USAopoly’s Tony Serebriany on virtual pitches, loving London – and three things inventors should keep in mind…

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
Tony Serebriany is Director of Inventor Relations and International Sales at USAopoly – popularly known as The OP. Ahead of the Mojo Nation Play Creators Festival, we speak with Tony about virtual pitches, loving London – and three things all inventors should keep in mind…

Tony, a great pleasure to catch up! Now, I know from a previous Mojo Nation interview that you grew up playing Pay Day, This Game is Bonkers, Sorry, Uno, Clue, Risk, Monopoly and Can’t Stop… If, though, you were stuck on a desert island, with no hope of immediate rescue, what’s the one game you wouldn’t want to be without?
This is such a fun question… But a true answer is hard to give, because I’d want to know if I’ll be stuck on this island with others, and therefore have others to play with… This may change the decision… Where was I going before I got stranded? How long was the planned trip? What games would I have likely packed for such a trip…

I realise I’ve undercooked the question for you!
Well… All that said, there are a lot of games that I’d be happy to play multiple days in a row. However, I think the best ‘game’ to be stuck on an island with would be a deck of playing cards. With a simple deck of 52 cards, there are a variety of games that can actually be played, and even some magic tricks.

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
Magic tricks?! There’re two words that divide a room! Do you do any?

When I was a kid, a neighbour did a magic show for a birthday party and I was fascinated, so for a few years I explored a number of simple tricks, but eventually left the study behind. That said, I never turn down watching those that do perform.

If you had to point to a trick that you appreciate, which one would it be?
There’s a magician named Steven Brundage that does some amazing Rubiks Cube magic – quite mind boggling… Solving The Cube can be done if one studies the patterns and algorithms, but he does a solve of a mixed cube while tossing it in the air…

I’m familiar with it! As luck has it, I saw Mr. Brundage perform live: very charismatic. More generally, then, what is it you appreciate about magic?
I’m still totally fascinated by the idea of magic playing tricks on our minds… And though my mind is usually looking for the solution as to how something’s done, I’m still mesmerised by it – especially close-up magic.

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
I could chat to you about this all day! Alright… You recently signed up to the Mojo Nation pitch event which is virtual this year. Sadly, that means you’re not coming to London!

I know! I love London. My first trip was when I was a senior in high school, and I fell in love with the city. That was many years ago now, and I’ve grown up – mostly! I get to travel there for work, though, and the city captivates me even more.

What is it about London that you love?
The multi-cultural nature of the city, demonstrated with the wide variety of languages, food options, all the museums, art galleries, neighbourhoods, parks and live music offerings is amazing – like no other! As a big fan of live music, there have been so many great musicians and bands that have come from or through the UK, and London is one of the places that many would play. So now I have the chance to travel to London for work, I try to find time to see live music when there, and to eat at and explore new vegetarian or vegan restaurants, and see as much art as possible.

Given the event is online, what tips do you think would help a virtual pitch?
So many designers have migrated to ‘sizzle’ videos for their game pitches over the last five to ten years that going digital – though unfortunate – should be pretty seamless, and in some ways may be even more interesting… Keep in mind that you have to get us excited without having an actual sample in front of us to interact with, so perhaps practice a virtual pitch prior to the event and see if your ‘guest’ gets it. Also, be sure the transitions between items are smooth.

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
Another tip would be to keep in mind your backgrounds and the setting you’re in. Nothing bothers me more in virtual meetings than a messy room, or so much going on in the background that it’s hard to focus on the person speaking. With trying to capture our attention on a game or toy, be sure there isn’t anything distracting us from what you want us to focus on.

That’s a subtle point. I guess, too, we don’t really want kids barging into the room, or cats’ tails blocking the lens. Just while I remember, you mentioned a sizzle video just now… How do you define sizzle?
Oh! Just a 30 to 90 second commercial of an idea.

Perfect! And what tips would you give those pitching to you personally?
One of the best tips for any designer or inventor pitching, is that the more you know about the company you’re pitching to, the better the pitch will go. Though you may not have a personal relationship with the Inventor Relations Executive yet, spending time connecting personally during your meeting can go a long way over the course of years of pitching ideas to these folks.

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
Secondly, keep in mind that once you hand off your submission to one of us, we become your product’s champions within the doors of our companies… So the better you can prepare us, the better the chances your item has for moving through the internal process. And the third general tip would be to use your time wisely! We’re all generally booked in back-to-back meetings, so be sure you cover everything you need to, and don’t get hung up in turn-by-turn details, unless we’re actually playing a game.

