February 26: A new game for children is being touted as the next big thing in America. Called Flip-Itz, the game is a colourful collection of three-legged toys with wacky human, animal and alien faces that propel through the air once their owners press down on them. Really so simple.
And earlier this month, 11-year-old Justin Lewis and 12-year-old Matthew Balick, the creators of the toy, also flew to New York to market their product at the city’s annual international toy fair. The organisers of the fair had to lift their usual ban on children to allow the two to participate.
The pair created the game at a summer camp in Wisconsin in 1997. And the impetus to create it? Boredom, naturally.
Bored by the proceedings at the camp, the boys began playing with the small, three-legged plastic retainers used to protect sticky pizza cheese from the pizza delivery boxes. When they pushed down on the plastic retainers, they found they’d just spring up high.
The objects flipped into their friends’ glasses and even their mouths. By the end of the evening, everyone was playing around with the missiles.
The boys persuaded their parents to put 35,000 pounds (Rs 23.5 lakh) into a game based on the same notion. The joint venture was predictably named 2 Bored Boys Inc. A family company, it was formed with the help of a toy manufacturing company called Itz Toys. When the toys are marketed this year, net sales of 3.4 million pounds (almost Rs 20.4 crores) are expected. That’s enough to make the boys and their families quite comfortably rich.
The two young businessmen have already picked up the rules of the game. ‘The Times of India’ has reprinted an article originally published in the British newspaper The Sunday Times of London. It reports that the boys are in office every Monday after school. They have a conference with executives of the company to discuss the latest in their own product and advise on other “hot” toys.
The success of Justin and Matthew is no flash in the pan occurrence. The toy industry in the West today, is reluctantly opening its doors to child toy-makers. It is being forced to. In the heavily child-influenced toy industry, knowing what the child wants is the key to staying afloat for toy companies.
In Canada for instance, a top toy company, Spinmaster Toys, has an advisory board of children aged eight to fifteen. They pay the children salaries to report how other children spend their time. The University Games of San Francisco has introduced an annual contest with a 7000-pound prize (Rs 4,69,000) for the best ideas for a toy from children. Children have invented five of 50 games sold by the company.
Some say all this is a wonderful reflection of today’s youth-oriented culture. The phenomenon mirrors the Hollywood film ‘Big’, in which a 12-year-old finds he has become a young man overnight. He gets a job at what else but a toy company, and quick-as-flash, becomes the creative head of the set-up. Why? Being a child himself, who better than him to know the opinion of his peers on the toys the company manufactures?
Justin and Matthew of course, have found that they don’t need to be grown-up for their ideas to be taken seriously. The ‘child’ in them is being appreciated far more.