New school: Award winning toy inventor Adam Borton and the launch of The Toy and Game School

The award-winning toy and game designer, Adam Borton, is a name well-known among some of the industry’s biggest toy companies, from Hasbro to Mookie, via Little Tikes; Borton is a product inventor with a track record for creating some of the top-selling games and toys on the market today.

It’s now, following the formation of his own toy and game design studio, Creating Unique Toys, some five years ago, that Borton has launched hit latest concept. But you won’t find this lining the shelves of retailers the world over, or taking pride of place in the games’ cupboard of the home. No, Borton is taking his penchant for entrepreneurship one step further, with the launch of his own school.

The Toy and Game School is an online school that will teach students about the toy and game industry and how to create a new, never-before-seen toyetic game. Through the School, Borton will impart knowledge from across each aspect of the industry, including who are the key companies to liaise with, what are the key events to attend, how to design, license and sell your ideas, as well as the intricacies across manufacturing, distribution, retail and marketing.

The School, Borton promises, will also guide students step-by-step as they create a new toyetic game from start to finish, and will include a forensic look at the process used by the inventor himself when he created Mattel’s popular Flushin’ Frenzy.

Now, as the news of the launch of the online School starts to spread across the industry, ToyNews catches up with Borton for a closer look at the inventor’s successes and get his take on the ever-evolving toy and game landscape.

Adam, a multi-award winning designer who’s worked with some of the biggest names in toys and founder of Creating Unique Toys. It’s probably a question you’ve answered a thousand times, but how did it all start for you? What got you into toy design?
I actually created a toy for my final year university project – ‘The Roll-Around Playground’. Looking back it makes me both proud and cringe in equal measure. While I had high ambitions, there’s a lot I missed out. At that point, all I had was textbooks and the early internet. That’s one of the reasons I created the Toy and Game School – there’s so much I’ve learnt since then and there have been many mistakes that I’ve made that Toy and Game School students can avoid.

After University, I was determined to get into Toys and Games so I created a portfolio, popped on a suit and travelled to the London Toy Fair in 2010. I pitched myself to every toy company that would listen and ended up with two job offers – proving that persistence is key.

I started with Mookie Toys as a Toy Designer and was given as much responsibility as I could handle – which later involved multiple trips to China and creating a whole Master Toy line for a kids TV show on Disney called ‘The Hive’.

You eventually launched your own business Creating Unique Toys. Can you talk us through what this brings to the toy industry? What are some of the key products and companies you’ve worked with through your business? 

I launched my ‘Creating Unique Toys’ invention business over six years ago and it has been a wild ride – lots of persistence, learning and some incredible highs. When I first started the company, besides invention I was also doing freelance design work for toy companies including Hasbro, Giochi Preziosi, Character Options and others.

My first inventor event was Chitag in Chicago in 2014. Thanks to Mary Couzin for hosting the event, I learnt a huge amount and came away with an Option with a top three Toy Company too, not a bad investment!

It was a fantastic experience to work on some of the major Hasbro brands, including Nerf and Monopoly. Winning their ‘Emerging Inventor of the Year’ award in 2017 was an incredible moment too. Of course I also have to mention the game that I invented and licensed to Mattel too, Flushin’ Frenzy. Seeing the online ratings, sales and press for it has been surreal. Having celebrities enjoy playing with a game that started as just an idea in my head is crazy. The long nights and effort needed to design and 3D print the game (and many others) has been worth it.

How have you seen the toy industry evolve over the course of the last few years? How does that influence the way in which you design product? And how much of that is influenced itself by changing consumer mindsets, demands, and priorities – such as designing in sustainability, trends etc?

It’s no exaggeration to say that both Toy and Game design and the industry as a whole is in a completely different world to just 10 years ago. The internet and the accessibility of technology has transformed every part of the industry.

I’ve always tried to learn the foundations of design from a traditional point of view but take advantage of digital technology to increase the speed of my work. Faster computers will improve your speed but they won’t improve your ideas or knowledge of light and shadow. Learning the core fundamentals of good design can be done with a pencil and paper – Da Vinci only had those things and he did okay… 

After learning the foundational skills, you can use digital technology to be much more efficient and that has enabled me to run international businesses whilst also creating new toys and games. I don’t think that would have been possible a few years ago, especially as I try to run as much as possible myself. I choose to operate as a solo inventor because I enjoy learning different skills, whether that’s design or business. The variety is what makes it really interesting.

Consumer mindsets, demands and priorities have evolved very quickly. Consumers are much more powerful and influential now; 93 per cent of consumers pay attention to ratings on websites and consumer feedback has the power to make or break a toy or game.

