Inventor Roundtable Part 4: The role of technology and the state of creativity

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

October 1st 2015 at 10:31AM
UPDATED October 1st 2015 at 2:43PM
Inventor Roundtable Part 4: The role of technology and the state of creativity

This week, Seven Towns’ Steve Perrin, Ooba’s Max Ford, Bananagrams’ Rena Nathanson, Wow! Stuff’s Richard North and Jenga creator Leslie Scott discuss how tech is changing the inventing landscape.

Billy Langsworthy, ToyNews: With some toy stores basing their entire identity around the celebration of traditional products, can tech toys ever push on and become a major player in this space?

Richard North, CEO, Wow! Stuff: I think a lot of stuff will be reinvented. With Real FX, it’s like Scalextric but for this generation who demand more content and more excitement. The reason kids spend hours on video games, smart phones and tablets is because you can keep going in and getting more content. If a game only had one level, you’d get bored and put it down. That’s what we’ve done with Real FX. We’ve put tonnes of technology in so when you’re playing, you can do so many things. It keeps the kids absorbed.

That’s what will happen with the traditional toys. Owners of a brand like Jenga will look and see how the application of tech will keep the kids playing longer. That’s what we’re finding. You can make the content far richer. Do the kids want that? Yes they do.

Max Ford, Managing Director, Ooba: Is there going to be a day whena racing car product isn’t needed on the market because the app offers a better experience?

Steve Perrin, Senior VP Design and Production, Seven Towns: I think it’s all about the experience of playing with whatever it is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s digital or physical. I think there are cases where technology has superseded traditional games and the best example of this is Subbuteo. The experience of playing Subbuteo when we were kids was good but now, playing FIFA 14 on a screen absolutely blows it away.

Leslie Scott, Jenga creator and co-founder of Oxford Games:  Look at the work of NaturalMotion, the company that did the simulation behind GTA IV and Backbreaker, and devised the Jenga app too. It’s an experience in itself.

Steve Perrin: With Rubik’s Cube, it’s essentially an intellectual puzzle. A screen platform is very suitable for having really rich content in intellectual puzzles yet the cube itself is a different experience. You just can’t replicate the physical experience digitally.

Billy Langsworthy: So do tech toys date faster than traditional toys?

Steve Perrin: Tech toys are prone to being fads.

Max Ford: Every product in our industry is prone to being a fad. If a company isn’t building a brand, everything just lasts a cycle.

Richard North: If Apple had just stuck with the very first iPhone, they’d probably be out of business now. It knows it’s a complete evolution every so often.

Rena Nathanson, CEO, Bananagrams: What I find interesting about the phones is that they work so hard to make the phones smaller and smaller and now they’re getting bigger again.

Max Ford: Apple is fantastic at keeping itself fresh and I think that the process of constantly challenging your own business strategy is something that is going to have to be embraced at every management level at every company.

Leslie Scott: I think that could be a very non-creative way of working. If you had that weight on your shoulders and had to be aware of all of this, it’s stifling.

Max Ford: Personally I find it exhilarating.

Rena Nathanson: I find it intimidating. It’s very time consuming too.

Leslie Scott: It’s difficult to remain fresh and challenging if you’re looking around elsewhere all the time.

Max Ford: It is an anxious business model and it is challenging but Ooba has decided to focus on one thing and that’s the concept. We’re in a rich time to find lots of opportunities when it comes to route to market but making sure we have the best ideas is where we start. That’s why we’re teaming up with ToyNews for the Inventors Workshop to widen our network of inventors. We’re also working with other inventing groups like Big Ideas and Random Games because the quality of the concept is what we care about. We’ll work with a competitor as long as we understood financial terms and we had a really amazing nugget of an idea.

Leslie Scott: I don’t disagree with that at all. I just think the creative people should be shielded from the route to market stuff. They shouldn’t be thinking ‘oh my God, how am I going to get this to market.’

Billy Langsworthy: So is the creative side of the toy industry in a good place in 2015?

Steve Perrin: Yes, I think so. It’s changing. In the past, when you’d go to New York Toy Fair, you used to go to the big companies because that’s where you expected to see the really cool stuff. That’s not where it necessarily is anymore. They are perfectly capable still, but there are loads more people coming up with great stuff. Companies like Wow! Stuff, Moose, Zuru and Innovation First.

Max Ford: The traditional toy and game business model was probably more stifling to creativity than where we are today. A great game that everyone really enjoys playing should be on the market and there are fantastic inventors that walk around with suitcases filled with great games. Nowadays, companies want to see great games rather than just marketable products. I think it’s an exciting time for people who want to bring product to market. Good ideas will float to the surface now.

Richard North: I think inventors will become companies more and more because of technology. They can now just take a product straight to market, cut out the middle guy and have their own brand.

Rena Nathanson: And maintain control over it.

Leslie Scott: And it’s a very crowded market though so it’s still tough.

Richard North: But isn’t it easier now because anyone can do a Kickstarter campaign? Not everyone gets to see Hasbro or Mattel.

Steve Perrin: You’re still a small fish in a very big pond. It’s about how do you get your voice heard. I don’t think by any means that it’s easy or a given.

Rena Nathanson: There’s just more opportunities.

Steve Perrin: And there are more young inventors who are savvy as to how best to use the tools to their advantages.