How did you come up with the idea behind your newest game What the What?!
I was cleaning out my 85-year-old father's basement during quarantine and I kept finding all of these gadgets and objects that were just bizarre and I thought what the #$*# is this thing? When I started researching some of the objects I fell down a rabbit hole of inventions and was blown away by these inventors throughout the last 400 years of history.
The majority of the inventions have been labeled by authors or memes on the internet as “failed”, “weird”, “dumb” or ones that “didn’t change the world” - but I disagree. I am so inspired by these people who swung for the fences and came up with amazing attempts to solve the problems of their times. Of course the priority and key is that the game play of What the What?! is a TON OF FUN! Yet I would love to spark a conversation around what is considered success and failure. Today success is equated to financial success, mass product adoption, fame, and following. What I hope players takeaway is a spark of creativity, curiosity, and a seed of empowerment that every single one of us can TRY to make a difference and scan the world for solutions -- especially in a time where the internet and your mobile phone bombard us with all the problems of the world, which can infect us with a feeling of powerlessness.
What inspires you to create games and be part of the Toy and Game industry?
I've seen how offline play, especially my passion for card games, completely transform family and friend gatherings. You see completely different sides of people whom you've known your entire life come out through play. For instance, my dad can be quite a curmudgeon but when we gather around the table with his college aged grandchildren, he lights up the room with his party guy wit and hilarity, facilitated by the game mechanics and content of these games.
When I started my first game in 2015 called Not Parent Approved, my son was eight years old and that's when the term "screenagers " was really coming to the forefront. What I realized is that the truth was that I was the screen zombie and many adults I know are as well. This year of Covid has only made this situation more intense.
I also realized in 2015 that many games my son wanted to play with me, I didn't want to play with him. As a single mom who works full time, I just don’t have the energy or brainpower to play strategy games or something deeply competitive. It’s become a personal mission to figure out what could be fun for adults and middle schoolers or tweens, (which is a really tough age group to convince that an offline game can be as entertaining as immersive media). There are really fantastic games for kids under five that are educational and simple, but developing games for 8 to 15-year-olds that deliver a great time for this demographic is a huge passion of mine.
Who are your products for?
My passion is getting families together with diverse age groups where everybody can have a good time and one age group isn't pandering to the other, rolling their eyes and sort of suffering through it. It's really about how can everybody truly have a good time together and yet not make it so that it's excruciating for the adults to play with their kids -because I think that's the key. In 2015, I was at my first Taggie Awards and I'll never forget what Dan Klitsner, the inventor of Bop It said on stage as he collected his well deserved award. “Focus on the player, not the game." That wisdom has always stuck with me.
The games that I design and am passionate about publishing, are serving two masters: they're serving the kid, but they are absolutely serving the adult and not just the parent, it's the babysitter, it's the uncle, it's the grandparent. I think that is the key to a great night. And for me, I love party games. I believe that life is stressful and competitive enough and I feel like my calling is to inject levity and stress relief with my games. Jim Carrey says that he is "the minister at the church of freedom from concern." And I'm very inspired by that. If I can facilitate "freedom from concern" into the world, especially through evoking a sincere laugh, that is the highest calling and it's a profound purpose that is my honor and passion to pursue.
How do you like to work and collaborate?
For What the What?! I built an amazing team during quarantine. Through conversations with many of the people from the wonderful People of Play network, and generous introductions by Mary Couzin and Tanya Thompson, I built a well-researched savvy, nimble, global team to bring this game into the world. I have team members in Moscow, Tel Aviv, Manila, Finland, Paris, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Jersey. I do my best to cultivate a creative and positive work environment so I can lead my team with JOY and I will only curate collaborators who have that same intention. The journey is the destination!
What is one mistake you've made in your game making journey and what did you learn from it?
Ha, just one? I always want to have my product ready to launch in Q4 and no matter how early I start, there always seems to be a stressful scramble to be ready for Q4 sales. This year has brought unprecedented prices and logistics challenges that I know we're all facing. As somebody determined to always find a solution, it’s challenging to find the balance and wisdom to recognize what's in one’s control and what's out of your hands. In service to my intention of having a joyful journey and somebody who believes in magical manifestation, it's always an interesting dance.
What advice do you have for new game makers?
I think much like raising a child, there is no one size fits all approach and the market is changing so rapidly. As people in the toy and game industry, we share a sense of curiosity and creativity, but I think that needs to transcend product development, and we need to be creative about operations, marketing, how we work with digital and physical retailers, as well as creative in how we reach our customers. Right now TikTok, Discord, and Clubhouse are the new hot platforms but a year from now I'm sure there will be others which we will need to evolve and learn to be savvy about. Overall advice? Hustle, collaborate, and know that rest is productive too (still working on this one).
