Dan Klitsner MAESTRO OF PLAY
I've been allowed to have one person and I said if I could just have one person to come on this workshop it would be Dan Klitsner, and that's because he is a true multifarian. He is so multifaceted in his creative thinking it's astounding and what I find really interesting is he has taken really unusual inverted ideas and turned them into multimillion dollar toys, and you can't ask for more than that. He's basically got the job we all wish we'd had and so I would like you to welcome Dan Klitsner. The maestro of play. (crowd cheering)
The parkour thinking is very much related to sort of what my talk is about, so it's a very good segway. I wanted to start with my name, which is indeed Dan, my first name, and I'll get to the second name in a little bit. I grew up in the bay area, actually in Walnut Creek, where I liked to play, I like to draw a lot, and take old things apart and make them into new things, and then as I got older, I liked to play, and I like to draw a lot, and take old t...
hings apart and make them into new things. So when it was time to go to college, I wondered what I could do, what was that? That you got to do when you got to play, draw a lot, take things apart, turn them into new things, and so I looked, and you know, it wasn't an artist, that wasn't what I wanted to do. And it wasn't architecture, that was recommended by many people, and I said that's not what I'm looking for, and it wasn't until I actually saw a catalog, from Art Center College and Design. I opened up this catalog, and you know the expression, you know it when you see it? That's what it was for me. The minute I saw what these objects that industrial design students have done, I said that's what I wanna do, industrial design. I didn't even know what that was at the time, until I saw it so, when I wanted to name this company, I started to freelance after college. And I needed a name so I said, well, I know, how about I rack my brain for very creative ideas, I couldn't think of anything. I'm just gonna call it Klitsner Idustrial Design, because I was an industrial designer, and of course my name is Klitsner, this made perfect sense to me, and then as I looked at it, I realized that it happened to spell KID. No joke, it was not planned until I wrote it down, and so then of course that was a little disappointing because like the other industrial designers, I wanted to do hubcaps, and obscure medical equipment, perhaps toasters, but instead I said with a name like that, it was clear I had to resort to just doing toys and games, with a name like KID, so that's really how it started. Fast forwarding a lot to today, which is a lot of fast forwarding, I have an office in San Francisco, called KID. This picture of the Golden Gate Bridge proves that. And we have grown from one person, all the way to six people in just 25 years. It's been an amazing growth. What we do is, we create probably now it's over 150 games and toys that we've created, and then licensed to toy companies, we don't manufacture them, we just come up with the idea, we create them, and talk big companies all over the world into doing them. Kind of specialize in three dimensional, I brought some examples here. They are industrial design meets game. These aren't board games, these are within that sphere of industrial design, there's toys and within toys and games it keeps going down so these are a very specific niche that's sort of created wherein physical play is a big part of it. I brought some examples, and one in particular, that is related to parkour, are games and toys that break a rule, so one of the rules that you'll hear, this is actually the inventor of Twister and Nerf, was the same inventor, Reyn Guyer, had an expression. That all great games and toys break a rule. And that rule for instance, don't throw a ball in the house. Well, Nerf broke the rule. You can throw this ball in the house. Twister, I'm not sure what rule that breaks. Perhaps, don't touch the other teenagers. (audience laughs) So this product is when you have a car, the last thing you wanna do is run a car, don't drive your car head on into the wall.
I can be the wall, if you want.
