Story and photos by Austin Keenan
At a backyard barbecue in Maywood, N.J., a group of friends stands around a collection of red and blue balls spread out on a pitch marked with kite string. Excitement builds as the game unfolds, and players lean as far as their balance allows while trying to knock the balls into a goal built of sawed-off 2x4s and screws.
For everyone else at the party, the game is a good time. But, for Gabriel Perez, this is an opportunity for meticulous study. Perez, 26, is play-testing a game he invented and that he hopes will be the flagship product for his game-design company, Flyboy Games.
In today’s economy, Perez has set himself ambitious goals and learned much about starting a business and developing and marketing his product – a lawn game he calls Lobol that he describes as a hybrid between soccer and bocce. The idea for the game is to transform the typical lawn game from area-based activities like bocce and horseshoes into a fast-paced strategic competition like soccer or football. “It’s easy to learn, but difficult to master,” Perez says.
Getting the venture under way was also difficult. The economy “forced me to look for a company to back me,” Perez says. “I wanted to do it myself to retain all the rights and control over my product, but with little capital, it is very hard to make an impact into any market, especially for a rookie.”
Through the Internet, Perez found and began collecting various games; he also found a handful of lawn-game manufacturers with whom he hopes to partner. “I sent out eight e-mails to eight companies in America that either manufacture or distribute bocce ball sets, because that is the most expensive component to my game,” Perez says. One company, EPCO (the E. Parrella Company of Medway, Mass.) was interested, and Perez says he’s currently negotiating with it.
During the process of finding a backer, Perez had to go through the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining a patent, then send out confidentiality agreements to all the companies he hoped to show his design to. Obtaining a patent set Perez back around $6,000, most of it for a patent lawyer. The wording of a patent must be broad enough to prevent other manufacturers from borrowing the idea, yet specific enough to pertain to one particular product.
“Out of those eight e-mails, I heard back from three companies; out of those three, only one was willing to sign a confidentiality agreement,” Perez says.
A Montclair State graduate, Perez has worked on and off in broadcasting, but his love of games keeps pulling him back into homegrown business ideas. In 2001 and 2002, he ran cash tournaments for video game fanatics, calling them UVR, or Ultimate Video Game Revolution.
“It started off as a few friends playing competitively, and then it expanded to friends of friends until it grew to a fairly large weekly following,” Perez recalls. “We’d have at least 20 to 30 people at times.”
Perez believes his lifelong love affair with games stems from his days as a high school athlete. At St. Joseph’s Regional in Montvale, N.J., Perez was a varsity lacrosse player and played through his senior year even after sustaining a serious shoulder injury.
“My motivation for this endeavor and all others is simply that I like to play games,” he says. “It’s my competitive nature. I grew up playing sports, and once I was done playing sports, I had no outlet, in a sense.”
Once he had the idea for Lobol, Perez began to test the game with friends and family at outdoor gatherings, reworking and perfecting the rules. The game has “evolved drastically” since its first conception a year ago, and rules are constantly being tweaked or added.
“At first, there weren’t very many rules; it was just about getting the ball up the field and into the goal,” Perez says. “The rules came bit by bit, very slowly. A new rule was revised just two weeks ago. So, even though it’s pretty much final, it’s still evolving.”
Despite the trouble he has had going from prototype to retail model, Perez remains confident his game has a niche out there somewhere.