June 28, 2022
Dan Klitsner is the inventor of Bop It and more than a dozen different versions of Bop It since 1996.
Dan Klitsner is the inventor of Bop It and more than a dozen different versions of Bop It including Bop It Extreme, Bop It Blast, Bop It Tetris, and even Bratz Bop It. Since 1996, Bop It has sold more than 30 million units worldwide.
Dan estimates that he's seen hundreds of his game ideas go to market and has given up to 40,000 total concept pitches. And today, Dan has nearly 500,000 followers on TikTok.
In this episode, we talk about how Dan broke into the world of game creation, how the game industry works, the difference between licensing and selling direct to consumers, and how Dan’s passion for Play is what keeps him going all these years later.
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Dan Klitsner 00:00
I would say I've probably pitched ideas, often repeating the same idea to multiple companies. If you count up the total amount of submissions of ideas and pitches, it's gotta be 30,000, 40,000.
Jay Clouse 00:12
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.
Jay Clouse 00:38
Hello, my friend, welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. Thanks for hanging with me over the last few weeks as we re-aired some of our past classic episodes. Mallory and I had a great honeymoon visiting Dublin, Copenhagen, London and Paris. And it was really nice to have a few weeks away from the keyboard. And there's a lesson here that I want to share by the way. Before going on the honeymoon, I had a lot of anxiety about not putting out new episodes for a few weeks. I was feeling a lot of momentum with the show heading into the honeymoon. And so it was scary to potentially put that on pause. But you know what, ultimately, no one really cares. I'm back this week with a new episode. I'll be back next week with a new episode and every week for the foreseeable future after that and pretty soon and no one will even remember that I took a few weeks off. And at same time, I was able to spend some high quality time with my wife, recharge, and really enjoying myself. So if you're feeling like you really need some time to rest and recover, I would encourage you to do it. It's summertime here in North America and you deserve a break. Speaking of taking some quality time to enjoy yourself. I'm taking us back in time a little bit today. We're going back to the 90s and a game that I'm sure you recognize as something we did to hang out and enjoy ourselves.
Dan Klitsner 01:58
That wasn't my voice. That was some, that was the voice of Bop It. And that is many years after the start of when I started creating games and pursuing play as a passion.
Jay Clouse 02:11
If you're a 90s kid like me, you're probably very familiar with the Bop It game and the noises that you just heard and the voice you just heard was Dan Klitsner, the inventor of Bop It and a whole bunch of other Bop It games since 1996. There are more than a dozen different versions of Bop It, including Bop It Extreme, Bop It Blast, Bop It Tetris, even Bratz Bop It. If you're also like me, you've probably thought very little about the actual mechanics behind how a game like Bop It comes to the market. And as we'll hear in the interview, Bop It was really a unique concept that came from one core insight.
Dan Klitsner 02:46
So Bop It really was this idea, unlike Simon or something like that, or you do something that literally gets people to move and interact, where it's fun to watch them.
Jay Clouse 02:59
We'll expand quite a bit on that idea in this conversation with Dan but here's what's so interesting to me about games and the territory we cover in this episode. Dan invented and patented the Bop It concept, but it was licensed and commercialized by the gaming company Hasbro. Until recently, there really wasn't a direct to consumer route in game creation. You really had to work with these major companies like Hasbro, Mattel or Parker Brothers. They're almost like the music labels of gaming. Now I know game invention is a totally different type of creator than we typically talk about on this show. But Bop It has sold over 30 million units worldwide. And when you have the opportunity to speak to a living legend, you take it.
Jay Clouse 03:39
In the toy industry, are you on like the Mount Rushmore of toys? Is this also like one of the biggest hits if I were to go and ask Hasbro or Mattel or Parker Brothers?
Dan Klitsner 03:48
Yeah, probably is over the last 25 years. Maybe Furby and Bop It are seen as two of, from the 90s anyway, two products that lasted you know, there's there's not a lot of evergreens. And I didn't know that when I started this. I actually had a bunch of products when Bop It came out. Everyone's like, oh, it's awesome. Maybe we'll get three years out of it, maybe three years. And I was like so disappointed like why would it ever go away? I, you know, I'm sort naive like Mousetraps still here, Candyland still here. What do you mean three years? And yes, so, again, long answer to the question. It is a bit of a Mount Rushmore. If I was a songwriter, it would definitely be the song people know me for best. Although some people might like some of my other games better.
Jay Clouse 04:35
Bop It isn't Dan's only commercial success. He tells me that he's had hundreds of his ideas go to market, and he's continued to evolve with the times. Today he has a thriving TikTok account with nearly 500,000 followers. So in this episode, we talk about how Dan broke into the world of game creation. How the game industry works, the difference between licensing and selling direct to consumer and how Dan's passion for play is what keeps him going all these years later. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen, you can find me on Twitter @jayclouse or on Instagram @creativeelements.fm, tag me, say hello, let me know that you're listening. And now let's talk to Dan.
Dan Klitsner 05:21
I was always attracted to three dimensional games, like Mousetrap, you know, games, clunk, things that were very mechanical. I also loved, probably, if someone asked me my favorite game, I would say surprisingly, Cribbage, which is, you know, the simplest and not really simple, but I love card games. And I love a group of people sitting together playing cards, because I think it's actually in many ways, the most interactive type of game, compare, you know, the people what the, what it makes the people do is more interactive sometimes in games that are more gadgety. So, I grew up playing lots of card games with family, was lucky to have parents that played with me. And yet, I was extremely, you know, into three dimensional things from early on.
Jay Clouse 06:11
When did your plan become, I wanted to start developing this stuff? Because, you know, we talked to a lot of creators on the show, who even today when they say I want to, you know, pursue this thing I'm building on Instagram or Tiktok, it's hard for their parents to wrap their head around. I would imagine, even back then, creating games wasn't really a well known or predictable or believable career path. So how did that work?
