Today, the Holderness family’s white, two-story home near North Hills doesn’t look much like it does in the viral videos.
Hurricane Matthew uprooted a massive tree from the property next door, so it lays longways in the Holderness driveway. The tree’s upper limbs stretch into the street, resting on the power lines and pushing them nearly to the street. From the cream-colored sofa inside the Holderness living room, I can see the tree’s roots, all caked in red clay.
“Miraculously, it didn’t hit any houses or cars,” Kim Holderness says. The family—former news anchors Kim and Penn and their two young kids, Lola and Penn Charles—was out of town during the storm. As of Tuesday, their home was still without power.
But a lack of electricity didn’t stop the Holderness family from launching their newest venture Tuesday morning: Over the next thirty days, the family hopes to raise $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of Family Showdown, a board game they’ve been developing for more than a year.
The game, designed for teams of two or more, is a little like a kid-ready version of Scattergories. Players use a spinner to determine a category and perform tasks such as singing, acting, or finding objects. They have forty-five seconds, and the number of tasks a team completes—or questions it answers—determines the number of spaces it can advance. A full game could last for around thirty-five minutes, although there is a faster way to play for those with short attention spans.
In a little more than a day, the Holderness family raised more than $13,000. We spoke with Penn and Kim Holderness about the proceeds and the plan.
Why did Kickstarter make sense for this project?
Kim: We knew we wanted to use Kickstarter because, if we can get a community that’s excited about [the board game], we’d know then that it would be a sustainable product. And if nobody wanted to fund it, then, there you go.
Penn: The combination of Facebook and Kickstarter go hand in hand. We have already gotten great feedback and suggestions and advice because this game is just a prototype. It’s close to being done, but we want people to help us name the characters on the board. And if there are certain categories or certain things they want, we want to give them the opportunity. We worked hard to put this together, and you can stare at something for a long time, and it makes sense to you. But then then when it goes out into the world, you need that fresh set of eyes.
If you’re able to raise $50,000, what will you use it for? Production? Marketing?
Penn: Everything we are doing is local, which is kind of cool. The printing company is local, if we get funded. These are the same guys who make Pokémon cards. They’re in Morrisville and probably have very little time for us because their business has exploded since the Pokémon Go craze.
Kim: We are not making money at $50,000. Actually, we are still losing money. This has definitely been a labor of love. In terms of a business plan, it’s probably not ideal, but I am so excited just to see people playing the game, sharing their pictures, sending us videos. I just think it’s a cool way for families to be together. Instead of having a third kid, we had a board game.
How did you happen to hire Raleigh artist Paul Friedrich to design the game?
Kim: We’re just huge fans of Paul’s work. We knew we wanted something artistically that parents could enjoy, something that wasn’t so pre-school.
Penn: Paul has this way of mixing pop art and color and expressions with a little bit of sarcasm and wit. It all comes out in the characters he creates. We looked at lots of other designers, and he was by a mile the best one.
Did the kids have much input?
Penn: Yeah, they helped us with the categories. The one they have engaged with the most has been Paul. He sent us these cute monsters and critters to give the game life. And the kids were our test subjects, and they told us which ones they liked and which seemed a little bit too scary, too intense, or the most funny.
Kim: We were worried the shark characters would look a little too scary, and Paul said, “Let’s just put braces on their teeth.”
Penn: Penn Charles came up with the “Blah, Blah, Blah,” which is a category where you sing songs, and instead of singing, the words you go “blah, blah blah” to the tune. He’s six, and that’s something he would do. The basic inspiration came from stuff we like to do with the kids. In that sense, it is really all about them.
Tell me about this “phone jail.” It’s a box where you have to stash your devices while playing the game, right? Was too much screen time becoming a problem in your household?
Kim: Penn and I run a business from our cell phones and computers, so we’re always checking them. A lot of people are like that. The kids really appreciate having what we have named a “phone jail.”
Penn: It started out with the kids fussing and saying, “Pay attention to us.” And then they got older and learned how to use the devices, and they would just steal them and start doing it themselves. And then it snowballed. Kim and I will both readily admit we look at our phones too much.
Kim: We’re not proud of it. I don’t want my kids to remember just looking at the top of my head.
Penn: And I judge people who are sitting in a restaurant on their phones with their kids, but now I do it all the time. So that makes me a hypocrite. But honestly, we have to engage on Facebook pretty frequently. Our whole thing works by writing people back. And I’ve got a Fantasy Football team to run.
Kim: We hope the phone jail is something people will use with or without the game, that it can stand on its own, and be a statement of fun and a little family time.
Is “Family Showdown” inspired by any of your family’s favorite games?
Kim: We do love playing board games, and I always thought there are so many great ones. But we don’t sit still very well. Physical activity is important to us. We wanted a game that would let you stand up and move around. Singing is a no-brainer, because that’s part of our videos and what we do. And our kids have always loved charades.
Penn: The development started with three pillars: movement, music, and creativity. Movement is the category “Fetch.” Music is “Blah, blah, blah.” “Do What” is creativity. “Showdown” is going head-to-head against the other team in a physical or mental challenge.
You make a video each day for your YouTube channel. Do you see the game as a way of diversifying the Holderness Family brand?
Penn: This is a big leap. It’s possible when you put it out to market, it could be a total flop—like, only our friends would buy some, maybe my Mom. But, it’s our lives, if we were to vomit our lives onto a board, put it in a box, and ship it to people.
Kim: We love the videos, but this is just fun. We have been approached a couple different times to license and do videos like #XMAS Jammies, for example. This just felt more authentic because we haven’t just stuck a name on something. With those offers, there hasn’t really been one that has made sense.
It sounds like the game isn’t intended to be taken too seriously.
Penn: There is a strict set of rules, but a smart parent will bend and stretch them.
Kim: That’s what the rules say: If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.