Serial toy and game inventor Martin Goldfarb discusses products, process and perseverance
Martin! Pleasure to meet you. When you were growing up, did you have a particular favourite toy?
LEGO! Pure open-ended creative fun, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t come with instructions when I was a kid. So you could build whatever you wanted.
That’s entirely possible… The early sets didn’t, I don’t think; they were sold just as boxes of bricks. And did you have a favourite game?
My earliest favourite game was Hi Ho! Cherry-O. I have no idea why I liked it so much. Maybe it was the little wooden cherries! I grew up in the sixties which was a golden age for board games. My friends and I spent a lot of time playing a lot of games and I’m sure we played everything!
That seems quite fitting in a way because you’ve been a part of so many products yourself that I’m not sure where to start! Perhaps I’ll point to an iconic game that I always wanted, but never had… Shark Attack! How did that come about?
I wish I could tell you a memorable origin story, such as I was out swimming in the ocean one day, was suddenly chased by a ferocious sea creature, and immediately thought, “Hey, this would be a great game!”
Ha! Well, we could just say that! Only we’d know… The truth is more workaday, is it?
Yes… The truth is the concept just appeared in my head. Maybe it was just the result of having watched too many cartoons and having seen all of the Jawsmovies. Who knows? I just came up with this funny, cartoonish gameplay where the winner is the last player to get eaten! Not just great gameplay, but a philosophy of life!
I really admired it from afar… My friend had a copy; I found it almost hypnotic. And, actually, when I look back now I think that game perfectly illustrates how inventors can balance a mechanism and styling… I mean: the mechanism is described – in patent 4938481 – as an ‘incrementally advancing toy apparatus’. But in execution, the theme is a shark chasing some fish! In your experience, which tends to come first? The mechanic or the theme?
This chicken or egg question is different for every concept and there’s no set rule. In Shark Attack, the story and game play came first and the mechanism was created to serve the game. And when we finally had a working prototype, all the elements clicked into place and it played beautifully!
Can you give us an example of the opposite?
Actually, a good example of the complete opposite is our latest game, Forklift Frenzy. The mechanism was created first without knowing whether it would be a game or a toy. We then created gameplay for it – and ended up with a game that’s about as toyetic as you can get!
I didn’t know that was yours! For those that haven’t seen it, that’s a Fat Brain Toys game… You race to stack towers with your toy forklift trucks. Huge fun! So when you have one element in mind, through what process do you go to come up with the other?
There’s really no set formula – you just play around with different ideas until one works!
Fair enough. Let me ask you this, Martin… As something of an industry veteran, what advice would you give to newcomers?
There are plenty of smart, experienced people in this business who are happy to give you advice. And my own advice to you would be the usual boring stuff such as perseverance, don’t take your ego to work, learn how to cope with rejection and don’t be afraid to have bad ideas or you won’t have good ones…
Strewth! You’re throwing out useful stuff at quite a rate here…
Well, I think my best advice would be for you to pick and choose advice like you’re at a buffet. As a newcomer, you’re free of the habits and rules we make for ourselves over the years. So I think you can give as much good advice to me as I can give to you. Just remember to keep your sense of humour and keep everything in perspective… This isn’t rocket science or brain surgery –and it’s a lot more fun.
Well, let me say two things, Martin… First, I think that’s brilliant advice… And second, I think you phrased it beautifully. Thank you! What’s next for you?
I’m lucky to be in a business where every day is different, so ask me tomorrow!
I might just do that. Finally, then: what’s the most interesting object in your office on your desk?
This is a bit of a cop-out answer, but truthfully the most interesting and versatile object on my desk right now is my iPhone.
Not a cop out at all, Martin. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, “When a man’s tired of iPhones, he’s tired of life.”
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