Dan Klitsner 06:36
Yeah, I guess it wasn't. However, I was creating games from the time I was six for my family to play with, like, it just, I just was something I love doing and making up different rules and things like that. But it really started for me, I was very, I drew a lot. I worked with my hands a lot as a kid. I played with a lot of like, what everyone would, you know, Lego, things like that. But I, I really tended towards that. But I did, I did draw an awful lot. And I used to draw things like, you know, monsters and crazy contraptions and stuff that a kid would draw. That really led me towards, I think inventing in the way new things or inventing something, something new within a drawing. But I started to go down this path of not really knowing what I wanted to do, and sort of ended up finding after a couple of years of engineering college, which I didn't like at all industrial design. And so I didn't even know that that existed. So in terms of how did I know, I don't know, I just didn't think of games as a profession at all. I just loved making them. But I also loved making stuff. And as I found out what industrial design was, I think just fast forwarding, you can imagine a lot of the games I've created are literally industrial design meets game, you know, Bop It is really an object, an ergonomic object, very different than other things that existed before. But if you think back to KerPlunk, Mousetrap or these games that I was really influenced by, I think I didn't think of it at the time. But it really is sort of that mix of the two passions that I had.
Jay Clouse 08:19
Yeah, I'm trying to think of other geometric game examples around that time, because Mousetrap, KerPlunk, those are both more so board games, probably than like, a physical object as a game, wouldn't you say? I mean, a board game is a physical object, but it seems like a different category.
Dan Klitsner 08:40
Yes. Well, I think it depends on the time, if you think those are category, a board game, the idea that, that a game is sort of the thing we do as a whole thought I have and why do we play, we can go down that rabbit hole. But, you know, to me, it's the connector, you know, with friends and family you can play, why do we play games? What do we, what do we get out of them? And so a board game or anything that we played together, it's also different than, like a video game that you play, you know, often by yourself or Solitaire. You know, there's different reasons we played. But for me, it was about imagining how to connect people. What's the thing that I would, I think I was always driven by what's the next thing that would get people together and connecting and, and remembering that evening or that day like, ah, that was, wasn't that great when we played and such and such. So I think that feeling of me thinking back to why those were sure happy times when I was sitting there without any other agenda other than to play with those friends. I think it's a really important part of our mind that isn't triggered by many other things is what state of mind we're in when we play. And that's why I think so many people have very warm memories of that. There isn't you know, even with family sometimes it takes all the other agendas off the table, and that's what you're, you're allowed to do and be creative in a way together within that great games help you sort of express yourself. So I think, you know, again, along route to what else was there, there was Simon, which was more of a three dimensional if you think of a game that I think was big in the 70s or 80s, then there's things like the slinky or a yoyo, or they're more like toys,
Jay Clouse 10:29
Dan Klitsner 10:29
they don't rule, they don't have rules that you think so I think I just felt driven to this idea of, of, I don't know, like five times when you're creative. I was looking for things that were three dimensional. I was trying to, I had already licensed some other board game type of ideas to some of the toy companies. And when I started working on Bop It, it was really intentionally how can I make an object that is a game that makes people move more physically, I think that was one of my, my ideas early on was just sort of this thing that I had heard throughout throughout other people within the toy industry, just that a great game makes the people more interactive. Like I said, cards are a great example, the card makes the people do stuff. And it's more entertaining to watch each other than to watch the game, we're all interacting, rather than something where your fingers, your thumbs are, you know, working on an LCD game or a video game, that is literally where it came out of it's a toy company saying handheld LCD games are not selling well. Do you have any other ideas? And it sort of was my first impulse was what's sort of the opposite of that? What is it that that those games don't do that I've always been interested in games about? So I didn't really think that maybe that literally at the time, but but it was all that was a common thread. So if that helps sort of understand where, you know, this all came from.
Jay Clouse 12:00
Yeah, I have next to no knowledge about this industry. So that's going to become like, super obvious as we go through this, right? But I'm thinking in categories, I can picture board games, card games, video games, and there's like, the toy realm, which don't necessarily have to be games but can be. And then there's like balls, which are a part of a larger rule based game. Are those like, am I thinking about the categories, kind of right? Are there other categories that I'm missing here when it comes to creating games?
Dan Klitsner 12:31
Although many subcategories you know, anyone who's super into games with sort of rattle off all these genres and things of what many, which am I you know, but things like LARPing, and game, you know, role play games, things were up really becoming immersed in the game, there's, there's so many layers of games. And so that's why I kind of always been interested, what does that mean? What's the difference between a game and a toy? I think often people will try to categorize the game as sort of a, an agreement, I like to call it, it's the agreement of people. Well, again, multiplayer type games, games that are meant to be played with with people to me, it's an agreement that those people have that they're going to suspend for the outside world for a certain time, and spend that time with each other via this game as sort of the medium that that makes it okay for them to be silly and playful, because the rules are, this is what you're supposed to do. So there's a little bit of that balance between that and then allowing the creativity of fun things to pop out like to me, charades, you think about how simple that is? It's, you know, you're trying to communicate to someone, something, and it's always funny, you know, like, why is it funny? It's funny, because it's funny to watch someone struggle with trying to communicate with just their hands and everyone's making funny guesses. And so it's all about those people in the room. That's, you know, because we've all agreed we're going to do this together. And as a bigger umbrella, I think that's important to know about games in those experiences is that that agreement is only possible because people usually do it in what we call their free time, right? When I say, what do you want to do in your free time? And well, people can do a lot of things, they go fishing, do this draw that you know work with their hobbies, but when you say so what's the value of your free time? That's a really interesting question to me because I know the value of my paid time, everyone knows, I'm being paid, you know, $12 an hour or $50 an hour or a million dollars a day, whatever it matters, you know, some celebrity, they still have a price for the thing that they're paid to do. In general, you know, and that's different than when someone says so what's your free time worth? And my theory is it's infinite time value, your free time is actually has no price tag. It is all you have. It's your time. So free time is the most valuable thing you have and when you say to someone, hey, should we play a game for an hour? And they agree with their incredibly valuable free time so yeah. Now it's the fact that it is frivolous. Like, if there isn't, I really believe more that because you say we're going to do something that has no redeeming value in terms of we're not doing this to learn or to make money or do this, or we really are doing it because we want to spend time together. To me, that's the most powerful thing is we've just spent our most valuable time together doing what we used to consider a frivolous thing. But the point was, it was because we wanted to spend time together. So I'm driven by that idea, like, what's the next thing I can create that will make people want to do that?