So if you do, what happens if you do drive your car head on into the wall? Well it will crash, and it will break, and that is bad, unless you have a remote control, which I don't have with me but I'll simulate. In this product, you can drive it around, you were supposed to smash it into walls, and then when you press the buttons, (car revving) it put itself back together. So if we ask what if we did crash into the wall, maybe you will invent a way to put itself back together. One of the other products that's been out for awhile, came from this idea of you know, these labyrinths that are so ubiquitous, these wooden ones where you operate it, and you try not to let the marble fall into the hole. Well this is a flat rectangular thing. What happens, if you made it round? Which is in three dimensional? Well, you would end up with something like this, which is as you can tell, the same kind of thing. It's a Labyrinth that in which you take a ball, and you try to get it to go all the way through this perplexing track, it's called perplexus, without falling off and if you notice when you do it, the difference is instead of me hovered over something, looking down on it with no action. It is actually more interesting to watch the player do this, this is the foreshadowing of what my talk will be about. But the most important thing to take from this is if you ever have a problem in designing something, and it's flat, simply make it rounded, it always works. It's a little trick, and that is true. The last thing that I brought today, is basically this is probably the most well known product that I've invented. It's the game of Bop-It, is everyone familiar with Bop-It, or annoyed by Bop-It? You know, I like to say that there's been over 25 million Bop-It's sold, and so you might ask, who doesn't love Bop-It? And the answer is 50 million parents. But if you don't know, Bop-It is played by doing exactly what it says. (Toy music playing)
That's all you do. Until you don't do it, and it complains. It's actually an empathetic scream. So, to talk about, and it's been updated several times, and we're still milking it, we call it milk it. So in the last, to talk about getting to the point that relates a lot to what Sally was describing, I would like to break this into three parts. The first part is a story using a story the birth of Bop-It, and what valuable things that were learned along the way. The second is a tip, that again relates and something you can take with you and use in evaluating your inventions. And the last is a philosophy, that in my mind, is a philosophy of why I truly believe that play is the most valuable thing we have. So, to start, first, the story, which I say is the almost completely true story of the birth of Bop-It, why almost no story is ever completely true, and it gives me permission to embellish and more importantly, as we know how the worst part for any speaker, is at the end when they say any questions, and you can hear the pin drop. So, if i tell you it's almost completely true, hopefully you'll be looking for the parts that are probably not too true, and all you have to do at the end if I say any questions is, you can say, was that part about you living in San Francisco true? And I can say yes, and then it's that simple, and we actually have a conversation going, and then more juices will flow, so maybe even something more untrue or true than that. You can just simply ask, and there's no judgment whether you asked a good question or a bad question, just true or false questions, much easier than written answers. So starting with, this story, it's quite obvious, as most stories begin. As you know, this story begins with a remote control shaped like a pizza, very common I know. But it ends with an unexpected standing ovation. The year was 1993, in this story, and kids are watching this thing called the television. Way back there, 25 years ago. And, I had this idea, I already licensed a few concepts but in this case, I thought I could change the way kids change channels, maybe even television itself, that was my goal. I had started with the channel surfer, the remote rock, skeleton guy, the remote by the slice, and the name was the best part. It was called, remotes out of control. Literally change media everywhere, the way kids interacted with their TV, this was going to be huge. So, around that time, as I was slaving away in my studio there in San Francisco, I had a visitor. Now this visitor is what we call, someone from inventor relations. Inventor relations is the title of the person in a toy company who is sort of the scout, to go out there and look at independent inventors, look at things everywhere, and they're supposed to bring back things that they find, and review them with the executives. This is sort of the most scariest and most powerful person you usually meet as an independent inventor, they can kind of crush your idea before it ever breathes. They can tell you, or they can say, I'm bringing this in, which you get very excited, or they can check a little box on a form, that says inventor to do more work, which could mean they do that over and over and you spend the rest of your life chasing something because they gave you false hope. So very powerful, and so I have this visitor, and of course, they come in. Sits down in the office, opens his briefcase, what do you got? I took a deep breath, and said, remotes out of control! I'm gonna change the way kids change channels. Skeleton guy, channel surfer, I could see it wasn't going anywhere, just sit there, shook his head, took out the piece of paper, saw him check a box, heard a mutter. Inventor to do more work, I was like come on. Then he put the