Xeko trading-card game entertains and teaches about ecology
Large booksellers Barnes & Noble and Borders have signed national distribution deals with Xeko, expanding the trading-card game's retail presence.
Seattle Times business reporters
In Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, a trading-card game dubbed "Pokémon with a purpose" is poised for growth after signing national distribution deals with booksellers Barnes & Noble and Borders, adding to a retail presence that already includes Amazon.com and Whole Foods.
Xeko (pronounced "zeeko" and short for "secret ecological knowledge order") aims to teach children 8 and up about endangered animals and conservation "hot spots."
Four years ago, Amy Tucker gave up a six-figure salary at Fluent Communications, where she developed multimedia-marketing tools for Microsoft, Nintendo and T-Mobile, to travel to Central America and ponder her next career move.
"I wanted to make a positive difference in the world," said Tucker, 37, a Colorado native and Queen Anne resident whose hobbies include snowboarding, yoga and singing for the Seattle folk-punk band Future Factory (currently on hiatus). "When I became aware of the state of the planet, I felt compelled to do something."
She persuaded longtime friend Sonny Spearman, 46, to leave her job as chief marketing officer of a software firm and go in with her on Xeko, which has its offices in the Canal Building off North 34th Street.
Artist Michel Gagne, whose work has appeared in "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and "Star Wars," agreed to draw Xeko's heroes — animals ranging from hairy-eared dwarf lemurs to hawksbill turtles. Tyler Bielman, who spent seven years with Wizards of the Coast, figured out the rules and other workings of the game.
Jude Larene, owner of Izilla Toys on Capitol Hill, was among the first to sell Xeko when it launched on Earth Day 2006. Describing Xeko as "a smart alternative to Pokémon and other mass-market games," Larene said it ranks as one of the store's top sellers. "Parents feel a little better about buying it, because maybe they think their child is not being branded," he said.
Xeko game sets cost up to $30 and come with a map of a hot spot — a biodiverse region facing serious habitat loss — as well as cards featuring animals that live in the region. Corresponding booster packs of 10 cards each sell for $4. The player with the most "eco-points" wins; points are accumulated by linking animals to their ecosystem.
So far, Xeko has produced game sets spotlighting Madagascar, Costa Rica and Indonesia. Last week, it introduced a China set to capitalize on interest in the Beijing Olympics.
Xeko also is coming out with a new line of stuffed animals made of soy fabric, an alternative to polyester. Priced between $15 and $80, the animals include a flying squirrel and giant panda.
Prototypes quickly sold out, Spearman said. "They're not your standard cat or dog or horse, so that catches people's attention," she said.
Xeko gives 4 percent of all sales, minus costs, to the nonprofit Conservation International and uses environmentally friendly materials, when possible. Finding soy fabric for the stuffed animals took more than a year, Tucker notes, and the "eyeballs" still contain petroleum-based plastics, something she hopes to change once an alternative becomes available.
"One of our mantras is, we can't let perfection get in the way of progress," she said.
— Amy MartinezTidbits
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Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or email@example.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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