Jay Clouse 15:42
That's such a good frame. I love that. You know, you're talking about the the toy company within these handheld, LCD games aren't selling very well. We're talking early 90s probably, is this like original Gameboy?
Dan Klitsner 15:54
Yeah, original Gameboy or this was actually literally the little cheap handheld LCD games that you would get that would have, you know, like, Masters of the Universe, and Marvel and whatever those little games were that, you know, Pong originally might have been translated to, again, a little handheld game, you play with your thumbs that was, you know, $10. And there was a huge wave of those by a company called Tiger Electronics back in the 80s, 90s. And they specifically called, I'd done some other games for them. And they said, what's next? And of course, the first thought was, what's the next innovative LCD game? They called that the category, not, but it was an LCD handheld game, if you think of that, it wasn't a board game. So my thought was, well, what, what can I do to make an LCD game more physically interactive, that's sort of where the soul came from is. I actually started the ideas for Bop It with LCD screens in a device that you had to swing around and bop and do things to the character on the screen. But moving the thing around, you know, just you can imagine it was like, huh, I wonder it was really flipping it backwards to say, well, maybe instead of you animating the character on the screen, the toy is animating you and you become the entertainment. That's kind of the same. As I say, the link to charades. All those things are literally you, you turn, turn yourself into the entertainment don't don't make it about the thing on the screen.
Jay Clouse 17:31
After a quick break, Dan and I talk about how he broke into the gaming industry and how game creators today can sell their games. And later we talk about licensing and royalties. So stick around and we'll be right back.
Jay Clouse 17:44
Welcome back to my conversation with Dan Klitsner. We started this interview by looking at the gaming industry as a whole. And now that we have a better understanding of how the gaming world works, I wanted to dig deeper into Dan's personal journey.
Dan Klitsner 17:57
Well, I started out in probably 1986. Around then maybe a little earlier, I was doing freelance industrial design. I had gone to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena thought I would go on to create you know, the next best toaster, blender, teapot, you know, all the things that industrial designers want to do. I had no interest in architecture, anything I really love, tactile ergonomic things that you held. I love the sculptural quality of them. So I loved everything about industrial design, and had a bunch of freelance clients I started to develop. I also did illustration on the side like architectural illustration, since there were no computers to render the stuff, they needed people to draw them. And I was a good drawer. So I had all these freelance things. And I, I answered an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle, but for a toy company that said freelance toy designer wanted. And it was for a little company called Discovery Toys, which sort of sold toys like Avon, or like the Tupperware or Avon parties. It was sort of like Tupperware like, parents would have people over and you know, sort of sell direct sales like that. So they had never had their own products. They were always importing products and they were looking for someone to design some proprietary products. So they became one of my freelance clients. I started to design all sorts of things much more preschool toys. In fact, some are still around today some some very classic things that were very, you know, from an industrial designer point, point of view, European looking in my mind, you know, these are not like the crap that we see, you know, here are these are like these fine European toys. So they like that. So that sort of, if you look back, a lot of them were very Bop It-y. They were rattles and things that you shake and met for little kids with twirly things and spinny things and I much later kind of made the correlation like oh, that's just I've always had this thing about tactile stuff that you touch with your hands, even what a kid might do. So that sort of led toward knowing about the toy industry and getting more and more involved. And because I was just freelancing for them, I wasn't obligated. I wasn't an employee. So I started to hear that you could pitch ideas to the toy industry. And I, because I had always loved these games, you know, Mousetrap, things like that. I thought that sounds cool. And started to look into how, oh, can I find out how to do that? So spent some research, looked into it and eventually, you know, met a lot of the toy companies and found out how to do this.
Jay Clouse 20:36
Wow, you went from wanting to build a better Mousetrap to wanting to build a better Mousetrap.
Dan Klitsner 20:44
Never thought of that. That's right. I don't know how I built a better Mousetrap. But yes, I, I built something that well, when you say that when Bop It eventually came out and I saw the brand Milton Bradley on it or it was originally Parker Brothers, then Milton Bradley, just for me, when I talk about how passionate I was about games when I was younger, I remember the boxes of all the games I played with that brand, Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers. And it was so magical to me, like, you know, I remember these cardboard boxes and they be on the shelf and who, I don't know what awareness we have when we're younger about what a brand really is. But I knew that it was good. I knew that these were things that made everyone happy. And I got so excited. The first time I saw the package when the, when the product actually came out. It hit me like, oh, wait, I created one of those things that someone else is going to play with and have these warm and fuzzy memories and it says Milton Bradley on it, you know, so yes, Mousetrap in a way it was direct correlation like, wow, I can't believe I did something that's like one of those things that seems so iconic.
Jay Clouse 21:54
When I think about toys, and again next to no knowledge here. I do think Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Hasbro, are these the giant gorillas in the room? And there's only like a couple of really big concentrated powers or is it a very fragmented tons of different gaming companies type of industry?
Dan Klitsner 22:16
It used to be a little more, well, actually, there used to be even more companies than you realize, Ideal toys, Wham-O. You might remember these kind of names, you know, things that Mattel, of course, and that has, for many years, Mattel and Hasbro were sort of battling but it wasn't always Hasbro, Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Hasbro is one gorilla. Now, that's those have all been combined into Hasbro. And over the years, Hasbro bought Parker Brothers, you know, kind of in the when I started getting into toys, they were just in the process of acquiring them. So there's been a lot of mergers. But there's also been a lot of really exciting new companies, especially with all the new ways to market, you know, social media, things like the game Exploding Kittens, for instance, which is now a company that's doing some great stuff that launched through Kickstarter. What Do You Meme, which is a company do it like these are sort of the fresh new companies and in the middle there is a company that's now about 25 or 30 years old, called Spin Master, who has become the number three if not the number two toy company, it's the three guys from Canada that started it with just a couple products, and then just were so innovative they, they really relied on toy inventors for their line and built this incredible company. So that's today, a kid might think of them more like Hasbro, Mattel because of Bakugan, if people know that one or Hatchimals, these things that hatch out of out of eggs. So it depends what era you're from, I think as to who you think, is the gorilla in the room. But the short answer is there's still you know, those are still the bigger mass companies. But there's probably 50 other medium companies that are extremely important and super innovative.
