Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Very Special Toy Inventor

Ralph Baer, inventor of Hasbro's Simon, the widely popular electronic memory game introduced in 1979, passed in 2014. While some may remember him as the creator of Simon, the world will remember him as the "Father of the Video Game". It is likely that title got the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History to make Ralph and his workshop part of their national story and a focal point of the Year of Innovation in the Museum's Innovation Wing.

Ralph has good company in the Museum among the likes of SC Johnson, inventor of the Ziplock Brand bag, Kirk Christiansen, inventor of the Lego block, Clarence L. Fender, inventor of the electric guitar, Earl Tupper, inventor of Tupperware, and of course, Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the incandescent electric lamp.

Longtime industry friends, Richard and Sheryl Levy made a recent visit to the Smithsonian to view the tribute to Ralph. It made Richard recall the day speaking with Ralph on the phone when the Smithsonian was at Ralph's home in Manchester, New Hampshire collecting elements for the  Museum exhibit. "They are collecting everything that is not nailed down," whispered Ralph into the phone. "I have some stuff hidden under the staircase so they don't take everything."

"You cannot miss the Smithsonian exhibit" reports Richard. "It is the first exhibit you see as you enter the West Wing. Without doubt, the Smithsonian curators put tremendous value on Ralph's contributions to American innovation." And consumers to this day continue to see the unique play value in Ralph's Simon game nearly forty years after its introduction.

Phil Orbanes, Vice Chairman of Winning Moves Games, remembers Ralph as "a down-to-earth genius". Orbanes met him the year after Simon exploded onto the games' scene. "Unlike so many boastful inventors, Baer took success in stride and treated everyone he met as an equal." Speaking of Ralph's inventive skills, Orbanes said, "Once he got an idea, he could build it. In the early years that meant using a soldering iron to create the circuitry. But in time, he taught himself to program EPROMs (chips) and even build plastic cases and related parts to see his concepts come to life. He was an inventing marvel. Nothing deterred his enthusiasm for a new idea."

Originally a native New Englander, Ralph spent months in his later years in the land of the Sunshine Santas (that concentration of inventor talent in south Florida), where he was able to visit frequently with the Levys and discuss among other things the state of the toy industry, and of course, invention.

Ralph was among some 80 professional toy and game inventors we profiled with their personal advice and tips in the The Toy and Game Inventors Handbook. You can see his pithy remarks in that publication.

If the Smithsonian exhibit in D.C. doesn't work for your travel schedule, you can see Ralph's work memorialized at The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Toy Industry Jargon

Every industry has its own jargon. When businesses communicate, they often intersperse acronyms and words inherent to their specific industry. Most likely, an industry's jargon may be so limited in use that the words do not appear in an authoritative language reference like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook, we included a glossary of 475 words that we felt were common and basic to the toy industry. Since we are in a "fun" business, we took the liberty to write definitions more playful and whimsical than those that would meet the stringent standards of dictionary editors. Here are several examples of industry jargon. Our definitions are in italics:

Dog: (with all respect to the ASPCA and my beloved 16 year old Tibetan Terrier, Denver, who is one sweet dog)
A product that's dead at retail

Lawyers: (guardians of the industry)
The only people who consistently make money and turn a profit

Yawn: (a bad omen signaled by the viewer during an inventor's pitch)
A boring product idea 

I recently came up with a new word, "inventortainment". To me the word characterizes inventor pitch time in today's world now that showing a new idea is often broadcast to marketers/backers on video screens versus former confidential one-on-one private meetings between inventors and company representatives.

Inventortainment is not yet part of the toy industry jargon. But someday, if the word gains widespread  "toyspeak", it may even reach a place in those authoritative consumer dictionaries. After all, every year, Merriam-Webster adds hundreds of newly minted words and acronyms that have gained popular usage in the English language.

So if you help to "jargonize" my word around the toy business, it may pass the high standards of dictionary editors. Here is the full definition: inventortainment: (n) an inventor's pitch effort of an innovative concept to marketers or backers in hopes of gaining a licensing agreement or the financial support to commercially develop the proprietary idea.

A sincere "thank you" if you add my new word to your jargon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What is Inventortainment?

"Life's a Pitch"!! That's the title of Chapter 7 in The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook (Inventors Handbook) where we advise readers on "how to" license ideas to toy industry marketers. Inventors hope that their idea is the next mega-hit and marketers hope for the next WOW! product that will leap off toy aisle shelves or through Amazon screens. When inventor meets marketer to show a new idea, it's "pitch time", but oh my, how the modus operandi in toy world today has changed.

At one time, the traditional inventor new idea pitch was done across a table in a face-to-face meeting. Inventors would come to a company's offices or the company would send emissaries to the inventor's place of business. A hands-on demo was de rigueur. But with the emergence of new media techniques and with detached global licensing participants often viewing a pitch, digital demos are more common. Skype, Face Time, video conferencing, or a private channel YouTube video all make the inventor-marketer contact impersonal. What was once a very confidential and private pitch has become widely disclosed on screens everywhere.

Add to this paradigm shift in new product pitch time the broad, public screen exposure of concepts on Shark Tank, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the like. In fact, a You Tube pitch often gets archived to become a basic form of consumer promotion when the product is marketed. Check out Swingy Thing Pitch.

