What began as a simple Caribbean hook-and-ring game has now washed up on Santa Barbara shores as a nationally successful mobile application and mass-market physical product available to consumers.
Tiki Toss, a game of dexterity and finesse, has been played for decades outside bars and on beaches in tropical locales, but S.B. businesspeople Kyle McGetrick and Chris Puglisi—under the company name Mellow Militia—have brought the game to widespread attention, first with a relatively simple iPhone app that drew favorable comparisons to Paper Toss, the popular mobile game that has a somewhat similar mechanic.
The game’s objective is to land a metal ring on a hook, usually attached horizontally to a flat vertical surface. The ring, however, is tied to a string attached overhead approximately four feet from the hook, forcing the player to accurately swing the metal ring in an arc. The iPhone mechanic allows the player to use the phone’s touchscreen to position the ring and control the speed and direction of the arc, while a realistic physics engine governs the object’s reactions.
After the success of the digital application, which has logged more than 250,000 downloads, McGetrick and Puglisi realized the game could be marketed to a larger audience as a physical product. The result, a combination of their backyard designs and simple hardware materials, was a huge hit at East Coast surf expos, where McGetrick and Puglisi often set up shop in a space shared with Surfers Healing, a charitable organization to which they had strong ties.
As the retail sales of the three-dimensional Tiki Toss took off and the digital app remained successful, McGetrick and Puglisi decided to leave their careers in Florida and relocate to Santa Barbara. They connected with ads agencies in Hollywood, getting their game included in sets of TV shows like Two and a Half Men and Californication.
Both men noted that their success was due in a large part to an active and supportive group of friends and family—several of the songs featured on the digital app’s popular soundtrack were composed by a personal friend, and the majority of the early physical products were packaged and assembled by hand at home.
Currently, sales only seem to be rising; more than 15,000 Tiki Toss games have sold so far, and McGetrick expects the number to triple in 2012. “We’ve really built it on the backs of ourselves, working all hours a day, and it’s been really nice seeing that organic grassroots kind of growth,” he said.
“The momentum is just huge right now; a lot of the [retailer’s] accounts come in with a small first order, and then they just get bigger and bigger,” Puglisi added.
After getting settled in Santa Barbara, Puglisi and McGetrick tacked up a board at the Endless Summer bar’s outdoor seating area. Though well placed to cash in on the board game market, Puglisi and McGetrick’s Mellow Militia brand continues to develop iPhone apps and is in the process of releasing a new photo-sharing application.