Jay Clouse 24:04
I asked because one, I'm curious how this connects to your story, but then also to the listener today, the path forward for creating and commercializing a game. Did you have to go through one of these bigger more established players back you know, when you're creating Bop It or was there an ability to self create and self distribute back then?
Dan Klitsner 24:25
I've never self distributed or created till I'm doing that, literally this year, I'm working on a project that is basically a Kickstarter that I'm going to be doing. Kind of to celebrate the 25th year of Bop It as a give back to be honest, but I've always been warned against it in a way because I love creating lots and lots of things. And the best path for a creator is really to get to know all the toy companies and even if they're small as some of the other hits like Perplexus, it's a game that I co-developed, it's a created with who's become a friend a incredible uh, it was basically the spherical labyrinth that you, I don't know, if you're aware of it, you, you run a marble through a maze that's inside of a sphere. So Perplexus has become a pretty big line that started with a pretty small company, who then eventually sold and things like that. Now it's with Spin Master but though that wouldn't maybe have happened with a bigger company. So the opportunities one to answer first party question, it's kind of matchmaking, you know, if you're going to say I'm, I have a bunch of ideas or one idea, which is hard if you just have one. But if you have a lot of ideas, your day to day is spent creating ideas, prototyping and building all these relationships, figuring out who's looking for what, when, because you have your ideas, which you're love with of course, and then you have to say, be realistic, like, which company wants them and why. And they're all different. You know, it's, it's not just in the eye of the beholder, they all have different strategies, they have different volumes, different distribution, you know, so really, the success is to make sure you meet a lot of them. And the doors open up pretty easily if you're consistent. It's not so much about that. It's the endurance to withstand the failure of many, many attempts before hitting on things. However, building your own so it's tempting to say, I'm just going to do this myself. And today with Kickstarter, some things, it is much easier, I think, for someone to figure that out than it used to be. But there's a few people that didn't want to be, oh, I'm not gonna like, inventing is licensing your idea. When you talk about starting your own idea, that's like, all the logistics of making selling marketing, you know, the headaches of running a business is a very different if you're a creative person that doesn't want to do that. It's, you know, people have been brought down by that. But there's also people who have completely made something successful when they just said, I'm going to make this myself probably throughout, then they become a toy company. So that's so it's not, I never advise someone don't make your own product. Because if that's that person that just loves it and does it and creates this, this hit because they're thinking purely about their own idea. But I do say, and I never say that people go out there and invent, it's really easy. And you can just sell your idea, like it's hard, it's very hard. There's a lot of luck involved with a lot of perseverance and talent that you need as well.
Jay Clouse 27:30
Do you know how many published games you've made?
Dan Klitsner 27:35
You mean, how many have sold or how many titles?
Jay Clouse 27:38
How many titles? How many have like gone all the way through the process of like, this is released to the public and gotten people's hands?
Dan Klitsner 27:43
I don't have the exact number, I mean, but I've been doing this for almost 30 years, and there's at least five or six year that come out sometimes 10, you know, little games, little things like that. I remember, there's a lot of little companies out there that will do something, if I get published, it might get dropped immediately. I'd say there's probably over 100 things that have, you know, done pretty well over the years, there might be 300 that have, you know, had a chance, I really should do a count at some point.
Jay Clouse 28:14
That was my next question, it was gonna be how many concepts do you think?
Dan Klitsner 28:16
Oh, concepts, I've done, I know that, it's almost 4000 concepts that have been pitched. Many of them multiple times to multiple companies so you know, I would say I've probably pitched ideas, often repeating the same idea to multiple companies. If you counted the total amount of submissions of ideas and pitches, it's got to be 30,000, 40,000 submissions. And that's just over time, you know, your game is trying to catch who wants this idea when, because the ideas you give up on are often the ones the heartbreak, like, there's an idea right back here, people get sick. I don't know if you can see it up behind me. It's called Gleeks. It's a little LCD alien that I did, one of my first ideas. It was how to use an LCD screen before Bop It when I was interested in LCD games and things, and it was how do you make a pet out of an LCD? How do you, you know, put it inside of a little container and had this whole cute idea of, of little bit of language and stuff. And I showed it to everyone when I was first meeting toy companies and nobody, how do we do that? Oh, you can do that with an LCD like they were so old school. They didn't even understand it. I just didn't know enough companies, but I showed it around quite a bit. And then I did a lot of work on it, stop motion animation really envisioned no one had done anything. And if it sounds familiar, eight years later, Tamagotchi came out, which was a pretty popular little thing. It was basically LCD cuts that did almost exactly, but I had little alien creatures so that's this, that's why that Gleeks thing is little Gleeks. And, you know it was about not showing, giving up on it and not showing it to the right company at the right time. And that's probably most inventors will tell you, the biggest heartbreak is their closets are filled with things that were really right on, they just didn't find the right home for it. So that's why you have to be willing to show things to the you know, keep looking because it really hurts to be right at the wrong time.
Jay Clouse 30:28
If I'm considering trying to license an idea to a gaming company, what do I need to bring to the table for them to be interested in it? And then if they say yes, what do they ultimately take off my plate? You know, like, what, what am I responsible for creating as the licensor when I'm going into one of these conversations?
