Majestic Circus’ Creative Genius: Jake Spartz

I have always been a huge fan of all things games. We actually have a home video of my dad asking my three year old self what I wanted to be when I grew up to which I exclaimed “Vanna White!” I’ve always had a huge love for games but what really ignited this desire to create my own game came after watching “Survivor” for the first time. 

I started hosting my own version of the show which I called “Survivor Backyard” when I was in 7th grade. At 12 years old I somehow convinced my parents to let me invite 8 other kids over to compete in the game I created over two days. This went on to become an annual event that I hosted every summer for the next ten years. This got me a bit of notice in my small town of 150 people which gave me all sorts of odd jobs including the planning and hosting of birthday parties, our high school pep rallies, community talent shows, and eventually the director and MC of the world famous Longville Turtle Races. I then went on to work on my college’s campus activity board as a co-president, self-designed my own class titled Game Show Production, landed a job as an activity host on cruise lines. This unique background eventually landed me a job in the head office of Carnival where I was responsible for creating all the trivia, games, activities, and special events on board the ships. The next step was to officially take on the title of Game Maker Majestic Circus!

The first game I created for Majestic Circus was Know It! I have always loved getting a team together and heading over to the pub for a little midweek trivia but I found it was often the same format; “We will ask five questions in a specific topic, you write them down, we will collect them”. While there is nothing wrong with that and it’s always a good time, I always felt it could be just a bit more dynamic.

 

When Majestic Circus came to me I was excited to put my love for obscure game shows and my activity planning expertise to use. From the minute I started working on Know It!, which was first called “The Big Quiz”, I knew I wanted to find a way to have dynamic teams. Typically, when you play any sort of trivia you create your team and that is your team the entire time. I wanted to change that. Knowing that groups would be playing with friends, families, and colleagues, I wanted to make sure players got a chance to play with everyone. Randomized teams in each round allows just that. Additionally, the ever changing team dynamic prevents a single team from ever completely dominating the game. (It’s not fair if only one team gets the trivia super whiz of the family for the entire game!) We began testing this team changing format from the very start and after positive feedback from my favorite test group (my best friends), I knew we had the right format.

As players are always on a team throughout the game, I knew I needed to add an element that allowed for individual choice. I wanted something that wasn’t solely triviabased so no single player ever felt like they were put on the spot, but still something that would allow for an individual choice to impact the game. For this I looked exclusively to the world of game shows. Something prominent in all game shows is an element of luck. Whether that be picking the right door in “Let’s Make a Deal” or spinning the wheel on “Wheel of Fortune”, players, and viewers, love an element of luck. This led to the creation of The Lucky Board, an opportunity given to players twice in the game to pick from a board of 16 numbers. Some numbers gave bonus points while some took points away. I first introduced this in our second round of trials and it was immediately a hit with the test groups. The excitement and reactions from players as the leaderboard shifted after each round made me so happy. 

During this first test the leading player asked if they could pass. At the time that answer was no, but it got the gears turning just a bit more. So after a few tweaks, we landed on the final version of this luck element which we called “Pick It or Stick It”. Now, players can either choose to pick a number for themselves or they can “Stick It” and force another player to pick instead. This can be done offensively to try and take down those at the top of the leaderboard or more defensively to avoid negative numbers themselves, and maybe if they are feeling nice try and help out their friends on the bottom. Everyone has their own strategy when it comes to picking which helps to make every game unique from the last. 

After coming up with the base format I began to get to work on the games of Know It!. At its core, all eight games in Know It! is trivia based; but each game has an added layer that requires you to think just a bit differently. For example, one of our games Singing Gibberish requires players to guess the song title from a set of lyrics shown on the screen BUT, in our game the lyrics were translated to fifteen different languages first. Go Figure requires players to answer simple trivia questions such as how many sides are on a triangle or how many colors are in the rainbow. But what happens when those questions are linked with a plus sign, turning the questions into a math equation, which you must answer under the pressure of a ticking clock? 

When designing these games I was often inspired by game shows, especially the great game shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s. For example one of the games in Know It!, Double Feature, came to me while I was watching “Concentration”. While the games are vastly different, the idea of combining trivia and a classic game of memory resonated with me and led to the creation of the game. Another round in Know It!, Bidding Wars, was very much inspired by “The Price is Right”. While I was developing Know It! I thought it would be fun to add a trivia game that adds an element of strategy. After being outbid by a dollar on “The Price is Right” (this really happened, video below) and constantly thinking about the bidding strategy, I knew it would also work in a trivia style game. 

While there are only four rounds in a game of Know It!, there are eight games available. Something I wanted from the very start was an element of choice. The thing about trivia is one size doesn’t fit all. One group might love number guessing games but another might prefer more pop culture based games. With this in mind, I added a simple element of round selection. In each round the group votes on one of three games or topics to play. As each group is different, so is each game. I love being able to put control back into the hands of the players to allow them to shape their game and outcome.

After months of testing, trials with several different test groups (including a group located in Hawaii which I began hosting at 3:00 AM), and over 20 different revisions to the game, I had finalized the first ever Majestic Circus experience. Know It! was a true labor of love that turned into something really special. It’s exciting to know that i’ve created a game that has been enjoyed by so many groups and has been used as a vehicle to help friends and family reconnect.