Excellent! And is there anything you prefer pitchers to avoid?
Yes… I know many designers are very excited about their items and have often poured hours into their designs, but one of the things everyone should avoid in a pitch meeting is saying that you have “The next Monopoly.”

One final tip for pitching to me personally, and probably the best tip I can give you, is to know our product line. On top of that, be mindful that you can actually see what you’re pitching to me in our line. Though I love to see all the creativity everyone has, there are clearly some items that would be better suited with another publisher. With that, please show me what you’re especially excited about, because this excitement translates to the product.

That’s terrific advice, thank you. On the subject of creativity then, what’s the best creative advice you’ve ever been given?
There’ve been two really good pieces of creative advice I’ve gotten over the years that have proven to be very valuable… First, when developing a game, seek the opinions of people other than your family and close friends. These two groups really want to support you and see you succeed… However, their feedback may not help the product get to a better place.

Because the feedback is shaped to fit a personal dynamic? What’s a better alternative?
I always suggest getting the advice of playtest and focus groups that give you honest feedback. Your goal should be to make your item better each time you revise it. The second piece of advice is not to get too emotionally attached to your designs – either the visuals or the content…

I’m just going to clarify that we share the view: you can be excited and passionate about your ideas, but not be in love with them – right?!
Right! This is really important because when a product goes through our development process, there are many rounds of revisions before it lands at the final item. Usually, multiple people are involved in influencing the direction a game eventually takes.

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
Drilling into that development process at USAopoly, then, what happens after an inventor shows you their idea?

Like folks in my position at other companies, I see way more items than I could
ever bring in for full evaluation. Therefore, a major part of my job is to filter down the plethora of creative ideas to a manageable group of items that I think may work well in our future lines, or could fit a particular need or request we have had from the Sales or Marketing teams.

So how do you show it?
Usually, this smaller group of items is first ‘submitted’ via Sell Sheets or sizzle videos, as this is a much quicker way for the internal team to evaluate whether or not we want to see a sample or prototype for further consideration and playtesting. This type of submission usually gives us a good idea of game play, turn order, the ‘fun factor’ and the ‘hook’ of the game.

Once we find games we think have real potential, we share them up the chain for the green light to move forward. If we think we’re ready to option or license something, we then engage the Sales and Marketing teams for their early feedback and involvement as well.

Brilliant. Summing it up, what kind of things are you looking for in 2020?
At The Op, we strive to bring games to the table that provide a unique and immersive play experience for gamers of all ages and types to enjoy. Therefore, we’re looking for more games that help to foster an experience that encourages people to connect, maybe share some laughter, and create lasting memories through playing together.

Help me picture that: in terms of toy or game successes, what’s recently hit the spot for you?
We’ve launched a number of new games this year that we’re really excited about, and several of them have come from outside designers: Harry Potter House Cup Competition is from Nate Heiss; Upside Drawn, is a Telestrations game from Kane Klenko, and Hues and Cues from Scott Brady. Really excited to see these get in the hands of gamers around the world.

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
Hues and Cues! Stunning. I loved that. I sucked at it, but I loved it…

You know, being in quarantine, we’ve done a number of virtual game nights and there’re some games that lend themselves really well to this space… Hues and Cues is one of them!

Really? So I could suck at it virtually?! What other title works well like that?
There’s a game we launched a couple years ago called Blank Slate. Seeing the community adapt to this new way of playing some of these games is quite exciting.

Great. And in terms of toys that float your boat?
Though I’m an old school video gamer, you might think that the Switch and Animal Crossing has caught my fancy. That said however, I’m excited for the arrival of the Intellivision Amico, as I know it’ll resonate really well with my family, providing a great new format, while also having enough nostalgic titles for me – and plenty of new ones for all of us to enjoy.

If you were writing your autobiography, what would you call it?
Play On!

Love it! Brilliant. Finally, Tony, what’s the most interesting thing on your desk or in your office?
A couple of years ago I met some of the most extraordinary and genuine people at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. They were selling one of the most interesting and unique puzzle toys I’ve seen in a long time: The GeoBender Cube – a complex 3D magnetic puzzle made up of twelve pyramids, each with three magnets.

Tony Serebriany, USAopoly
Magnets?! You have my full attention!

Honestly, it provides countless hours of entertainment, fidgeting and solving for the various different designs and shapes you can transform it into. If you have multiple cubes, you can combine them for even more elaborate designs.

We need to wrap this up, Tony; all I’m interested in now is buying a GeoBender Cube! I’m going to thank you so much for your time – I hope our paths cross again soon. Thanks again!

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