Dan Klitsner 30:48
Well, you know, there's a few things that would probably be consistent. One is today, having a prototype that, you know, is pretty well along, you know, sometimes people have sold things that are kind of a loose idea, but it's pretty well defined. And a great video, think of how you would be attracted to something like, if you ever watched shark tank or you watch, you know, see someone pitch an idea or a commercial, if you've ever seen a commercial, that's kind of what you're trying to do is you want to build a concise video that really gets people excited. In fact, the video and how I sold off it was actually on a video first is the one thing that can be consistent over and over again, if you pitch an idea and people say we love it, let's show it to, you know, the President, and you are not, oh no, I will do it, you know, because often you're not, you don't get past the gatekeepers often you're just there with the people that are the scouts for new ideas, then they've got to do their own great job of pitching it. But if you have a really good video, that is short, you know, one minute to two minutes, that really makes people excited and something they go, let's see that again, I want to watch that again, oh, my god, I love it when it does that, I love it, I love that no gravity part, you know, whatever it is that you can convince people, you can be your own judge of, well, I would buy that, you know, versus someone who goes in all this detail, it's like, you've just lost me it's got to be, it's got to be to the point. And the features that are new should be just like a great commercial, doesn't have to be super slick, it just has to get across the thing that you you know, you think saleable. But you probably also need a pretty good prototype these days, that used to be a little easier to sell concepts on their merit like that. But to get past that point of, hey, we're interested. So then at that point, the process is kind of like a movie script. If you think about it, and writer selling something, somehow people relate to that it's you can get, if a company really likes something, they will option it from you, they'll pay you some money to take it off the table, so you don't pitch it to other people. And that's for a certain period of time where you can then they're gonna be saying we need 30 days to think about it. And if you can, you get them to pay for that 30 days, a small amount. And then if it gets through all those things, eventually you'd be negotiating a license agreement where they pay you a bigger advance on hopeful future royalties. And then at that point, you could be not involved whatsoever, you can be a time an industrial designer, my partners are industrial designers and programmers, you know, I have two partners, we often are very involved in the development process. If not the, they just don't come out very well, in our opinion. But that's not that common. It's much more common in this sort of inventing world to if you get through that gate, and you pitch and license it that often they don't want you involved, they want to have their own execution and say, and about 50% of the time, you'll be very disappointed with what was your idea. And that'll be, that's when people usually complain, and at some point that probably drives some people, I'm just doing it myself next time, you know, I don't know, that's kind of the best I can explain the ups and downs of the process.
Jay Clouse 34:09
I'm going to come back to the Bop It video here in a minute. But I asked this because I have a friend who's an inventor and I saw him go through the process of getting his prototypes made. And I know that the prototyping process can be pretty resource intensive to you know, get molds made and have this stuff done. And I wondered how much someone needs to invest in like that level of prototyping before they pitch to potentially be licensed or if you can kind of build this with household items to get the point across?
Dan Klitsner 34:37
The answer is yes.
Jay Clouse 34:41
As it usually is.
Dan Klitsner 34:42
Meaning, meaning it's all the above you know, you, it depends on the product. I think something when you're a serial inventor, like you know, you learn what, every time you have an idea. How should I present this? Does it need 3D, we do a lot of 3d printing, of course, like most people now have, which is amazing compared to what you used to have to do. But still, it's a lot of time and you know, building and so is this the kind of thing that's mechanical, that's going to pop out and impress people with the way it transforms. If so, a little sketch of that may not do it, you probably need, you know, a cool 3D model that's done from 3D printing that if you have that, and that's the key feature, then that's the right way to do it or I've sold like the idea for Bop It Tetris, which was this, people have had it, it's, I think, the best game I've ever designed, because of the interface and the way it's physical. That was done with a stop motion video, because I needed to show how these little squares of light would move around while you and I could have done it many different ways. But I just said, oh, I'm just gonna test it out and see for myself if this works. So I use stop motion to represent these LEDs that are going on and off. And while I manipulated the model in my hand, and it was so convincing, that's literally what sold the idea. So I didn't know that, you know, so that was a totally another approach, then you can do you know, like you said, animation or videos that make it look like something's working but it really isn't. You dub in the audio, you do this, like, if it's a board game, and you're trying to sell people on this board game, you probably have to build the game, prototype it, you know, have all the cards, have all the content, you know, so that's something that's harder to fake because people will want to play the game or if it's a deck, get a lot of card games, people prototype them much easier, because you can just get those printed. So that's why I say the answer is yes, you have to kind of figure out the best way for the lowest price to get your idea across.
Jay Clouse 36:43
When we come back, we talk about licensing versus direct to consumer and Dan's approach to using Tiktok. Right after this.
Jay Clouse 36:51
Hey, welcome back. One of the creator revenue models we haven't talked about much on the show is licensing and royalties. It's actually a big part of my business, I have created seven courses for LinkedIn learning, and those courses were made under a publishing agreement I was paid in advance and now I receive royalties based upon the performance of those courses. Every year around Christmas time, we see headlines about how much money Mariah Carey makes for her song, All I Want For Christmas Is You. And for Dan, he receives royalties on the sale of Bop It. So I asked him to talk to me about his opinion on licensing a game versus selling direct to consumer.
Dan Klitsner 37:26
It's great when it works. The flip side is there's plenty of things that you work on for two years, you're all excited about when you're doing royalty based deals, someone else's absolutely in charge of your, you know, your pipeline. And when they decide, you know, it's just not selling enough, you know, think of these companies as having multiple products, there isn't an infinite amount of products that can be sold there has, they have to make choices. So if your product isn't really worth the advertising, the shelf space, whatever it might be, they drop it. And, you know, that's why I say most products last now less than three years, maybe one year, you know, so the royalties may not last very long, especially in toys now and other types of businesses, you know, you'll always hear those stories and of course in songwriting, you know, because people like hearing songs over and over again. And they're nostalgic, I suppose once a song makes it tough kind of doesn't go away. But most products do go away, or it's very difficult to kind of hold on to that stream. So I don't know, you know, most people just feel lucky when they get a few years on something. But it's a great business model compared to but but it's also like you're saying now with all the direct to consumer methods I'm very, very interested in, especially with social media, that's I've been specifically went on to social media the last year just to sort of build an audience directly to the people who are big fans who want to talk about poppet, celebrate profit, share Buffett stories, and do goofy things with poppin on social media and talk to people what do you want, what do you think's next and come up with some products that I'm trying to sell or will be selling direct to consumer as much to kind of create that loop that feedback loop and experience what it's like to sell something direct, even if it's very low volume? I'm pretty excited about that. So I think it's but there is a downside. The royalty thing is it's so great when it works, but you can when the faucet gets turned off, it's it's you just feel so helpless.
