Tim hates it when I say that, but it is true. He is tall (with Tim, one always starts with tall), humble, creative, generous and multi-talented. The multi-talent part refers to his inventing top selling toys and games (TriBond and Blurt for starters), authoring industry books like the Playmakers, producing and the lead in Toyland (award winning documentary about inventors) and is the incredible host of the TAGIEs (Hugh’s hosting of the Oscar’s was good, but Tim surpasses… I might be a bit biased).
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
Two college friends and I invented the game TriBond. We were Colgate University alums and were inspired by Chris Haney and Scott Abbot, to ice hockey players who had attended Colgate and who had gone on to invent a little game called Trivial Pursuit. In 1990, we loaded up my beat up Jeep and drove to New York City for the 87th Annual Toy Fair. We got to the Jacob Javits Center before dawn on setup day and waited for them to open the doors for us. We thought if we could just beat the Union guys in, we could set up our booth without being hassled. We hand-carried in 200 lbs. of marble flooring and set up our $10,000, 10’ x 10’ booth. At the end of the show we’d sold 48 games. It was a rude welcome. A few years later, I went to work for Patch Products, designed Blurt! and co-designed Mad Gab, N’Sync Backstage Pass and Malarky, among other games. All told, we sold over 5 million copies of games I designed or co-designed while I was there.
What single piece of advice would you share with inventors who are new to the industry?
It’s a privilege to promote play. What we do strengthens relationships among friends and family, so do it with all your heart. We work and play in the greatest industry in the world.
How cool to be a toymaker born on Christmas Day! What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
I could never pick one, but being a child of the 70s, I will narrow it down to three: Super Ball, Wiffle Ball and the Big Wheel!
What does your typical day look like?
There is no typical day for me. I am working on a new book with Reyn Guyer, the designer of Nerf and Twister, so I am writing everyday. He’s a mentor of mine and a serial success in several fields besides toys, so it’s been great fun. I also develop new games for Tree Toys and its distributors around the world, so lately I’ve been playing in the mud with Peppa Pig, riding trains with Thomas the Tank Engine and chilling with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The 25th Anniversary of TriBond is coming in 2015, so I’ve been working with Everest Toys on those plans. My Blurt game has several new editions coming from Educational Insights and I am working on several new green screen movie making apps for Apple devices.
What inspires you?
Connecting people. It’s important work to do that. It continues to inspires me, 25 years into my career.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
I take a break and let my subconscious play with the idea for a bit. There’s a reason why people tend to have ideas in the shower and over sips of coffee. For me, the most direct approach to solving a creative problem is an indirect approach. I try to have fun and let God work. On more than one occasion, I’ve woke up dreaming of a solution to a game mechanic or marketing challenge.
What made you decide to make Toyland, your documentary film about toy and game inventing?
I made that film with Ken Sons, who directed it. He had just finished his first film, Knuckleball, and I had just licensed my book, Timeless Toys, to Andrews-McMeel. We started talking and I shared with Ken how I had the great fortune of meeting many older designers of legendary toys in the writing of the book. At the time my parents were getting older and I just felt a great need to somehow try and capture their stories before they passed on, as I had done with my parents. Ken agreed it would be great project. Plus, I’ve always been struck how selling a million copies of a song lands you a platinum record and the cover of Rolling Stone and how a million books sold gets you on The New York Times Best-Seller list, but if you have the idea for Play-Doh, which sells over 95 million cans every year, no one knows who you are. That’s 95 x platinum, every single year. Well I cared who Kay Zufall was and wanted to tell her story. Ken and I count the experience of making that film one of the best of our lives. We got to sit down and meet with Betty James (Slinky) and Milt Levine (Ant Farm), Burt Meyer (Lite Brite, Toss Across) and so many other designers. It was great fun.
Toyland received many awards, is it available for purchase now?
Yes! Toyland won Best Documentary awards at three US film festivals. You can buy or rent it on iTunes or amazon.com.
You are an amazing host, but why did you decide to get involved in the TAGIE Awards?
Thank you, it’s been a fun gig. 2014 will be my 7th time hosting and it looks to be the best and biggest TAGIE Awards yet. I got involved because I love your passion and vision for the industry and her tireless promotion of toy and game designers. My books (Timeless Toys, Wham-O Super Book) and the Toyland film are projects that promote and celebrate toy and game designers and entrepreneurs, so you and I see things in the same way.
You've been traveling around the world with your partner Dennis Callaghan of Tree Toys. You two always look like you are having so much fun, why is that?
Because we are! I met Dennis and his business partner and wife, Crystal, 20 years ago when I was the VP of Products Development for Patch Products. The project we worked on together back then was not successful, but we became fast friends and stayed in touch over the years. Tree Toys’ Wild Science line of science kits is in 30+ countries and when they wanted to develop a game line, they tapped me. It’s been a great partnership. Dennis has a saying, “We’re here for a good time, not a long time,” and I agree with him. He’s probably the best pure businessman I’ve ever known. He just have an intuitive knack for making the right corporate decisions and he’s proactive to make them. He and Crystal work very hard and they play very hard. The Tree Toys company is a family and fun is in its DNA. I am proud to be a small part of what they’re doing.
You tried to start an Inventor Guild for Inventors. Why?
I think there’s precedent in other creative industries and there’s power in solidarity. Many toy and game designers that I know have a very small staff or fly solo. It would be nice to pool our resources and be able to provide services for members like health and life insurance, royalty tracking software, legal services, accounting services, etc. I shared the idea of it, but I think I just failed to provide the vision of all that it could be and provide. For instance, fellow designer Peggy Brown and I have just launched a website and are planning a Crowdrise campaign for John Spinello, the original designer of Operation. John sold his game for $500 in 1964 and over the years, has become a dear friend. John now finds himself in need of some medical procedures and doesn’t have the resources to afford them. This is the sort of issue that a Toy & Game Designers Guild, if it existed, could help address. Independent designers and creatives don’t have the safety net that designers working for big companies enjoy. We’re all out there on the high wire alone. We don’t have to be alone.
Thanks for a great interview, Tim!