What about your early years informed your evolution into a game designer?
I have a lot of nostalgia for the times before we all treated our screens as an appendage. There's so much amazing content and access to other creators through screens - so I'm not an anti-screen person. However, I do think the brain works and connects to the soul more easily, more profoundly when we are unplugged. When I was in elementary school, I was the one that grabbed the neighbors and forced them to put on plays with me. I am infamous for making my younger brother the silent tree in my play because my mom insisted he have a role. I remember going to my grandparent's condo and having contests for who could roll down the grass the fastest - it was amazing. I think nothing can compare to offline connection, play, and laughter. To me, it's pure magic.
Below: Me in red & white dress with script on index cards, my brother nailing it as the subservient & silent tree.
What inspires you to design party games?
I'm a faux extrovert. When I go to cocktail parties, even though I've spent my career doing public relations and can seem at ease at large events and conferences, I am actually an introvert so making small talk is a bit painful and awkward for me. I’m left with lingering feelings - like I could have asked a more intriguing question or I wish I had remembered that joke to create a more jovial mood. This inspires me to create ways for people to connect and bond easily in a way where people are not left to their own devices to make chitchat. The idea of providing social training wheels to facilitate better conversations and create more fun -- where all the work isn't on the chemistry of the people you're thrown together with inspires me and I'm constantly marinating on those puzzle pieces in my head.
How do you jumpstart creativity?
As a person who loves to work and loves what I do- and especially somebody in the throws of a very exciting Kickstarter right now, I can tend to be married to my computer. Since What the What?! just launched, I now need to be even more engaged on social media, which I have conflicting feelings about- it’s not a comfort zone for me. Given that, I turn to meditation to get back in touch with the creative muses. I've been in an amazing three-year spiritual psychology program, which is really about bypassing the chatter of the mind and connecting to a deeper inner knowing. I think this is imperative - not just as a creative person, but as somebody who is entrepreneurial. Many people will offer advice and opinions, but to be connected to your deeper inner knowing, is the True North as you're creating something that's never been done before. And if you're in this industry, you're always on the quest to invent and create what has never been done before!
Film Review: The Toys That Made Us, Season 1
TOMY's Design Director Erez Bar Am: Always in Start-Up Mode
Book Review: The Fun Habit by Michael Rucker
Glass Toys +Venice + VDP
Brian Goldner Reminds Us: How Do We Want to be Remembered?
Ric Scott: Growing Up with Monkeys: The Winding Road That Sparked a 20+ Year Career in Toy Development
Create the Space
Creative Fold Announces Edoardo Kulp has Joined as Director of Business Development and Co-Owner
Networking Knowledge Events the Bloom Report About POP Search POP lego_toys_img AWARD-WINNING EDUCATIONAL TOY COMPANIES – LEARNING RESOURCES, EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS, AND HAND2MIND – BRING LEARNING TO LIFE WITH $1.7M IN PHILANTHROPIC AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT IN
Randy Klimpert Shares his Ukulele Collection
Steve Casino Peanut Art
Everyone's Talking about POP!
Princess Etch - a Multi-Talented Etch A Sketch Artist
Joseph Herscher of Joseph' s Machines.
Ed Gartin is... the Evel Knievel of Inventor Relations!
Hidden Role: The Brains Behind your Favorite Games - Matt Leacock talks Game Design...
Nicholas and Rebecca are BlueMatter Games!
Tanya Thompson is Hasbro's Game Scout!
Matt Nuccio took over the "Family Business"... of Toys!
POPDuo: Richard Dickson, Mattel’s President & COO, and Kedar Narayan, Young Inventor Challenge AMB
POPDuo: Will Shortz and Josh Wardle
POP Duo: Elan Lee, Co-Founder, Exploding Kittens.and Jeff Probst, Host and Exec Producer, Survivor
POP Duo: David Fuhrer, MNG Director, Blue Sq Innovations & Shawn Green, past Dodgers & Mets MLB Star
POP Duo: Bob Fuhrer, Founder, Nextoy and Tom Fazio, Golf Course Designer
Toy Inventors--The Heart and Soul of the Industry
Brian Turtle: 'Endless' Stories, Advice, Kevin Bacon and More! tBR Person of the Week
Jonathan Levy on Jon2.0 - from Co-Founding Mastermind Toys to Spin Master
Andrew Perlmutter's Journey from Glencoe to Funko with Crazy Ideas that turned out Golden
Tait & Lily, Inventors of Betcha Can't!