Jay Clouse 39:29
On the social media point you just made. Your tick tock is great. You have 421,000 followers. Did you teach yourself and do you manage all that yourself to?
Dan Klitsner 39:39
Yeah, it's probably pretty obvious. I'm glad you like it. It's me having fun. I mean, honestly, I love it because one I love getting the feedback from people on just, you know, these people are really inventive. And when I'll throw out failures, I didn't realize some of the most popular things is when I I say why do you think this flopped? And I just love people are so good at the comments. And it's like, wow, they're right. You know, like, that's probably makes sense because toys and games are designed for people. And the people who play them are the best judges. But it's so funny how, you know, I love that part. I love that it's an incredible way to get direct feedback with people, I create stuff I'm learning, you know, the tools of it, and just enjoying that it is it is kind of addictive, you know, to kind of put something out, oh, people really liked that. And so I'll do more like that, then you do something like that, and they don't like it at all. So it's a very, it's a little bit of a moving target. And as you say, I have a lot of followers probably for what I am, or it's a lot. But, you know, as you know, you can be someone who shows up a gecko walking around their terrarium and have 2 million followers because you put funny music to it. So I have you have to be humble about what your we just saw what there's some Gecko on there that someone keeps showing, there's like 20 million views like that's it, it sticks its tongue out, you know, so it humbles you a little as to what what people really want on social media. So it's more important to just stick to, here's what I want to do, here's what I want to share. Here's where I want to engage with people on and be playful with people about. And eventually that becomes, I hope, like, if I do a Kickstarter, you now have a little bit of a base to sort of, get the word out.
Jay Clouse 41:30
Do you think of tick tock as a game?
Dan Klitsner 41:32
Totally. It is a game, you know, I mean, like the game of doing it, it's also it's entertainment, but it's a little bit of a game, it's kind of like fishing, you know, you're you're throwing something out there, and you're seeing if you can catch some attention, I find it more just like a super creative outlet with with instant feedback, like think about most creators, like they'll work on something for a long time. You go through this whole process, especially licensing, it's it's sometimes two years till it actually hits the market. And then you're waiting and waiting. And finally, oh, people kind of like it. But you know, here's the thing that you can have an idea like, oh, I want to talk about this and see what people think. And in an hour, you kind of know what people think. It's, I think it's fantastic for that. And if you think of the things you create, it's just little inventions, like, I'm going to try this, try that. And every day the tools get better. And the collaborations of people, yeah, it's kind of infinite creativity, if that's your goal is how do I really work in a visual medium? And like I said, not so much for the clout that you might have, but for the creativity of it. I think it's pretty special.
Jay Clouse 42:43
of the original Bop It inputs. This is a question from Ashby on Twitter, he said have the original inputs, bop it, pull it, twist it, spin it, flick it? Do you have a favorite?
Dan Klitsner 42:54
Well, those are not the original the original is just pop it twist it pull it since that's a bop but extreme? Because a lot of people who don't It's funny how many this is this is the one I'm holding up is the original right Bartlett twisted, pull it that it's funny how many people think that's not the original, because it's like, and then there's a whole group 10 years later that there's this white bar, but that was when it was totally re re launched. They think that's the original they got what is that blue thing? So it's really what you think is the original but but but this is the original this one right here, Bobby Jones. But anyway, of the pocket extreme inputs. I think that the one that, you know, like I had a lot of ideas for buffet extreme when it came out, like what should they be at? I actually didn't, I didn't want it to have twisted and pull it on it because they had been in the original. So I had squeeze it. And I think it was shake it. It was poke it, there's been a bunch of other things, you know, but they all have to work. Just notice it's off the point of the question. But the reason for all those and why they work is that it's the axis of motion to make you move three dimensionally what makes poppit different than an LCD game, which is in which is used in one dimension, you know, with just your thumbs, or Simon, which was one dimension, it was in one action is that you if you see it, you know, you're pulling, you know, you're twisting, and you're bopping they're all They're XYZ, right? X Y, Z and that's what why it messes with your brain is because you have to sort of convert this command into a three dimensional action not just the motion of twisting but it is perpendicular to the thought like that was the part that was really intentional and so when the flick it and the spin it came out, they were intentionally trying to do things that were also a thing you didn't do with the other actions. I would still put you know, I think maybe twisted is the one that I suppose tactile because if you when you do it, it's the thing that was least like a game maybe that existed. And I love the sound of it. You know, when you hear the the sound right here, that little, it just sounds like you're twisting, you know, someone's neck or something. It's that sense of something really satisfying about twisting and having that sound. So long answer to that, I think it's important to know why are there five things and why would they selected. And it was very, very thought through. And there's been a lot of other variations. You know, one of the reasons it hasn't been copied very well, it's every time someone tries to do something else, they don't seem to work as well as the original moves.
Jay Clouse 45:45
What's your, what's your favorite input that never made it into one of the versions,
Dan Klitsner 45:49
I really liked poke it, where you take your two fingers, and you poke like three stooges style, you know, like these two circles, and you had to you had to poke through the two holes. And I really wanted to put in the sound you know, like that. Whatever the Three Stooges sound, you know, when they would post you know, I gotta point for you. It's like, I just kind of figured it more like a three stooges moment of these of these crazy things happening. It wasn't a mobile game. We did a mobile game for poppet that you did have poke it by putting two fingers. There was also pinch it that was there and one of our favorites over the years when we brainstorm just stroke it which is I know people get excited there. It is a it was a like your your stroke. You're like a furry it had a little furry sensor on it. And when you pet the fur, you're stroking it, and I'm actually working on this thing that would have all of those in it. That's my next Kickstarter is a eight armed bop it that has like the four other things that I really wanted to put in a box, but it'll cost 120 bucks, but I'm hoping it'll be worth it.
Jay Clouse 47:05
I'm curious, your experience with you know, you had Bob, but then you had Bob had extreme. And there have been other variations. Since then, I think you sometimes hear about like musicians who have this hit song and then they grow to hate that song and they don't want to play it at the concerts anymore. Did you have any reaction like that to Bob it when you're creating these new toys and his new pitches?
