10 Questions

Each month in the Inventor Newsletter I ask 10 Questions of an established inventor or game company. The results are posted below and will be updated monthly.

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Curt Covert - Smirk & Dagger (Dec '08)
Q - # of years in the industry, # of years as a toy & game inventor?
A - Self-publishing games for the Hobby Game industry - 5 1/2 years, Licensing game ideas to the larger toy and game market 2 1/2 years.

Q - About how many toys & games have you had published? Which is/are your favorite(s)?
A - We've self published 8 products, some of which are game expansions to our current line. I'd say Hex Hex and Cutthroat Caverns are my favorites for different reasons. There is a simplicity to Hex Hex that leads to a lot of fast paced fun - and Cutthroat strikes a wonderful balance between cooperative game play and stab-a-buddy goodness which I hold so dear. The other product that we licensed and was published was Crayola 3D chalk. Hard to not count that among our favorites since it ended up being so recognized and has done so well. It was recently nominated for Best Outdoor Toy of the year by TOTY and got us nominated as Rookie Inventors of the Year in the TAGIE awards. The product sold out in two weeks after the TV ad hit in June, so there are plans to build upon that success this coming Spring!

Q - Favorite toy or game that is not yours?
A - Almost too big a category to choose just one. Current other games I enjoy include Magic the Gathering, Star Trek Red Alert disc wars, Wiz-War, Chess, Apples to Apples, Dungeons and Dragons, Jenga, Jungle Speed - ooof just too many. And toys? As a kid I was BIG into action figures of any type MEGO Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, DC and Marvel heroes and Legos of any type. It is much easier for me to list things I don't much like. It is a much smaller list.

Q - What did you do before this? And how did you make the transition?
A - I have not made a transition. Game design remains my moonlighting gig. I am still a Creative and Concept Director at a major marketing firm coming up with wacky ideas on how to sell more yogurt, salsa and whisky- depending on the day. I'm not sure if jumping to full time design will be possible for me for some time to come. I think my day job keeps my mind active constantly and makes for more fertile game design.

Q - In a typical year... how many toy & game ideas do you prototype? how many presentations do you make? how many get licensed?
A - I design and prototype about 10 ideas a year currently. Thus far, only the Crayola product came through. It was one of 8 or 9 concepts they seriously considered over the course of a year. I have gotten very close with some others, but each had fallen through in the final round. I was one of 5 games Hasbro was going to make around Transformers this year, before they had to drop to only three in the line - and we were out. As for presentations a year, I try to hit all the big companies at least once a year - with as many products as seem appropriate (3 or 4).

I self publish one or two titles a year on my own as well.

Q - What is your process for getting toys & games seen?
A - I relied heavily on special events like TGIF or TAGIE which offered one-on-one meetings with the key inventor relations people at the major companies, some of whom would not otherwise be willing to review products from inventors without an agent. I still do, but as a result of doing it for two years or so now, many will take my calls or e-mails when I have new products. To my mind, the investment in attending a show like TAGIE is an absolute bargain at any cost and I encourage inventors to take advantage of the unique opportunity it provides.

Q - What is your favorite thing about the game/toy industry? Least favorite?
A - Well, it is fun to work in. Even if my ideas don't get picked up right away (or at all) I just love doing it. Plus, I have found the industry to be very open and friendly once you have the opportunity to talk with the right people. Again, shows like TAGIE make that possible.

Least favorite? It is still a business. Great games don't always get made. Great products do -- and sometimes being a great product isn't the same as the best toy or game to the end user. I suppose that is why I will probably always stay active in the hobby market and specialty market, where games can be more 'artform' to a smaller audience. But I'm not sure that is really a 'least favorite'. Designing for different classes of trade, to different audiences, is also part of the fun.

Q - Do you see any current trends in the industry?
A - Re-invention. Taking the familiar and making it new. It happens in the movies, in TV and in gaming. And while I am mindful of trends, it is the trendsetter, the person who breaks hrough- at the right time with an idea that seems to defy logic-t that set the indusrty on fire. Watch trends, but don't be a slave to them. That's more a rule than a trend.

Q - What one thing that you know now, do you wish you had known when you were starting out?
A - In the hobby, self-publishing category - pay the higher unit cost for a smaller print run (2500)and secure distribution before printing if you can. I could have been ruined had I not been very fortunate in finding a consolidator that had me instantly distributed worldwide at the flip of a switch or had a dumb-luck cold call with Spencers Gifts who bought half the run outright. Otherwise, I would have had games sitting, going nowhere and costing me money in warehousing for years.

Q - If you were to give beginning inventors one bit of advice, what would it be?
A - Listen and adapt. Playtesters (strangers, not family and friends), inventor relations folks, retailers, distributors, agents... all have valuable input. Evaluate it carefully and adapt what makes sense. Don't assume you have all the answers. But be the guide to the vision and make it better with the input you may receive.


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