If there’s a man who you’d want to go to for getting info on the toy and game design industry, it would definitely be Billy Langsworthy. Billy’s the founder of Mojo Nation, a one-stop-shop for industry news and interviews with the biggest and best inventors. They even run events where designers can pitch ideas to game brands for a chance to hit the big time (and toy shop shelves) with their new ideas. We spoke to him to get his five hot takes on getting into the toy and gaming industry right now:
You don’t need to work for a big name game company to have a great idea
Many people think that to design games you need to work for one of the big guns like Hasbro or Mattel. FALSE! The only thing you need to design a game is… An idea for a game! - A little gem of knowledge Billy wishes he’d known when he was a lad.
“When I was younger, I would have assumed I would have had to go and work in-house at a toy firm. Obviously, there are lots of opportunities there - and it’s often a great place for graduates or young designers to start - but there are so many opportunities for people that aren't full-time inventors to have an idea, create a rough prototype and pitch it to a company. If they like it, it has a great chance of being licensed and ending up on shelves. It's really accessible. All these guys think that a great idea can come from anywhere, they don't mind that you're a student, that you’re new to the industry or that you’ve let your teachers pitch on your behalf”
New young talent is needed and wanted by the big bods
Maybe you might have never considered being a toy inventor as a job and you know what that means? Nor has anyone else!
“It's still a fairly untapped profession. In chats around what careers are available in design, toys is still not being pushed as much as I’d like, but young inventors are really needed. We currently have a brilliant pool of established inventors who are great, and often collaborate with new designers, but we’d love to see more new talent getting involved in toy and game invention. The good news for students interested in toy design is that companies love seeing ideas from new sources and from people they’ve not met before - which means there are lots of opportunities and friendly faces waiting to see your ideas!”
Pitching an idea is NOT terrifying
If you’re great with ideas but worried about pitching your idea, just imagine them in clown suits… Not really, apparently toy experts are super friendly!
“We run events around the world where we match inventors with loads of experts so that they can pitch to tonnes of people at the same time. There's a misconception about it where people think it's like Dragons Den and it's going to be terrifying, as you enter the room surrounded by smoke machines and ominous music. It’s the opposite! As you can imagine with people working in the toy space, most Inventor Relations people (the ones who will see your ideas) are really fun, very encouraging and they love seeing exciting new concepts. It’s not judgemental at all and it’s not this high-pressure, scary environment people imagine. It’s usually just a casual conversation about a funny idea. And often, if your idea isn't the right fit for them, they’ll give you useful feedback that can help improve the chances that your next pitch will be a winner!”
The biggest selling games at the moment are fun and simple
The thing you got told off by your teacher for last week, could be next year’s big hit. Let’s hear a bit more about Billy’s favourite recent example: Pencil Nose.
“Pencil Nose is a great game where it's like a pair of glasses with a pen on and you basically draw using your face. It's ridiculous and it's very funny but if I was just starting out and I had that idea, I might be tempted to feel embarrassed going into big companies and pitching this idea. I’d maybe feel that it wasn’t complex or clever enough. Actually, that’s the key to licensing mass market toy and game ideas. Simplicity is key! If you walk into any big toy store or look on Amazon at what is selling really well, it’s the toys that are fun, simple and easy to understand really quickly. And remember, the person you pitch an idea to then has to pitch it to their colleagues to get everyone on board - the simpler the idea is to communicate, the better your chances!”
It’s not always about having perfect ideas, it’s about having lots of ideas
People often focus on quality over quantity but when it comes to finding a smash hit toy, quick idea generation is the name of the game and Billy says that young people often have the edge over older generations when it comes to this.
“We see a lot of older people come to us and say, “I’ve got a game idea, I’ve had it for about 10 years, my friends and family love it and it’s going to be the next Monopoly - that’s when alarm bells start ringing! Toys and games often tie in with existing trends, so it’s important that your ideas feel very current - in board games for example, lots of modern hits don’t even have a board! If you look at big hits like Pie Face or Don’t Step In It, they’re very physical and focus on the players getting stuck in, rather than sitting quietly around a table. A simple bit of advice would be to get a notebook and jot down all your ideas, because the best idea is to have lots of ideas! The pros at this will have hundreds of ideas, get quite a few prototyped, and then pitch the best ones in the hope of maybe getting one or two across the line!”