ball point pen down, looked at me, stuck his finger in my chest, and said, watch the kid, not the toy. Watch the player, not the game. What did you say? So he said it again, watch the kid, not the toy. Watch the player, not the game. I closed my eyes, just trying to absorb all this, and when I opened them, he was gone, vanished. (audience laughing) As if he never existed, I didn't know his name, what toy company he was from. I still don't know if he was even real. It could have been my imagination. It turned out he was just in the bathroom. But anyways, (audience laughs) I thought about these words, and I thought, what does that really mean? Watch the kid, not the toy. Watch the player, what does the toy, what does the toy make the kid do? Not what does the kid make the toy do. This was the wisdom that was being imparted to me. So I went back to work on this idea, how could I make these remote controls more interactive? How could they actually make the kid move, not just sitting there clicking a button. Making something happen on a TV. Came up with it, it was called the channel bopper. I happen to have, in this glass case, so you know it's important, this piece of foam core. The channel bopper. Basically you bang it one way, channel up. You bang it the other way, channel down. Twist the volume, pull, on off. That's all you need, on off, volume, channel up, channel down. Now, this was going to animate the person, not just let them sit there and I thought, this is it, I gotta show that mysterious inventor relations person this idea, but where could I find him? It had been months, it turned out, he was still in the bathroom. Came out, I pitched him the idea, I said, the channel bopper, channel up, channel down, twist, and he looked and he said, you know, while I was in the bathroom I had a little time to think about, and I really love that pizza remote, so I'm gonna go with the pizza. And they came out with a line, the dream of the channel bopper crumbled. And we actually did sell this idea, I sold this idea remotes out of control, which you can see the couch potato, and I have the pizza somewhere around here. All of that got made but, the channel bopper remained a foam core mock up, until I got a phone call, on another, a few months later. And this phone call was from, the voice on the line, inventor relations. Now this was someone from a toy company in Chicago called Tiger Electronics, and at the time, they had great success with these handheld LCD games. Now, this is a familiar pose, right? This is what we see now in every human on the planet. Staring down at a digital object, pressing buttons like this. So this was happening, if you remember, for handheld games, it had started to die, and they said, she said we need something new in handheld LCD games, this market is dying. Probably because people got tired of watching other people do this. And, as she was talking literally, this mock up was sitting on my desk. This remote control and I thought, maybe those words, they started to echo in my head again, those words, can you say it with me, I think you know them by now. Very important, it's like a mantra.
Watch the kid, not the toy. Watch the player, not the game.
Those words echoed in my head, I thought that's it, we'll put an LCD screen on the channel bopper, and that will mean when you're playing the game, instead of looking down, you could be smashing things, right? You got the superheroes and all those little pixels and you could that, you could pull, and I though this is a fantastic idea, right? Well it turns out it wasn't that easy to see the screen while you were swinging this thing around so, not such a great idea, that company said no. That's not such a great idea so later, after that failed, I said what would happen if the next LCD game, handheld LCD game, was not an LCD game, but just a handheld game? What would happen if we had a game with a screen that didn't have a screen? And that's when the thinking really started, where how would this work? Well what if, if we're truly animating the player, if you're gonna watch the kid and not the toy, what could the toy make the kid do? Well by taking the screen out, what if it talked to you, and what if it controlled the kid? Instead of the kid controlling it literally, and that's how Bop-It was born, literally trying to salvage this idea, turn it into something, and what I'm going to show you now, is a 25 year old video of me, that pitching, an excerpt from the first pitch video, of Bop-It. There's a new game from KID, Bop-It, where you try to pull it, twist it, or bop it as fast as you can without getting caught. So here's our demo.
Bop it, (electronic buzz), twist it, (electronic buzz), pull it, bop it, (electronic buzz), bop it, (electronic buzz), twist it, (electronic buzz), pull it, (electronic buzz), twist it, bop it, (electronic buzz), pull it, (electronic buzz), pull it, (electronic buzz), bop it, (electronic buzz), pull it, twist it, (electronic buzz), bop it, (electronic buzz), pull it, (electronic buzz), pull it, (electronic buzz), twist it, (electronic buzz), bop it, (electronic buzz), pull it, (electronic buzz), twist it, (electronic buzz), bop it, (electronic buzz), bop it, (electronic buzz), pull it, (electronic buzz), pull it, twist it, ooh!
Oh, so I blew it, and I have to pass it to the next player. Did you hear the doh? That was actually, the Simpsons were big at the time, and that was, or it just started, so that was our, so like I said, it's more of an empathetic cry so that literally -
Can I just, the way you've prototyped that, later on we'll be talking about frugal innovation. That is frugal innovation first hand.
Very basic prototype.
