen Stein) and developed by Pixel Magic of Ireland. Kirchenkamp is clearly delighted with the project. ‘It’s an appealing entertainment product for children where the kids’ job is to fly on a broom and turn frogs into princes and other fun things while exercising logical thinking.’

Ravensburger’s role was in contributing not only to financing, but to the concept ‘so that it sells in Europe as well as in U.S.,’ says Kirchenkamp. The company has distribution rights in German-language territories and holds the world-wide rights with Organa.

When it comes to adapting established products for CD-ROM, Kirchenkamp says straight adaptation of the story to a new format is not good enough.

‘You really have to provide the customers with added value and show them it is worth it to buy this product on CD-ROM.’ Creating something new out of something old also means avoiding interdepartmental competition, he adds.

E-Lexicon, a game that operates on the basis of associating pictures with words, was the first Ravensburger property to be adapted to CD-ROM. In its new form, it’s called Crazy World. ‘We started with checking how we could move the core concept into the new medium, which is easy to transport to the screen. But we needed something different, so we made a story out of it [and set it in] the Palace of Knowledge.’ From there, the game winds its way through rooms with gnomes as guides who sometimes help and sometimes trip the player in making the proper associations. ‘It’s a kind of micro world where you can play and, along the way, learn something about objects.’ From the launch of the title in February to the end of June, the game has sold about 4,000 copies, ‘By German standards, this is very good,’ says Kirchenkamp. To date, the game has been licensed in German territories and the Netherlands.

Right now, Kirchenkamp is looking for international properties to develop and co-produce rather than simply distribute. His forecast for the future is ‘to increase our own productions and international co-productions.’ The division has recently launched its first title in Italy, Logo Computer Systems Inc.’s My Make-Believe Castle, and has plans to launch three titles on the French market later this year. It has also recently signed a contract with Dutch publisher Zwijsen for distribution of four titles this year in the Netherlands and in Belgium.

Kirchenkamp intends ‘to become the market leader in German-language territories for children’s entertainment titles by the end of this year.’ Today, there are seven titles completed, and there are plans to have 15 more on the shelves by early November.

Ravensburger distributes Seattle-based Headbone Interactive in German-speaking territories, and launched the German version of Elroy G’es Bugzerk in 1995. It has a distribution deal with Humongous Entertainment, of Woodinville Washington, to launch Freddi Fish and the Missing Kelp Seeds and Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo this summer, as well as a deal with Wanderlust Interactive for The Pink Panther.

Kirchenkamp says of the elements he’s working with: ‘There is more and more of a problem with limited shelf space as more products come on to the market. If you want to attract retailers and consumers, you need extraordinary product.’ Diversification and low in-house costs are also key to success, he adds. ‘We have to become larger in terms of the product line and, by the end of the year, we will go more and more into family-oriented products and adult-oriented products.’

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