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Thursday, February 18,1999

What's New?

New Iceland cartoon

We just got back from New York City, where we were attending the Toy Fair, and boy are our legs tired. We decided to take the train, and otherwise traveled only by foot and subway (with our backpacks growing heavier each day as we collected literature, promos, and even sample games) so we ended up doing quite a bit of walking. Plus the Toy Fair itself is unbelievably huge... the exhibit hall was by far the biggest I've ever explored, and the event overflowed that space into 2 additional halls. So by the time we got home we were dead on our feet. But we had a great time at the show, and hanging out in the big city with Dawn. One morning, we ate cake for breakfast, at the Cupcake Cafe (halfway between the Port Authority and Javit's Center). It was just that kind of trip.

Toy Fair is when all the toy and game manufacturers show off their product lines for the coming year, and often the first signs of what will be a big hit at Christmas time are seen at Toy Fair. Last year, for example, the Furby was debuted (in rough prototype form) at Toy Fair. So the first question in everyone's mind is, what will this year's big hit be?

What was odd about this year's show is that everyone already knew what the big hit is going to be, yet we didn't get to see what it actually looks like. Everyone agrees the most popular toys of '99 will be the new line of Star Wars: Episode 1 stuff, but because of the secrecy surrounding the film, the toys are all top secret. Only a select few retailers got into the secret showroom where the secret new toys were secretly displayed.

The other franchise that loomed large at Toy Fair was the TeleTubies. While Star Wars was on people's minds but nowhere in sight, the TeleTubies were everywhere you looked - even on the stairs. And everyone was laughing about Jerry Falwell's recent condemnation of Tinky-Winky, though for some vendors it was perhaps a nervous laugh. The possibility of a pulpit-driven boycott was heavy on the minds of those with lots of TeleTubies merchandise in their booths. So everyone was asking: Is Tinky-Winky really gay? (Kristin meanwhile was much more puzzled by a Little Lulu display she noticed. Just what message is Lulu trying to send by pulling up her dress that way?)

One exciting bit of news we learned is that the film Yellow Submarine (which for years has been out of circulation due to legal battles) is being re-released this year, amidst enormous hype, first in a theatrical release, then finally on home video. Sony, who apparently ended up with the complete package of rights, is signing up licensees for the marketing and merchandising blitz that will no doubt include everything from fast food kid's meal toys to videogames. (Now there's a project I'd like to work on...)

In one of the overflow halls, we found a fellow entrepreneur-hippie who was offering a product he calls the Original Egg Game, and we liked it so much we ordered a copy of on the spot. It's a large masonite disk and a pair of stone eggs; the idea is for 2 or 3 people to hold the disc between them and start the eggs spinning upon it, and then keep them spinning for as long as possible by gently moving the disk. He said the current record is over 3 hours. It's a very zen-like game.

Meanwhile, we noticed not 1 but 2 single-game companies selling games about mutual funds, and another 2 companies selling tablets meant to turn your children's bathwater bright colors. And then there's the company that was offering Biblical Action Figures. The line of 10 figures includes Jesus, Mary, Moses, and Job, and even a generic Angel, but not God himself... I wonder if next year's series will correct this oversight, with a God figure that is huge and shiny.

And then there's Zobmondo, the game of horrible choices. It's a game with your basic Trivial Pursuit structure, but instead of answering trivia questions, the "Cards of Unenjoyment" challenge you to choose the less horrible of 2 choices. Most of the sample questions we got are both disturbing and disgusting; the categories range from "Pain/Fear/Discomfort" to "Food/Ingestion" to "Ethics/Intellect". A few samples:

  • Would you rather meet your greatest hero and vomit on them -OR- in trying to meet them, be arrested and publicly accused of stalking?"
  • Be separated from your family (parents, siblings, children) and never see them again in person -OR- live with them for the rest of your life in a two bedroom house?
  • Eat a shot glass full of live wasps - OR- eat a shot glass?

Our own product line was wonderfully displayed in the ICE/Mayfair booth, and many people took copies of our new retailer catalog. (Speaking of which, the Back Room I mentioned last week wasn't quite finished when the update was ready, but it's open now... if you know of a store that ought to carry our products, please direct their purchasing agent to our Retailers Only on-line ordering system.)

We saw a million other cool things at Toy Fair and I can't tell you about everything, but here's a bunch of other cool stuff we noticed:

  • The folks at SET have a new word game card game called Quiddler, which looks like something the Scrabble fans will love
  • The ZOME system of construction toys is something we already knew was cool, but discovered it's extra cool when used with bubble soap
  • Lionel Trains has a new clear plastic tanker car filled with Liquid Lava (en route to the Lava Lamp factory, of course)
  • The Stak-Its toy company is selling plastic cards with bumps for use in building a better house of cards
  • Out of the Box games has a new one called Apples and Oranges that had a fun demo
  • The Stone is an massively multi-player internet puzzle game in which everyone has a stone amulet bearing a set of 6 mystic symbols that match only one other, somewhere out in cyberspace
  • The Midnight Snack Fridgeware company is selling magnetic chess sets that are intended for use in extended games played on the refrigerator door
  • A children's music CD by Parachute Express has a song called "Doctor Looney's Remedy"
  • A company called Hog Wild sells several cool things, including a sculpture toy called the Benders, a set of really groovy little posable magnetic people
  • Fur covered slinkys with heads are on the way (Kristin wants a giraffe)
  • And lastly there's "Magic Nuudles", colorized versions of those biodegradable packing peanuts, which are sold as a construction plaything: you lick 'em and stick 'em together to build stuff.

But of all the things we noticed, perhaps the most interesting was the sheer number of little companies with just one (or a small handful) of game products. We were surprised by just how many of them (or should I say, of us) there were, and we always enjoyed talking shop with the owners of such companies. There's always a lot we can learn from each other, with the big question of course being how best to increase our visibility in the marketplace, and we often talked of ways we might work together to mutually improve our chances of being among the companies that return to Toy Fair next year. Naturally this is a particularly important issue to us at this time, and we've had some interesting thoughts on the topic. But I've written enough for now... tune in next week for more on the on-going question of what we're doing with our life.

Don't forget to play!

Thought Residue
"Nothing I've been told about these people is correct. They are not beggars and thieves. They are not the bogeymen they've been made out to be. On the contrary, they are polite guests and have a familiar humor I enjoy." - Lt. John Dunbar, Dances With Wolves
Riddle me this: How are vegetables like ballroom dancing? Answer: Despite genuine attempts to enjoy both of these things over the years, they just don't appeal to me the way they do to others.
"The difference between you and James Ernest is that he's surrounded by guys and you're surrounded by long haired women." - Some guy from the Microsoft Network that I met at Toy Fair

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