Yet the inventor's goal remains the same; to secure a license or financial backing that gets the idea to market. Today, the pitch has become, in some cases, a form of entertainment for a wide populous of viewers. Pitch time has become show time. The inventor and idea are on center stage providing a unique form of inventortainment to an influential audience that can make or break the future of the new idea. Today, we can add inventortainment to toy industry jargon.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Toy & Game Agents

There are literary agents, sports agents, secret agents, and a whole host of government agents. My all time favorite fictional agent from early days of TV was Agent 86. I loved that this whimsical agent could communicate through the bottom of a shoe long before the current ubiquitous iPhone.

When writing The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook, we detailed the important roles of toy and game agents: evaluating marketability of an idea, connecting ideas with potential marketers, and representing all facets of an inventor's interest in negotiating a contract. Inventors and agents become true business partners in the creative process. These are just a few of the popular products in the toy industry licensed by agents.

Here is a link to a longtime, active agent. Marra Design Associates
See The Toy and Game Handbook for a more complete listing of agents.-

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Co-Author Meets Co-Author

Always good to see co-author, Richard C. Levy, anytime, anywhere to rehash issues covered in the third edition of  The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook . I particularly enjoy annual meetings in his south Florida "war room" with its impressive floor to ceiling display of toys and games he has licensed during his long, active career.
If we miss meeting in the Sunshine State, New York Toy Fair offers opportunities to exchange "state of the industry" perspectives in the aisles of Javits. For the past two Toy Fairs, I have enjoyed Richard's Be Terrific appearances in onsite interviews.

Richard's 2016 NYCTF interview:

Richard's 2015 NYCTF interview:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Monkeying Around

Card games have always been a favorite form of play. As a youngster before days of nonstop TV cartoons, electronic enhanced board games, and current finger twitch pad play, I was drawn to endless rounds of Old Maid and Go Fish. Little did I realize then that card games were attractive because they had few complex rules, fit into a pocket, encouraged socialization, and were cheap.

Through the years I made much use of standard playing card decks with all the classic games that could be played applying unique rules to four common graphic suits. My attraction to card play continued as marketers introduced now classie games like UNO and Phase 10. It has extended through Hasbro's brand extensions of famous board games transformed into card play. I knew Scrabble Slam was far different than the iconic tile original, but I enjoyed slamming those cards.
Use of playing cards to create new games is not being overlooked by inventors today. This is especially true in the world of Kickstarter launches. The backer support from online game shoppers for Exploding Kittens and Cyanide and Happiness is legendary in the world of crowd funding. The formula appears to be an appealing pitch of compelling card play wrapped into cool graphs plus a catchy name, and BAM!, sufficient backers are hooked to make the new card game reality.

Among the latest entries vying for Kickstarter support is Bonobo from David Yearick, who has had among toy and game successes, Djubi and Tribond. Interestingly, he has woven the presence of a friendly primate icon into his new card play. Seems if Kittens and Cyanide can be themed onto new card play and Old Maid and Fish were popular in the past, no reason not to use chimpanzees as icons on cards for a whimsical, new, fun game.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Inventing an aMAZEing Game

As co-author of two toy and game invention books, it's rewarding to hear from an inventor who has actually read them and implemented some of our suggestions on how-to license new playthings. So when Andy Geremia made an e-mail connection, I was all ears....excuse me, rather all eyes.

Geremia, is actually a high-tech "locksmith", albeit using keyless locks. His day is a world filled with security entry devices and video surveillance systems. At night behind his own secured doors, Geremia has used his playful and inventive spirit to create several self-marketed outdoor games and now the unique new board game, Maze Racers, a game that had a boost by winning a crowd-funding contest sponsored by Big Leap.

Motivated by the Big Leap win and filled with advice from self-help invention books, including The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook, Geremia set out to find a marketer for his maze game. He put into practice all he read in books.

Armed with the press release about the contest and filled with commitment and perseverance to commercialize the concept, he began contacting game companies. Within a month, Geremia had three prototypes out and two months later, he had a signed agreement with Fox Mind to unveil Maze Racers at NYC Toy Fair 2015

According to David Capon, president of Fox Mind, Maze Racers fits the company's narrative perfectly. "It is exciting and intuitive, simple to explain, stimulates players' creativity and dexterity, and delivers fun". What Capon saw has been validated by a steady early trade sales pace and recent recognition as a Top 10 Game for 2015 by Dr. Toy. Top Games 2015. 

Since pitching the game to the trade at Toy Fair 2015 in the Fox Mind booth, Geremia has embarked on a one man PR crusade to build word-of-mouth support for his game. Says Geremia, "I will attend any game convention within two hours of my CT home to promote Maze Racers and have exhibited at the Maker Faire in RI and the Boston Festival of Games." 

Actually, Geremia exceeded that travel radius to make an appearance at Gen Con 2015 where "four stations of Maze Racers were played steadily by adults and kids seven hours each day of the show". In addition, Fox Mind has committed to exhibit at Chitag, the Chicago Toy and Game Fair, on November 21st and 22nd. Getting out and demonstrating Maze Racers is another step through the marketing maze to make Maze Racers popular with today's game players.