Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
It actually started over a decade ago while in graduate school at Northwestern. I had a class in entrepreneurship in which we needed to come up with a product idea, and then develop business and marketing plans to support the product’s launch. Always having been a fan of magnets growing up, I ended up thinking of a magnetic toy concept which involved a quick release mechanism. Although I ended up dropping that particular class due to my full time job workload, I continued to tinker on the idea for many years on and off until I finally came up w/ a decent working prototype. I ended up pitching it to Mindware during a meeting I had set up at ChiTAG in 2013, which soon after became my first licensed toy idea, MagnaMix.
What inspires you?
Everyday objects. I’m constantly observing my surroundings looking for inspiration. As an example, in late 2014 my company’s cafeteria was being renovated and they put in these booths covered in this funky multi-color circle pattern fabric. I thought they looked cool so I took a picture, and a few weeks later set out to (attempt to) design my first board game, which I was envisioning as somehow circle-themed. Before I had any idea as to how the game play would work, I drew up a board that housed concentric circles, had one CNC cut out of plywood and 3D printed a set of multi-color concentric pieces. I then had a few friends over to playtest the prototype. Initially we tried a chess/checkers capture a piece style mechanic, which bombed in about the first 10 minutes. We then began playing tic-tac-toe style using the concentric pieces, and after just a few rounds it became pretty apparent there was something there. The idea evolved a bit more that night and in the weeks to come, and about a month later I pitched it to Marbles the Brain Store, whom I had also been introduced to at ChiTAG (2014), and we ended up signing a licensing agreement a few months later. The game moved pretty quickly through the development process and launched in the fall of 2015 as Otrio, which has fortunately gone on to be a pretty good seller of theirs and has recently been picked up by Target. In addition, that same funky circle fabric pattern was the inspiration behind another toy that l designed which also launched that same fall, Pattern Play Revolution by Mindware.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up a few miles outside of a very small town in northwestern Wisconsin, Star Prairie, which today boasts a whopping population of just over 550 die-hard Packer & Badger fans. Growing up in the country w/ my older sister in the 70s, we really needed to rely on our imaginations to entertain ourselves. A typical day would be to gather a couple of neighbor friends and come up with a play-theme for the day, which often consisted of casting ourselves as the characters from Star Wars, complete w/ Lego laser guns and stick light sabers, and act out or favorite scenes from the movie or make up new adventures. Those dawn to dusk days are still some of my fondest memories growing up. I really think that being forced to use creativity to entertain ourselves back then has helped me greatly as a toy & game designer.
What do you read every day, and why?
Flipboard (app). Love it. I find it a stunning smorgasbord of most anything and everything out there on social media today; from design to entrepreneurship to sports to gadgets, you name it and there’s a magazine for it. If not, you can pick the content you like and create (and share) one of your own. In addition to being just a fantastic content aggregator, the ease of use and visual presentation of the articles is really amazing. I’m somewhat ashamed to say but I probably spend about an hour a day flipboarding. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
What tools do you find invaluable in coming up with new toy and game concepts?
A solid modeling app (in my case Trimble’s SketchUp), a pair of 3D printers and a CNC machine guy. I’ve heard many different perspectives on how good a prototype should be prior to pitching an idea to a company, but my personal mantra is to design and build something as close to the product I envision on the store shelf as possible. From my experience companies are busier than ever, so every idea gets only a moment or two to capture their attention to the point that they want to dedicate resources for further evaluation. Not having to imagine what ‘it could look like’ can only help them to more quickly ballpark the manufacturability/cost feasibility and then focus more of their attention on the game play, which is the most important attribute – is the game fun to play? If it’s fun to play and play repeatedly, then a solid prototype can really assist in moving things more quickly through development, manufacturing and ultimately onto the store shelves, which is really what an inventor wants to see. Using this approach I’ve been extremely lucky and have had four concepts go from being pitched & licensed in the first quarter of a year to being available for sale in the holiday quarter of that same year.
Are you named after anyone?
I’m actually named after my father, Gary. My full name is Gary Brandon Peterson. The odd thing is that my mother nicknamed Brady at birth, rather than Brandon for some reason, and the name has stuck ever since. In fact, my grandfather claimed he didn’t know my real name was Gary until my high school graduation.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
That’s easy - a full time designer. In addition to toys & games I’d love to design furniture, office products and really anything that can be pleasing to the eye yet highly useful. Ultimately I’d really enjoy designing a home for my family from the ground up. I’ve actually saved up over a decade’s worth of Dwell magazines so I can peruse them for ideas when that time comes.
What’s your once piece of advice for new toy & game inventors?
If you’re truly serious about getting into the toy & game industry, whether it be as a designer looking to license your ideas or someone looking start a company producing your own products, I can’t recommend attending the Toy & Game Inventor and Innovation Conference (T&GCon) in Chicago, which is in the fall, enough. I first attended T&GCon in 2014 and have since licensed several toys and games, all to companies that I met at the conference (Marbles, Mindware & Fat Brain Toys). Although I’m a newbie to the industry I’m pretty confident in saying that you would be very hard pressed to find any single event, at least in the United States, that new (and experienced) toy & game inventors can attend that will be as helpful as T&GCon will be to your aspirations.
Start a 3D print, maybe flipboard a bit, and then enjoy a nice glass of wine over dinner with my beautiful new bride Katie.
Thank you for taking time to answer our questions thoughtfully and with a sense of play!