As far as what consumers enjoy playing with, that hasn’t really changed all that much. After all, humans are humans and evolution takes millennia. I think people’s expectations have changed though – their patience and interest lasts no more than about two seconds now. They expect you to grab their interest that quickly, otherwise they move on.

The topic of sustainability is constantly gaining traction, especially with the influence of social media. Toys and Games in the future will be made from sustainable materials and will need to provide long-lasting, innovative play to justify being made.

Trends have always influenced toys and games but today trends can come and go in a matter of days. A more sustainable strategy for companies is to develop brands that can use trends but not rely on them.

How do you think the events we are experiencing now through the pandemic will influence the design of toys? Will toys require different/refined play values as a result?

Toys and games have actually grown five per cent during the past year. This has largely been as a result of China being able to continue manufacturing at scale. If they had required a sustained lockdown, I think the results would be different.

Leaving aside manufacturing supply issues, any time there is a financial crisis, toys and games still manage to perform. This is because parents prefer to cut back on their spending rather than what they buy for their children.

I think the past year has accelerated the move to online retail. Whilst physical retail will come back, online shopping is the future. As far as toys and games are concerned, this means that ‘try me’ features on packaging won’t be as important because that’s a feature intended to attract customers in-store. What’s much more important now is the sales video for online stores (and great product graphics/photography).

In terms of design, the most important thing is to create unique, innovative toys and games – quality is the best business plan. The ‘unboxing’ experience is important but product is still king in the Toy and Game Industry. Great sizzle videos are the best way to get interest in your product today.

How have you kept yourself busy over these lockdown stretches?

Like many people in the industry, usually my year is jam-packed with preparing for pitches and flying to various Toy and Game Fairs. The lockdown gave me the choice to either aim to hit the usual presentation deadlines or to develop my idea for a world-class Toy and Game School. I put the invention projects that were in-progress on hold to fully focus on the Toy and Game School. 

Whilst it has been more work than I could ever have imagined, I feel like it will be worth it in the end. The hardest thing has been to compress over 10 years of notes and experience into an easy-to-understand, relevant and up-to-date series of videos and content. Lots of revisions have been made to make it as simple as possible for newcomers whilst also benefitting industry pro’s too.

Can you talk us through the Toy and Game School? Why is now the right time for you to be announcing the School?

The Toy and Game School is open to anyone that wants to invest in their knowledge and skills, including hobbyists and pro’s. Toys and Games are fascinating to many people and this is a step-by-step, organized, visual guide to key parts of the Toy and Game Industry and how to create a brand new toyetic game.

Now is a great time to announce the Toy and Game School because the hardware and software needed to create toys and games is more accessible than it’s ever been in history – 3D printers are cheaper to buy than the cost of a single outsourced 3D print just a few years ago and key design software can be accessed for a low monthly subscription fee. It’s now possible to create professional, fully working toy and game prototypes from home and the Toy and Game School is designed to do that.

Technology is at the point where many people have access to an internet connection that can stream high-quality video, even through their smartphones. I’m making the video’s in 4K to help future-proof the content and provide the most clarity possible. I’ve designed the website and student portal to be fully responsive for phone, tablet and desktop too so people can access the content wherever and however they want.

What can students expect from the School? Why is the idea of inspiring the next generation of toy designers an important one to you? How will it shape the look of the toy industry for the coming generations?

Students can expect to gain real skills and learn from my knowledge gained from creating, presenting and selling toys and games to the world’s top companies.

Going back to my answer about my University project, even with a full year of research and access to my Professors, there was still a lot of information that was extremely hard to access. The Toy and Game Industry has many quirks and inside knowledge that is very difficult to obtain unless you’ve spent years working at either a top Toy Company or top Invention company. That’s part of the reason why I’m creating the Toy and Game School – to give people the right information that has taken me over a decade to amass. For example, what materials are most toys and games made from and why? What are toy and game companies looking for? What makes a good idea? How do I sketch? How do I design in 3D and 3D print?

I hope it becomes the gold standard for all Toy and Game companies to refer back to. I’ve put all of my energy into creating what I think is a toyetic game that hits all of the major toy and game development areas. Hopefully the students that follow and complete every lesson will be the future top-tier talent in the Toy and Game Industry!

 What’s the next step for you in bringing the Toy and Game School to audiences?

 It’s currently in the Pre-Launch stage, so students that sign up now will get a huge discount of 40 per cent before the Launch – toyandgameschool.com

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of ToyNews and its sister title, Licensing.biz. He has worked his way from Staff Writer to Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@bizmedia.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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