Max Ford (M) and Joeri Hoste (J)
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
M: My father, Roger Ford, was the Senior VP of R&D at MB/Hasbro for many years so I was one of the lucky kids who got to grow up play-testing Transformers and games like Hotel and Electronic Battleship - not a tough childhood for sure! And then my father set up NPD, an inventing group, in 1985. I joined him in 2000 and have been in the industry ever since, taking over the NPD reigns in 2009. I guess I can say that playing and reviewing toy and game concepts has been my whole life really.
J: In 1995, my love for sci-fi got me into Strategy and Trading Card Games. While competing internationally I soon became involved in Organized Play and Community Management Programs. A variety of Commercial and Brand Management roles followed shortly thereafter while diversifying into Toys. I co-founded my first own toy company just over 5 years ago and I joined Ooba / NPD earlier this year. This amazing industry has given me so much opportunity and personal freedom – I’m just grateful I get to do what I love every day.
(Roger and Max Ford)
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas?
M: I used to advise people to work from the shelf backwards; to work out what it is about a concept that will stand out on the shelf and then centre the design and communication around that. Nowadays, although the packaging still matters, consumers are buying differently (online), so I advise people to work backwards from the social media hook. Basically, make sure your idea is good enough to share online. And be honest with yourself… if it isn’t good enough to stand out online or on shelf then move on to the next concept. I also advise inventors to select 10 companies to pitch to, in order of preference, and to then work from the bottom up. That way the pitch will be perfected in time for the top three companies on the list.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
M: My favourite toy was easily G.I. Joe. Articulated action figures with wicked cool vehicles and guns. I had a large collection thanks to my father getting them for free! And my favourite game was (and is still) Connect4. My father designed the first release and taught me all of the moves.. so I’m hard to beat!
J: Ooh that’s a tough one! Just the one? – LEGO or Playmobil always kept me quiet for hours on end, much to the satisfaction of my parents. Transformers wasn’t far behind and on the game front some of my favorites included Ghost Castle and Hotel, which is fairly surreal as I now find myself with the company that was involved in getting those games to market.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
M: Our industry is fairly small and full of wonderfully creative and friendly people, so I often reach out to our inventor friends for a fresh brain and pair of eyes. Often all it takes is a small remark from someone outside of the project to help get the juices going again. And if that doesn’t help then we can always put a project on hold for months (or even years!), waiting for it to incubate and mature naturally… just like a good bottle of wine!
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
M: Joeri and I have been best friends since we met working for Upper Deck in Holland twelve years ago and, now that we work together again, there is no shortage of juvenile banter. I also have a daughter who is pretty good at tickling!
J: This morning? A constant state of infantile banter drives to me tears of laughter on pretty much a daily basis. Children at heart and working on games all day there’s not much that’s too sacred or taken all too seriously.
Are you named after anyone?
J: Not really but luckily, I’m definitely not named after a particular movie character. Basically, my mom loved Russian names and Joeri is an adjusted spelling of the Russian ‘Yuri’. This was in fact a last-minute change as she had planned to call me ‘Igor’ but then during her pregnancy she got to see the movie Frankenstein where the hunchbacked assistant is called ‘Igor’ which threw that idea quickly out the window. This story is however not so interesting as to why Max and his brothers all have the same middle name…
(Joeri a bit older)
M: No. There is only one Max Ford. Although the internet suggests that there are quite a few… it lies.
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
M & J: HAPPY ENDINGS! We’re suckers for tearjerkers with happy endings!
Summer of Winter?
J: What are these ‘seasons’ you speak of? Based in Western Europe we have a fairly consistent grey with hot and cold spells. Cold. Cold and wet.
M: There isn’t really a choice in Amsterdam but if I had a choice then it would simply be to leave the umbrella at home.
J: Games, games, games! We’re looking to bolster our portfolio in the pre-school and family games categories, including application of content licenses which we’ve never done before, but also exploring new routes to market. We’re also chasing that whacky ‘WOW’ coming out of left field, surprising customers and gamers a like. A bit of a unicorn but we love the chase!
M: We’ve recently made the big move from inventing agency to manufacturer so who knows?! With Joeri coming on board, I feel we are now well-equipped to move the business in several directions but, no matter what we do, it will only ever come down to finding a really, really good concept.