Dan Klitsner reveals how Hyper Dash is retuning to the market – looking better than ever
Dan, terrific to see you! You came to mind at London Toy Fair because I was delighted to see one of your oldest and – in my opinion – best products coming back! Golden Bear had it on their stand: Hyper Dash…
Hyper Dash! Yes, that’s got a great story because it isn’t just about bringing a product back… We’ve spoken about it before so you might remember that Hyper Dash was actually conceived a year before Bop It!. But it was based on the same idea: how do you create an electronic game that animates people?
The simplest way was to tell people what to do, then check if they did it. The concept of what was originally called Zap Ball, then Cone Zone, was that kids could make the game as big or small as they liked… They’d have to run around to push this handheld device down onto whichever ‘base’ was called out. In a way, it was basically an expandable Bop It!
So – to be clear – there are five different-coloured bases – or targets – spread out either around the room or outdoors… A unit tells you which target you have to run to and hit. Brilliantly simple, simply brilliant! And if it pre-dates Bop It!, Dan, that means it’s from around – what? 1992?
Right! I still have the original dated renderings and prototype and all that stuff. After Bop It! came out, all of us at KID Group thought it would be easy to license it – but Hasbro didn’t seem to get it, so we pitched it to several toy companies, but literally no one else was the least bit interested. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t even test it with kids.
You couldn’t figure it out – but if you had to guess?
Maybe because it wasn’t a handheld electronic game and didn’t fit into a category? Like most inventors, we just kept pitching it through the years and evolving it slightly. Then, about eight years later, we came up with the idea of making it part of a bigger line of ‘exercise games’ we called XR Games. The tag line was ‘Get up and play’. Each of the games required physical exertion for different parts of your body. We licensed the entire line to Hasbro, and it was the biggest deal I’ve ever been involved in – the expectations were very high! But after months of work and prototypes, it failed whatever marketing test they put it through, and so it was dropped.
Oh, crikey! And same question again… Why do you think it failed that time?
I think maybe because we tried to make the products too techy. The original concept for Hyper Dash used the now familiar-colored cones as the targets. Those cones instantly communicated that it was more like an active sport and not just a handheld electronic game. The Hasbro version used these little RFID tags that you could place anywhere, which added significant cost. I also think it was probably not obvious enough what you were supposed to do with it at first glance.
Right. Yes, I could see that. We’ve discussed – several times – how Bop It! has the advantage of looking like the actions you have to take, while the name itself more or less tells you how to play. What was that one called?
Voice Tag! So yes… Not obvious. Anyway, later – after it was dropped – I ended up with a copy of a first version of it. It was made with preliminary tooling from Hasbro, and we thought we could find another interested party because it was so much further developed than just a concept… But it just sat there again for another few years with no interest from other toy companies.
Frustrating! And by now it must be about 13, 14 years after Bop it!, right?
Yeah, about that. And back then, I’d been meeting up – once a year or so – with Danny Grossman from a company called Wild Planet. Wild Planet was based two blocks from my office, but we never licensed them anything because they didn’t do games. Anyway, Danny and I would have lunch at a Chinese restaurant just to stay in touch…
But he’s not a hot prospect because Wild Planet didn’t do games?
Exactly. Then, one afternoon, he more or less said, “Why don’t we do anything with you?” And I explained just that: “You guys specialise in Spy Gear and toys that have a certain vibe that we really don’t work on. The majority of concepts that KID Group invents are games, and you’ve said not to show you any games.” So he said, “If we did want to do a game, what would it be?” And I thought that a game that encouraged kids to run around actually might fit their DNA.
So I showed him the one little sample of Voice Tag that had been made with RFID – and he thought it had promise for them because it had a bit of tech like their spy gear. But as we were talking, I remembered the original idea, and I ran back up to my office to get the version with the cones! The cone version was lower tech, but it just looked like you were getting more in the box than with the Hasbro one. And he liked that better, so they tested it with kids and lo and behold, they loved it just as much as we knew they would. After it went on sale, it just exploded! It became their number-one product back when games weren’t even a category for them.
Wow! This is what I think is fascinating, Dan. You have an old idea, it gets developed – and it doesn’t really work… Then you go back to the original and it goes crazy!
It was extremely gratifying and a reminder that all you need is the right person at the right time at the right company to get your concept even though it’s been rejected several times. It got a whole new life from being shown to a company that didn’t do anything like that. It made brand-new business for them. Wild Planet went crazy and tried to make it into the physical-activity line that we originally sold to Hasbro… So there were a couple of other versions – including a stomping one! And Hyper Dash really blew up because it was right when amazon had just started pushing toys.
Worth clarifying, perhaps, that amazon started out as just a bookshop! But at this time, they’d started diversifying into toys?
And that, just by luck, coincided with the rise of what they then called mommy bloggers. They were absolutely looking for things to make their kids healthier; make them run around. So here you have this perfect scenario: you could find out about this product while just reading about parenting online, then you could click on the link and go straight to amazon to buy it. That really helped blow Hyper Dash up originally. Such a great feeling! We had a fantastic run of about four or five years, but sales started to slow way down, and eventually Wild Planet was sold to Spin Master.
That I did not know! So Spin also had Hyper Dash more recently?
