29th Apr2020

85 Years of Dice Rolls – The Evolution of Monopoly

by Guest

The tale of how Monopoly came to be is often lost to history, however, the story has always gone something like this… In 1932 Philadelphian businessman Charles Todd and his wife Olive were hosting a social evening at home with friends Charles and Esther Darrow. That night the hosts decided that they would introduce the Darrows to their favourite board game, one that centered around accumulating as much wealth as possible by buying properties and collecting rent from other players.

The nameless game, that they’d informally dubbed ‘the monopoly game’ had left such a lasting impact on their guests that Charles Todd decided to make them their very own set and teach them the advanced rules, that way they could enjoy the game themselves and pass the game on if they so wished. Delighted with their own version of the monopoly game, the Darrow’s played the game relentlessly over the next few years, often sharing their love for the game with others.

Unemployed as a result of the Great Depression and in desperate need of money Darrow came up with an idea to profit from the game himself, so he asked Charles Todd for a written copy of the rules, however it seemed they didn’t exist anywhere. Instead, Darrow took it upon himself to write his own set of rules and expand on the game making it more user-friendly.

His next move was to offer the game to department stores across Philadelphia, however the endeavour proved unsuccessful. After initially being turned down by game manufacturers Parker Brothers, they gave Darrow a second chance and ended up buying the game, offering him royalties on every single Monopoly set that was sold. The sale dramatically turned Charles Darrow’s fortunes around and made him a millionaire in true rags to riches fashion, he is still celebrated today for the creation of Monopoly.

However truthful and romantic this story may be, years later it turned out that the original game played between the Todd family and the Darrows did in fact have quite a bit more history behind it than was first thought.

The truth behind Monopoly’s creation revealed

In 1903 a left-wing activist and Quaker from Virginia called Lizzie J. Magie developed her own board game called the ‘Landlord’s Game’, it was created to help spread the ideas of Henry George, an activist who fought for a single federal tax based on land ownership. Despite being patented, the game wasn’t commercially successful, instead the game was often copied with people changing the street names to reflect their own towns and cities. This is how the Landlord’s Game made its way to the Todds, and eventually the Darrow family.

It has always been argued that the overall message in Darrow’s version of Monopoly was such a far cry from the original that the two simply could not be compared.

Speaking to the Washington Star newspaper in 1936, a year after Monopoly became a huge hit, it was revealed that Magie only ever made $500 for her patent and nothing more. She exclaimed that it was alright with her as long as Henry George’s single tax idea was spread to as many people across the United States. Of course, the revelation that the Monopoly IP did not originally belong to Darrow, or Parker Brothers for that matter sent shockwaves across the world and led to some very messy battles in court over the years, however that’s a story for another day.

Monopoly gains worldwide attention and strange iterations

In the first year of being commercially available Parker Brothers produced 35,000 copies of the game, which sold for just $2.50 a set. 85 years on since its first release this would equate to $47.10 in today’s money, thankfully it retails much cheaper than this. Despite being made in America, with American street names, the first version of the game was actually licensed for Europe and the British commonwealth. This is the version synonymous with players around the world today and features iconic locations across London such as Pall Mall, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.

As the years ticked on the game continued to make its way around Europe, however it was denounced in Nazi Germany for having a “Jewish-speculative character”… That said, it did make its way into the country during World War II when Monopoly’s UK manufacturer John Waddington, Ltd. conspired with MI9 to devise a way to smuggle money, compasses and maps to help prisoners of war escape Nazi captivity. Around the same time the facist regime in Italy opted to heavily modify the game so that it had an Italian name and featured locations around Milan rather than London.

Following the war, sales of Monopoly soared to well over a million and new editions were created and produced for Finnish, Spanish, Greek and Isreali audiences. Several copies of the game even made it to a museum in Soviet Russia, however they found the game was regularly stolen from the exhibit due to its sheer popularity.

Licensing propels the Monopoly franchise onto another level

Incredibly, as of 2020 there are over 300 licensed versions of the classic board game that have been available to purchase at some time or another in the last 85 years. Some of these games are fairly straight forward anniversary editions, others are licensed to better reflect a certain country or city somewhere around the world. Just a small handful of location-specific iterations include: Ireland-opoly, Puerto Rico Edition, Lagos Edition and New York-opoly.

Of course, as the versatility of Monopoly became more apparent to brands around the world it wasn’t long before every organisation, sports team, movie and TV show had their brand plastered on a Monopoly board. If something was popular with a mass audience then it’s likely there’s a Monopoly game to go with it. Today you can find an NFL Collector’s Edition Monopoly, Pokemon Monopoly, Hello Kitty Collector’s Edition Monopoly and The Simpsons Monopoly just to name a few.

Stranger versions of the game include Electronic Banking Edition, which comes with a banking unit and money stored on electronic cards instead of physical cash, Harrods Deluxe Edition, which at $16,000 per set is amongst the most expensive Monopoly sets in the world and a bright pink Juicy Couture Edition designed by the famous LA fashion company.

Monopoly gains attention from outside the board game world

Of course, in order to truly succeed on the global stage companies must have their fingers in more than one pie, and the company behind this age-old game is no different in that respect.

In 1987, when Monopoly was owned by Kenner Parker Tonka Management, bigwigs penned a deal with mega-brand McDonald’s to help grow the franchise to unrivalled heights. This came in the form of a US sweepstake that saw McDonald’s customers win prizes whenever they purchased certain items from their menu. Over the years this sweepstake has truly grown into a global phenomenon known as McDonald’s Monopoly. Major prizes have included luxury cars, five star holidays, games consoles, tickets to sporting events, laptops, and huge sums of money.

This wouldn’t be the last time a game of luck and Monopoly were paired together though… Naturally, a game focused on finances and steadily growing your bankroll was always going to attract the bright gaze of Las Vegas and the casino world. In the late 1990s Monopoly began licensing their IP to slot developers WMS Gaming, who were bringing physical machines such as Monopoly Hot Shot and Monopoly Big Money Reel onto casino floors. These games proved a huge hit with slots-enthusiasts and further games were developed as time went on. As play shifted online to a much larger audience throughout the new millennium, developers such as Big Time Gaming stepped in, creating the hugely popular online slot Monopoly Megaways. Elsewhere Evolution Gaming received huge plaudits for creating the world’s first augmented reality live casino game Monopoly Live in 2019.

Of course, in an ever-changing digital-age Hasbro themselves have had to keep their finger on the pulse of popular gaming trends and as a result have delivered a number of Monopoly video games for over 16 consoles including the Nintendo Switch most recently.

What does the future hold for Monopoly?

It goes without saying Monopoly is here to stay, the game has managed to not only translate to different cultures around the world, but has also managed to endear itself to those who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a board game if not for the fact it had been licensed by their favourite television show or sports team.

Even if people choose not to pick up and play the board game itself, there’s no doubt the Monopoly legacy will live on for years to come… If not forever. Monopoly will easily surpass the 100 year mark as it’s grown to become a truly iconic brand alongside the likes of Coca-Cola, Google, Disney and Ferrari. Ultimately, as long as the family unit remains a constant in homes throughout the world this game will continue to bring people of all ages, races and backgrounds together.
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About the author: Sam Gascoyne is head of content at No Wagering – an online gambling news and comparison website which promotes fairness and transparency, and takes safe and responsible gambling seriously.

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