Right, from 25 million units from this, so this was turned into Bop-It, this idea and that, you know, to me, was like wow, I don't know this is like a Simon product but Simon was a memory, this was actually telling you to do one thing at a time. It was also, that was the other parkour thinking was how could a memory game not have memory? Well, it was actually too difficult to do this with memory, so one move at a time, but if it sped up, you would eventually fail. So this is sort of these all these opposites, that were not part of the adventure set off to when this remote control idea came about. So I think the other thing, I think you were talking about champions, and one of the most important things that really made this come about was I called the meeting, that one of my favorite meetings of all time was with the guy who, by coincidence, was one of the main people instrumental, inventor relations, behind Nerf and Twister. This guy, Bill Doorman, recently passed away, and he came to a meeting where I pitched this idea. He saw it, he saw the video, he played with this foam core and he had the vision to say, and he said something that mostly you hear from inventor relations is, we're not doing this kind of product. He was at Parker Brothers, we're not doing this kind of product at Parker Brothers. And then you said something you never hear, he said, but we should be. So that gatekeeper by him having the vision to say but we should be, that's the other half of a brilliant idea, you need a champion that actually knows what to do with it. So he took it back into Parker Brothers, that was by that time 1996, you can see how as it evolved, it evolved from here, where you know as you can see there and here, similar colors, the twist is still yellow. The pull, it went from being a hammer, to squished down into this, the more original Bop-It. Something, little, trivial fact, why does it have two bops? These used to do different things, channel up, channel down, it just sort of, got grandfathered in, usually a product would not have two buttons that did the exact same thing, it cost too much and they'd be eliminated but that sort of DNA, probably is responsible for where Bop-It succeeded, was the social part of Bop-It was that you could have this three dimensional object. It wasn't, it's the opposite of the flat toy that sat in your hand, even though it was a handheld game. For all these opposites, as Sally said, it all came together at the right time, and one of the things that's also a little epiphany that happened in the middle, there was at the time, chips could have six seconds of sound. We have used up five and a half seconds on the words, bop it, twist it, pull it, ah! A beat that got looped, and there was a half a second left, so what to do with that last half a second? And someone suggested, and you know everyone has suggestions, what about pass it? Sure, let's try pass it, so we put it in, and of course, that became a very social part. Now it told you what to do with it, and people did is and so, another little thing is, if we had had 14 minutes of sound, which we probably have today with a chip, I doubt we would have come up with that, because we would have had to come up with very elaborate things to do with those 14 minutes. But half a second, that parameter, the negative space, had just the right solution. So that's more of a mystical explanation, or you know it when you see it. Either knowing what the right solution is once it's presented is really 90% of invention. So that went on to sell, now we're going well over the 25 million Bop-It's sold. Over 100 million people have played it. If you look online you'll see lots of great comments, you even see one coming out this year where you can record, make your own thing so, all the suggestion of, you know what you should do beside that, you can now do it yourself. And now to drive home the point that the real lesson here is why it succeeded and made these games that animate people, I'd like to do a little game to do with you to animate you and give you a stretch so if you can all stand up, this is the game, the animation of people game. So it's very simple, we get to be our own Bop-It. Let's practice, if I go wave it, you'll just do what I say, wave it. What sound effect would we put with wave it? Zoop, right, so when I say wave it, you go zoop! And I would say, squeeze it. Sound effect, honk! I'd say spin it. What's the sound effect? Woosh, I don't know, most people agree. How about clap it? (audience claps) Got it's own sound effect, alright. Wave it.
Spin it. Squeeze it.
Clap it! (audience claps)
Clap it! (audience claps)
Clap it. (audience claps) Clap it. (audience claps) Clap it. (audience claps) Clap it. (audience claps) Clap it, clap it, come on. (audience claps). An unexpected standing ovation. That must be the end of the story. I told you. It works every time, so that was the story. The story that was about really how animating people became a mantra. Watch the kid, not the toy. It truly was putting together a lot of things, but the lesson is in most of these do that, that's why this product perplexes, in a way did the same thing it took something where people were using their thumbs, made them use their bodies, I just apply that to almost everything I invent. If you look at many of the inventions, they took something that didn't animate people, and you animate people, it's what interaction is. You know watching the people in anything, doesn't have to be a game or toy, whatever that is I would add it to to any brain storming is, how could we make the people more animated with this product.
Did a mysterious inventor
Relations person say wow, watch the kid, not the game, or did you?
I'm not sure, it was, no, I actually, it's a mix of the reason I tell the story as a mysterious person, vision, is it sort of was a mix of different things that I picked up form different people. But that is something, one I do remember specifically, the person that he was in inventor relations, he had said it's about the people. He gave me the tip of watching what is it make kids do? What does a toy do, the game I added, watch the player not the game. It's just sort of that mantra that you can use but yeah, it was a mix of real people.