They did, but they bought Wild Planet more for their spy-gear line and didn’t know quite what to do with Hyper Dash because they weren’t really in game mode either – so they also didn’t get it. They tried something different, though… They wanted to make it funnier: this was in the period where lots of ‘poop themes’ were proliferating in the industry, so we tried to do it as a wacky toilet plunger that plunged… ‘Klogs’. I’ll send you a photo to show you what I mean!
Really, though, we should probably have just encouraged them to relaunch the product! It was again dropped so, when it was terminated, we got it back with the trademark for the original Hyper Dash name. After another couple of years, we re-licensed it to PlayMonster as Ultra Dash because we decided to use lights to tell you what to do instead of a voice. That way, it would be more universal and not require languages.
Oh! Innnnnteresting… Were there other changes to it?
Yes, it was changed into more of a baton. But it still had the physical targets, and PlayMonster created what I thought were amazing ads. Actually, they seemed like they did everything right – but it just didn’t sell. I think it was because without the voice it really didn’t have the same feeling and was too hard to communicate with just the colored lights. So again, we had it back. Eventually, I’d see briefs from Hasbro or from Mattel literally saying they were looking for games that make kids run around like the old Hyper Dash so me and the other guys at KID Group – Gary Levenberg and Brian Clemens – would look at each other and say “If that’s the case, then why don’t you just re-launch the actual Hyper Dash?”
Yes… LIKE Hyper Dash but not the ACTUAL Hyper Dash is a tantalizing brief!
Right. So we’d go pitch it to them and they’d take it in for a while – but then they’d talk themselves out of it. It’s so weird… I started thinking people were really overthinking it. So finally, last year, we went to Longshore and said, “Would you guys like to make this thing together so we can offer it directly to consumers? Or pitch it as a finished tooled product to other companies?”
For those not in the know, what’s Longshore?
Longshore is a fantastic toy and game manufacturer based in Hong Kong. They must be 40 years in the industry. And they pretty much do it all… Games, puzzles, toys. We figured if we partnered with them, then we’d have a real product that we can sell to a lot of customers without it being such a big gamble for any one toy company. But then, no sooner had we done that than we booked a Zoom meeting with Golden Bear…
And did you know the guys at Golden Bear?
Only by reputation! We heard they were great; we knew they were in England and did really innovative stuff – we just never worked together. But we booked this Zoom call to meet them because Matt Colleran – who’s working on marketing for us for a game called Sling It – said Golden Bear had done this incredible soccer-bot ball and were looking for outdoor games. Do you know the Soccer Bot? It’s a huge hit and a brilliant idea – a soccer ball that talks to you and trains you to play better…
I do know it… My neighbour bought one – now it’s raising her kids! So you booked a Zoom?
Right. So we were at LA Toy Fair last fall, doing the Zoom, thinking they’re in England. Only they weren’t – they were in LA and in, like, the next building over! So we close the call, get up and walk over to their showroom. Then, as we’re talking to them about physical activity, we show Hyper Dash as an example of games that we’ve done that animate people, And Barry Hughes says, “Wait! You did Hyper Dash? That’s my favourite game!”
You know what? That would explain why he kept demming it at London Toy Fair. I honestly kept thinking: why are they making poor Barry run around like a dog at a fair?!
Yes! We weren’t there, but the team sent us several videos, showing him running around like a madman. We were very impressed.
And – my hand to God, I’ll tell you this – that man can’t half move when he wants to win at Hyper Dash! He was clearly loving it.
Ha! That’s great! And that’s exactly what he said in LA: “I literally love that game.” So that’s how the game came to be with Longshore and Golden Bear. And all this really shows how you sometimes have to have a lot of patience and different elements in place to get the right deal.
And you used the word ‘right’ there; “the RIGHT deal”… But this is actually a very good example of your R.I.T.E. acronym – the four legs of the inventing table.
Yes! We spoke before about that – that might be the first time we spoke? But yes, R.I.T.E.: Relationship, Idea, Timing and Execution. And you’re right, of course: the story illustrates some of that so well. Is that article still up on Mojo?
It is! People can read it here… Now, I didn’t want to go off on a tangent just now, but you mentioned a new game? Sling It?
Yeah! For the first time, my partners at KID Group and I are attempting to crowd-fund a product. We’re launching it on Kickstarter starting in May. I was in Majorca last year on a bike trip, and I discovered that – in medieval times – they used to hold a contest where they slung sausages at the bars of a castle gate. It sounds crazy, but the idea was to try and wedge them between the bars to determine if the sausage was the perfect thickness.
Ha! How did this come to light?
It turns out it’s not that small a secret in Europe, I think – there are woodcarvings of it; people know about it. Actually, let me share my screen. This is an image of a woodcarving of it…
Oh, yes! Go on…
Anyway, I was fascinated and started working on this concept – kind of like cornhole, but with…
Sorry, wait! “Cornhole”, did you say?
Yes! Do you guys not play cornhole in the UK?
Not… Not that I can place.
Let me get a picture up…
Ah! Got it! I’ve seen those boards is the US – but no, that’s not a big thing over here. If it’s an outdoor thing, we might not have the weather for cornhole!
Ha! Well, anyway, I guess the new game is a bit like that but with slots instead of a hole – and with long beanbags. It’s called Sling It and it’s honestly one of the most addictive and social games I’ve ever come across. I can share more details off the record – but stay tuned for bigger news coming at the beginning of April.
Nicely teased! On that note, then, let’s wrap this up! Do come back and tell us more about Sling It when you’re ready, Dan…
Will do! Thanks, Deej.
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