Dan Klitsner 47:26
You know, it's really, I'm kind of embracing that, in a way, a little bit of a sense of, you know, someone launches for me, he invented Bop It, you know, a toy company. And I'm like, what, I've done quite a few other things. But on the other hand, like, Great, I'm very proud of it. And it's because I've done an awful lot with it since then it wasn't you know, a lot of the other inventions if you know, bop it smash Bop, it touches. Some of the other versions of it, pop it beats, they were completely other games that might have had a bit of a similarity. And only because I licensed them to Hasbro was it easier for them to market them under the buffet name. So my only we kind of a little bugs me a little when they go, oh, all you did was you know when you show all these, Bob that ideas are buffet games that you did. It's like there's several totally different inventions that have all been it's almost like Bob it is the company and those are products underneath it. So I'm proud of the ability to take music and games and really mixed them into all these different variations that people enjoy. Like the puppet beats was like a turntable eyes version of puppet and of Tetris, I said what's really had nothing to do with the original puppet, except that a voice was telling you what to do. And it had physical action in it. And also my two partners, Gary and Brian, are both musicians as well. And you know, we really like riffing on musical toys. And so it just happens that they kind of go into that. So but it's been a great platform for it. There's actually so much more you can do with this concept of music and a game call and response in a game. You know, I think I've seen 1000 YouTube and Tiktok spoofs on Bop It usually making some adult reference you know to it, which is always that's a genre in itself in case anyone's listening out there and they think they're the first person to ever think of how about that might be construed as an adult experience. You're not alone in fact 2006 are at live there's like they did a full Tina Fey and and you know, there's a full spoof on it that you can check out
(music playing on the background)
Dan Klitsner 50:35
They've done I think three spoofs on it. Usually with some adult reference, The Simpsons have done spoofs on it.
(music playing on the background)
Dan Klitsner 51:21
lot of shows that one's not that was just about it being like, I'm proud that it's the most, as I say, annoying game in the world, when you listen to it, it's really allowed me to create all these other things. And it's also been amazing that I'm still very passionate about it. And and I think there's so much more that could be done with that whole concept. And as music changes and interaction, dancers change. It's very classic that a thing that tells you what to do and you do it can can expand to many, many different things. And in fact, on on tick tock, that's something I enjoy most is when I'll sort of throw something out there and let people riff on Bach, but I've even taught classes for like preschool kids. And when I go in to talk about invention, and I'll, you know, I'll do things like, let's look at the wall up there. There's a clock, how would you make that clock better? And we'll talk about, you know, they're very good problem solvers, even as young young kids. But when I say, do you guys want to invent your own Bob, but it'll Yeah. And then they'll, you know, they'll come up with it's like an easy thing for people to get something. So I don't take offense, that it's a very expandable idea, and that people enjoy riffing on it. And so I've kind of embraced it. That's why I bought it and better is the handle. I'm just sort of going for it.
Jay Clouse 52:36
That's why That's what brought the question forward. As I saw you made that your handle on the social media accounts that you created, which made me think he's really embracing it, which I think is refreshing, frankly, because I do hear some people who have some level of success with something who begin to resent that thing or want to distance themselves because they're like, yes, but all these other things too. But it seems like it could be a real powerful, immediate credibility builder. If you're, you know, you're posting something on Tik Tok and is getting in front of someone else. People are going to see a name Bobbitt and veteran say, I know Bob it, and that suddenly puts you in a different class than the other 30. Tic TOCs. I just swiped through.
Dan Klitsner 53:14
Yeah, I think so. I did consider or have still considered. My other favorite name for my handle was you know, so my name is Dan Kitchener, Dan Kay. And I like, by actually one of my son's friends using college was Tommy texting, and they saw my name Dan clit, snare, and he thought it said, dank listener, that he thought that's a cool handle. And I thought, ooh, that is a cool handle. But I actually wanted to Dan Kay inventions, I was thinking of chasing dank inventions, inventions, of which boppard is just one of my 10 conventions, and I kinda, it's kind of grown on me. So at some point, I may, I may switch over just because I think it's more universal to the idea of inventiveness and creativity. I, you know, it's a little broader. And this was good to start off, but I don't know, what do you think? Do you think you need to keep referencing that?
Jay Clouse 54:14
No, no, especially that once you get to the scale that you are, I like dank inventions especially because I think this podcast has the market cornered on dank listeners. So Dang, conventions is probably
Dan Klitsner 54:25
Yeah, listeners, I can't use that. You've already got that.
Jay Clouse 54:30
Okay, I had one last question, which is, you know, we kind of started this conversation talking about, we're getting calls from toy companies saying, hey, these handheld LCDs aren't selling well. What's next? Sitting here in 2022? Most games that I see are on like an iPad or a console or something. So what what does the game landscape look like today? Or what type of things are you looking at for the future now?
Dan Klitsner 54:53
Well, I think games are more popular than ever. There's many different platforms for them. You know, many more ways to do what I love to do from the very beginning. You know, I said I love sitting around the table with family and friends connecting to me games are the connector, where you make this agreement to play together. Well, to me that the video game, you know, market and the games, all these things, what's great is now everyone can do that. And you know, fortnight and things like this, where it's doing the same thing they're connecting, often with people they don't know. But a lot of times the people they know, and like the switch and things like that, that are sort of three dimensional, a little bit, you know, they're giving you that handheld, feel that you are making the connection, and you're talking to people. So I like that positiveness about what games can do with people. So I think it's, there's a lot happening, I think people still like, like card games are in a way more popular than ever as well. So what does that tell you? It's not about all those electronics, it's about the I think it's about the connection and the experience. I don't really know where it's all going. And that way I do. I do like it. You know, I like that people value games. And they value that time together, which he said, I believe it's infinite value, the value of your free time. And to choose to play together is a really strong memory, you know, to finish on that thought, because if you're if what you're really creating are memories with people you love, or new people that you meet, or whatever that is you think back to how did you meet someone? When did you really connect with them. And if it was playing a game, or hanging out together playing the game together, you'll realize the value of a game was it's some of the most important memories and connections of your life. So I like that there's more of them. I'd like to be involved in continuing to help people do that. And I do a lot of games that are have nothing to do with electronics. You know, I'm working. I'm actually working on a topic card game at the moment. That's pretty cool. Just to let you be the voice of puppet, and it's sort of a lot of fun. So yeah, I think that those, it's always changing. And I do see though the value of three dimensional play, like people still love ergonomic, fidgety things, as much as they love an electronic game. I think they'd kind of bounced back and forth of what they would what they need. What
Jay Clouse 57:11
there does seem to be kind of like a return to tabletop games right now even though we're talking about the metaverse and going into complete digital places where I'm sure there will be games for the metaverse in the metaverse. And that's a whole other category of game design. It seems like there is a return to the physical world where people are saying, Actually, I need more in real life experiences with my friends with my family and things. So it's an interesting time for games. I feel.
