By: David Fox,
Game and Toy Designer;
Winner Games, LLC
“Learn to listen. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly.” So says the 123rd bit of advice in H. Jackson Brown’s exceptional Life’s Little Instruction Book (Rutledge Hill Press, 1991). Among the many other pearls of wisdom that I have read and reviewed over the years from that book – “Be forgiving of yourself and others,” and “Never cut what can be untied,” – #123 always stood out for me as especially valuable.
If only it were this easy: Someone you meet prefaces an excellent idea with, “What I’m about to tell you is an excellent idea that you should pursue immediately. Your efforts are certain to be rewarded.” That’s no soft knock; that’s opportunity bashing the door down. What I’m talking about are those plain encounters and situations – interactions that are so easy to gloss over, or even dismiss.
Over my 18+ years of designing games and toys, I know I have failed to listen intently enough to answer the majority of the soft knocks on that door of opportunity. There are so many instances, but one particularly illustrative example comes to mind. It was at Toy Fair in New York in 1997. I brought along one game to demo for whatever company might be willing to look at it. I managed to get the chance to show the game to several representatives, and was even able to garner some uncommitted encouragement. But the end of one demonstration remains clear in my memory: The representative saying, “This game’s not a good fit for us; what else do you have?” And me replying, “That’s all I have.” End of meeting.
It wasn’t until years later when I realized I had not deeply listened to that representative – that I didn’t answer the soft knock. Peddling a single game not only greatly hampered my chances of licensing a game, it significantly limited the pool of companies I could approach with product concepts. How obvious it is to me now that a game and toy designer must have multiple game and toy designs to share!
Given how difficult it is to get a product licensed, it is a blessing that opportunity can take on many forms. The idle stroll down the craft aisle reveals a component that triggers a new idea. The offhanded suggestion after a playtest leads to an exciting new direction for a design. The friend of a friend who proves to be a valuable collaborator for the next project. Who knows what might come from exploring a situation or comment more thoroughly. Perhaps Mr. Brown might consider adding one more nugget of gold to his book. #512: “Go for it. You miss all the shots you don’t take.”