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The Key Idea

By Josh West,

Head of Product Design and Sourcing,

Thinkfun, Inc.,

November 2015

Every toy or game, whether good or bad, has a specific key idea that makes that toy or game awesome. Or not awesome, as the case may be. Whatever this magic idea is, every toy or game, or product for that matter, has it; it’s the whole reason you would want to own the product. Furthermore everything else about the product is highlighting what that idea is. This is what a great toy or game is: a nugget of a great idea, polished, packaged and presented to the world.

Ask yourself (and be truthful with your answers):

What is the key idea of this toy or game?

I own a strawberry corer. I’m that domestic. It’s adorable, and it very easily allows me to remove the center “core” and the leaves from a strawberry in one easy motion. It’s in the shape of a cute little strawberry and it wasn’t very expensive. I never knew I needed it, but I’m now glad I own it, because it makes a small, healthy treat significantly better, and easier to enjoy. Someone, somewhere, thought “I bet there’s a way to quickly pull out the little stem bit and the core from a strawberry so that I can just get to munching.” A basic idea, presented to the world.

Is your game meant to give a family a fun night together? Is your building toy meant to allow smaller hands to experience more movement in the things they create? Will your pretend play set teach the tremendous value of being able to calculate small change in one’s head? What basic, straightforward idea is at the heart of your concept? This idea needs to be recognized, and drive every other facet of the toy or game concept.

Does the world want this idea?

I once had an idea for a board game that taught basic anatomy to young learners by assembling a Frankenstein-esque monster in a mad scientist’s laboratory. (I know right, its uncomfortable sitting on this goldmine.) Upon re-reading it, I thought, “Ok, creative, could have some great art and gameplay, but it really wouldn’t work. Why? When was the last time anyone, ever, said, “I’m having trouble teaching my preschooler her body parts, I wish there was an elaborate game to help me.” While the world would have wanted a fun game, it likely didn’t want a new method of teaching basic anatomy to children.

Is your idea something that there would be a desire for? Is a game or toy the best way to present your idea to the world? In my case, my focus had shifted from “Make a fun game” and instead became “teach anatomy to preschoolers”, which it turns out is almost never part of preschool entrance exams. Unless your toddler is pre-med.

Can this idea stand out amongst all the other ideas?

Write the name of your idea on a piece of paper. Take this paper to the last place you purchased a toy or game. Walk to the section of the toy or game aisle where you think your idea most logically fits. Place your idea paper up on the shelf, in amongst the other products. You may need to buy tape, since I forgot to tell you to bring some. Now step back, and take the whole scene in. This is what your toy or game concept is up against. True, the company that buys your idea will be charged with designing the pieces, packaging the idea, etc., but to start, consider how your idea will fair in this space. Your idea as a toy or game has to be unique enough to stand with, and often rival, the other toys and games on this shelf. Also don’t just point out a handful of items that your idea is better than; remember that not everything you’re looking at sells, and even less sell well.

Focus in on your idea, look objectively at who will want it, and compare it to what’s out in the world. If it can stand up to that scrutiny, you’re off to a good start. Unless your idea is the strawberry thing, in which case it already exists. And it’s awesome.

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