Dan Klitsner 57:38
I totally agree. I think that's what we do at night, if people come over to our house, you know, dinner, we make them, we say make them play games, it's never about it. It's always you know, or a game that I've invented, it's always some other cool game that we found. And I just truly love the laughing fun that you know, there's a great game called Sheriff of Nottingham, which is basically like liar's dice turned into a game and in a way, if you've ever, it's just, it's so simple. You're just trying to bluff, what you have in this little pouch, you know, and get past the sheriff. It's so simple. And yet it creates always this amazing experience together, you really couldn't get that through online or this, it's just you gotta have to be there. And, and that's, there's so many games like that, that I'm very passionate about playing. But you were mentioning so and what's coming from, from what I'm working on most excited about is what's called right now we're calling it the unit bump. It's the single button Bob. But that's basically like, the No button or the easy button that you know, when you just hit hit the one button. It started because I'm working on this book about his sort of the story of Bob but the most annoying game, kind of like, oh, I created the most annoying game of all time. You know, silly kind of stories on way but really a little bit of how to and ideas on creativity and toy invention. But the whole point of the book is that there I said it has to have a pocket on the front of it. Can't have a book about Bob it without literally a bump button. And it started out just Oh, it's just it's just gonna click, it'll be cool three dimensional Bob clicks I wonder how much it would cost to make it actually work? Could it say Bob it when you bought the cover? I'd like to Yeah, could that's kind of a waste of maybe Could it really be a game? What if you could just bop it forever? You know, would that be fun? And so I started looking into it and created a start really went way too far with it. And so here, you know, you're gonna be able to hear I'll play it for you a little bit and you'll you'll get what it's got two commands, bop it and don't Bop It. But it says it in many different ways. And as you'll see it if we're lucky, it'll sort of randomly say some weird thing and the longer you play it the more it unlocks. So here it is. Bobby's lobby lobby lobby don't? Wow, no. So when you fail, it says one of the iconic phrases, it's got like 50 things in it, you know. So the point is, the more you play it, it'll keep unlocking so you can go. So basically, it was easy to make it go to 100. Well, more like 1000 is easy to make it go to 1000 as to 1 million, so guess how high it goes? A million. So if you weren't, you know, and it saves, there's a lot of things about and it saves your score. So you can do it over time. You don't have to do it all in one. But, uh, yeah, it's as you go through. So in a way, it was a celebration of the 25 years above that, because it's, it's got all these cameos and opportunities to unlock. So when you get to certain thresholds, you'll hear a voice congratulate you, you know, like, wow, you know, it'll say 250, and then someone you know, redonkulous, or some saying, and so the vision is eventually I'm gonna be doing a Kickstarter on it and who the voices are that get unlocked, it's more of a game about endurance, instead of the game about dexterity and speed, like previous botnets have been, it's also just you just, it was just funny, you leave it on your desk, and you can just walk by and hit it right. Like I just It insults you. So that was that really went way out of you know, an idea of let's just put a pop it on the front of a book. So now this is more important than the book, the book has been delayed a little because I've been so busy on this. But eventually, they wouldn't be available, either separately or together.
Jay Clouse 1:02:10
You need to put an intermittent read it command in there, so people stopped bopping it and actually open the book.
Dan Klitsner 1:02:16
That's it, is it? Well, there is a tick tock. There is a tick tock I did when I first had this idea. And it does say open it, read it, close it. And then the puppet starts talking to me. And insulting me like it's it because I know the guy buddy who does the Bossa Bop and I work on a lot of stuff. So it starts saying things like, wait, you wrote this way, way, way, way way. You wrote this? Well, that's why I'm making this really good video that you just ruined. Why would anyone want to buy your book? Well, it shows how I came up with you and all the variations in my design flow. And there's a whole section on topic fans. And if they tell a good buffet story, it might make it in the book on the cover Dan, not you you know what the best part is? What are you doing a moveable? Maybe someday that'll be you know, it'll become like an Alexa that's really, really insulting to you. I'm very passionate about all the various things you can do with the concept of Bob it and if you have four more hours, I'll tell you the rest of my ideas
Jay Clouse 1:03:23
this was a really fun episode a different episode than any other and probably different than most episodes that will come after it. But I love digging into different business models that creators have made work in game invention and design is a really unique model. If you want to learn more about Dan you can find him on tick tock at Bobbitt inventor, follow him there and keep an eye out for his upcoming book and Kickstarter. A link is in the show notes. Thanks to Dan for being on the show, thinking Emily Clauser making the artwork for the episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian skill for creating our music. If you like this episode, you can tweet at Jay Clouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. Thanks for listening and I'll talk to you next week.
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After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money.
Marie’s transition from agency job to full-time freelance, her discovery of online education, her foray into creating a software product, the origins of Notion Mastery, and why her inconsistency hasn’t slowed her down one bit.
Andy J. Pizza is an illustrator and the host of the Creative Pep Talk podcast.
Austin Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of a trilogy of illustrated books about creativity in the digital age: Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work!, and Keep Going.
Why the author of Wait But Why focuses on quality over consistency
Freelancing, filmmaking, podcasting, and finding success on YouTube.
Habits, research, and how to create A+ work from a New York Times best selling author
Art, freelancing, building a personal brand, and the problem with being authentic