YULU is a toy producer that prides itself on releasing fun, unique, and sometimes zany games. Established in 2015, YULU is a brand-driven international creator and manufacturer of toys and games that aim to promote an active lifestyle. With brands like Spy Code, Helix, Whacky Shots and more forthcoming, YULU advocates the fundamental need for cognitive, physical, social and emotional development by creating indoor and outdoor toys and games. The designers at YULU believe that through active play, children nurture their creativity and develop problem-solving skills and subsequently become inquisitive about their surroundings and more interactive with people around them.
YULU’s “Spy Code” series of games have become Internet sensations since most of the games require a lot of physical activity leading to hilarious situations, such as the “Break Free” kit that demands that players find ways to free themselves of handcuffs! Other games in the series include “Safe Breaker” which casts players in the role of cat burglars who are tasked with breaking into a toy safe.
Released in the spring of 2017, the unusual family games have become extremely popular throughout the United States and elsewhere. Recently Jochem Van Rijn and, the Co-President of YULU, discussed the company, its products, and his hopes for its future:
Meagan Meehan (MM) of Entertainment Vine: What prompted you to start YULU and why was that name chosen?
Jochem Van Rijn (JVR): While attending University in the Netherlands, Thijmen de Schipper (YULU Co-President) and I successfully sold our first company in 2014 to the Netherlands government. That definitely opened several doors for us, and prompted many to start supporting and encouraging us to start something new. We decided that our passion was to try and create new game play experiences that people had never seen before! Although we knew the games business was very difficult to break into, we so deeply believed in our concepts that we decided to go for it!
Our first major launch was a product called “Helix” which was based on a game Thijmen played during his semester as an exchange student in China. We love competitive activity games and based on the feedback from industry experts we have turned the most traditional yard game into a modern game. We collaborated with Dutch University, set up production in The Netherlands and traveled around the world to sell Helix. We moved to Hong Kong/China to set up our offices and began mass-production shortly after we graduated. During this time, we were extremely fortunate to meet great people and gain amazing mentors who had invaluable experience in the industry. Regarding our company name – to be honest the name YULU was created during a brainstorm one night spent with a close group of friends over a few beers! We settled on the name after looking at names of beautiful beaches around the world.
MM: You recently released a series of spy-themed games, so how did that come about?
JVR: We love to think first in terms of themes instead of play patterns. In kids’ games, you tend to see a lot of character-driven or animal-themes. We wanted to create something different, something based on the idea of ‘being a hero’. The concept of being a spy seemed like a cool extension of that. The Spy Theme is actually something we’re very excited about and have a lot of confidence in. After narrowing our focus on spy-themed games, we spent a significant amount of time working on the actual game play and the innovation of the games. The result: our “Break Free,” “Safe Breaker” and “Operation Escape” games each give players a collection of experiences they have never had before!
MM: Why do you think mystery-themed games and events–like “Escape the Room”–have become so popular?
JVR: Playing collaboratively is a huge trend, not only in games but also at events. All of these escape rooms all over the country has proven to be really fun and excited for everyone playing them. And with our Operation Escape game, teamwork, the three puzzles, skill and luck are all really fun challenges.
MM: Do you think these kinds of games increase one’s ability to think outside the box?
JVR: Yes, for sure. They all contain the elements of skill, strategy, and luck. Additionally, by watching other players –or even playing together — players can ramp up their learning curve and come up with creative new ways to play.
MM: How many spy-themed games do you have in total and which one was the most time consuming to create?
JVR: At the moment, we have three different SPY GAMES: “Break Free,” “Safe Breaker” and “Operation Escape.” “Break Free” was the most time consuming to create because of the testing process we went through with kids for all the various mazes and levels contained in the game. That testing actually was actually a lot of fun – everyone got competitive vying to be the first to break free!
MM: What kinds of feedback have you gotten thus far?
JVR: Feedback has been great so far. Our first sales read has been very strong. We’ve gotten great responses from industry influencers; consumer feedback on our website has also been extremely positive. Media reaction has been awesome, too, with lots of positive product reviews out there.
MM: You also created a popular game called “Egged-On” so can you tell me a bit about that game?
JVR: The theme of penalty social games is another a huge trend. “Pie Face” inspired everyone to try developing new game concepts in this category. It’s been a dream come true to work with Hasbro and have this monster company distribute our game!
MM: You use social media to promote your games a lot, why do you think that’s so effective?
JVR: Kids obviously are spending a ton of time online; our games are not only fun to play, but also great to share socially. And online is where today’s kids are communicating — it’s an absolutely perfect forum to launch and promote a product like our games.
MM: Are you working on any other games or planning any big events at the moment?
JVR: Yes, we are working on expanding our Spy Code brand in 2018. We’re also looking at a big launch in the Skill Toys, Family Gaming, and Party Games categories so stay tuned!