How this Singaporean game designer made learning Singlish, Malay and Hokkien fun again!
The Say What? card games is one of the best selling card games in Singapore. What are the inspiration behind the creation of this series? We talk to the creator, Lilian Lee, to find out more!
Q: Give the readers a short introduction about yourself, your company, and how you started a company designing language card games?
Hello my name is Lilian Lee and I am the creator and founder of Say What? A fun language and culture learning card game design company. Our products are beautifully illustrated and guaranteed to make learning fun, laughter included.
It all started when friends asked me how I managed to speak several languages and managed to pick them up easily through my travels. I always try to do ‘be as a local’ tourism and try to connect with the locals. To have better experiences with the locals, I always try to learn simple phrases. As I interact with them, the locals taught me funny local slang and some curse words. Those are the easiest to learn because they are funny and useful in certain situations... But try not to curse any locals!
Few years ago, before Say What? was created, I participated in a IDEO open brief challenge about creating a solution for the community. One of the research we did was related to the dying Chinese dialects amongst the younger generation and how it is becoming tougher to retain the beautiful culture and languages that might become extinct if we don’t start thinking about it now.
That's how I started creating the Say What game series, starting with Cantonese as the first set of games.
Q: What challenges did your company face when it first started?
There were many challenges from the start until today. This company is a one person show and I had to wear many hats, from being a designer, illustrator, creator, production manager, social media noob to marketer and also sales person. Creating a card game takes a lot of time, effort and money, but I found out that to market it and get the games into retail distribution is another ball game. I tried juggling my full time job with my card game business on my side, working on my card games after my work hours and burning midnight oil during weekends. This project needs a lot of passion and dedication from the start to the end. I must thank my friends and strangers for being the first supporter of our first Cantonese card game, because without them, I might not have proceeded to design more card games. I went on to create Hokkien, Singlish Bahasa Melayu and Japanese language games.
Although I am the face of Say What?, I prefer to use the word ‘we’, thanks to the help of many of my friends and loyal customers who helped me behind the scenes. When people ask me who the rest of the employees are, I will tell them that Aunty Chan and Uncle are with me. They are the mascots of our company.
Q: What is the mission, vision or guiding principles of your company? What values does your company embody?
Mission: To make learning languages and cultures fun.
Vision: Hopefully we can produce more Chinese dialects and language card games and (maybe board games) of the world in future.
Values: We always follow this thought ‘WHY NOT?’. And never use any road block as a hinder to our progress. We take it as a challenge.
Q: What inspires the ideas behind your games?
Our love in helping others to have fun learning languages and cultures. Love it when people write to us telling us that they love playing our card games or how much our stickers bring them joy.
Q: What was the work schedule like given the COVID pandemic? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
When people complained about being bored or the lockdown makes life difficult (which led to retail being closed temporarily), we were super busy. We tried to focus on e-commerce and tried to communicate with our overseas customers that the normal shipping period of 2 weeks had been extended to 4 to 6 weeks instead due to the disruption from the pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, we gave talks at Apple, Adobe and Ted X. We also went Malaysian cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang and other cities in Asia such as Taipei and Seoul to set up pop up stores to market our games. It was a great experience to see people crowding our stall and also people asking questions and engaging with us after our talks.
Q: You are one of the key people who helped organized the SG Board & Card Game meet-up in 2019. What is the story behind this collaboration?
This ball started rolling prior to the pandemic. A bunch of Singaporean game designers and community leaders came together to brainstorm what we wanted to do to give more exposure for the local games designer to the wider Singaporean population and how to get more people to get interested in becoming a game designer. Once the idea was mooted, the community took action and started a SG board and card game meet-up in 2019. This was all thanks to the Toytag folks - Zac, Naz and Tonasa. After that, they roped in key people like Colin Lim from Card Board Crew who is super knowledgeable and helpful who also introduced us to more important people in the board game community.
Q: Your games can be found in many retail stores and shops. How did you build up such an extensive distribution network?
We were lucky enough to have retailers contacting us. But we also acknowledge that we were super thick skinned in approaching retailers that we find might be useful to sell our products. Friends and the community also helped us a lot on this. One word - we are lucky. We do believe in luck and the right time, right place.
Q: You are one of the creators who was badly affected by the closure of a local designer retail store, NAIISE. How has that affected you?
Honestly speaking, it was not just the closure of Naiise that affected us, the closure of Gallery & Co also made us lost money. Although our sum wasn’t as big as others, we still felt that it’s dishonest for reputable retailers to keep coming up with excuses and keep owing money to local small creators, makers and designers. The retailers blamed the cashflow problems on Covid19 but if you were to dig deeper, it all started way before the pandemic. It taught us to chase money more often if the payment is late by a month and learn to be thick skin in chasing payment constantly.
Q: Any upcoming projects or ideas that you are working on and looking to launch in the future? What are your plans for the near future?
We are planning to do Hakka and Tamil card games. And also hope to participate in overseas events after the pandemic. There’s a long way to go. More challenges and more learnings ahead. Need to be positive that the world will be OK.
Find out more about the games created by Say What? and where to find them at https://www.saywhatwithfriends.com