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KID Group’s Dan Klitsner, inventor of Bop It, talks us through how the iconic game has thrived with licences – and what the new Bop It Button offers celebrity brands…
Dan, always great to catch up. Bop It is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and we’ve recently seen brands like Star Wars, Frozen and Marvel get the ‘Bop It’ treatment. When did it become clear there was brand potential with your invention?
Well, when I first had the ‘Do what it says’ idea for Bop It, I almost immediately knew it could apply to characters. Bop It is a remote that controls people; it tells people what to do. So, with its DNA in controlling people, it’s only a short leap to characters telling you what to do to them.
Funnily enough, I did exactly that – but not with a Bop It! A couple of years after Bop It, in 1999, I licensed the Goldberg Smash N’ Bash game to Tiger Electronics. Based around Goldberg the wrestler, he would shout out commands like ‘Bodyslam’ and you’d have to twist his head, or press his torso, or lift his arm.
A human Bop It!
Exactly. It was clearly a Bop It-inspired character. Following that, I very quickly started pitching ideas to Hasbro around Bop It characters… It took 15 years to actually get one off the ground! We did Bop It R2-D2 in 2015.
15 years! Why did it take so long?
We were busy doing other Bop Its, and there are the usual issues around trying to license things. The people there at the time also didn’t have this vision for Bop It; they just didn’t really think of it in this way.
“We almost did a Ricky Martin Bop It using a Latin beat – we still have the recordings for that!”
We did do a Bratz Bop It in 2004, and that was a normal Bop It but using the Bratz voices. Along similar lines we also almost did a Ricky Martin Bop It using a Latin beat – we still have the recordings for that. I personally spoke to the Black Eyed Peas about doing something… Aerosmith… Justin Bieber… I’ve worked on plenty of mock-ups.
I can see how they’d work!
I actually also developed another licensed Bop It concept called Bopsters. I looked at things like Monopoly, that had lots of different themed versions, and I felt Bop It could benefit from having that air of collectability. These were collectible Bop It games based on different characters; it would’ve taken Bop It into a new category. And they weren’t supposed to look exactly like the characters… You would know there was Bop It DNA there; they would have their own style where their feet would always be the ‘Twist It’ knob.
A lovely idea! And very different to the direction that the licensed Bop Its eventually went in…
Yeah, with some of the licensed Bop Its out there, it’s difficult to know it’s even a Bop It. They look exactly like the character. The Bopsters idea would’ve made it clear that these were Bop It character mash-ups.
It would’ve been an interesting direction to go in! As you mentioned, eventually the first licensed Bop It to launch was R2-D2 – that seems like a good fit.
Yes, it worked out with Hasbro and the licensor and so it happened. We developed the prototype, and one idea that I think would’ve been cool was that you’d have to learn the droid language for ‘Bop It’, ‘Twist It’, ‘Pull It’. Bop It does actually have a sound-only mode, where it plays the sound effect for those commands rather than the words. The different parts of Bop It look how they’re named – Twist It is a twisted swirl, for example – and the sound effects sound how they look. It’s quite intuitive in that sense, and some people prefer that sound-only mode! So that was one option we looked at for the R2-D2 Bop It – and you could’ve bragged that you understood droid!
Ha! So if it didn’t go down the droid-language route, how does R2-D2 convey the commands?
Well, something quite amazing happened. They got Anthony Daniels – the actor who played C-3PO – to be the voice that tells you what to do to R2-D2. That was the idea of someone at Hasbro. It was pretty cool.
Very cool. And from that point, the door was open to licensed Bop Its?
Yes, Minions came next. They’re shaped right – they look Bop It-y. There’s always a question over which characters lend themselves to this form factor, but it worked with characters like R2-D2 and BB-8. And characters like Spider-Man and Frozen’s Olaf say the commands themselves. There’s also some creativity in different forms catering for different actions, so ‘Pull It’ with Spider-Man requires you to pull his web, but I’d still love for licensed Bop Its to have a unified, recognisably Bop It style. Who knows – it might happen someday!
Why do you think Bop It has been such a neat fit for licensing?
It’s one of the few games where voice and sound is the main personality of the game. It’s not just a talking game; it has personality. When you fail, it says something funny, and when you’re doing well, it encourages you.
“Bop It’s emphasis on voice is perfect for pairing up with brands… And from a toy perspective, it’s fun to take a character and twist its head or pull its arm!”
That emphasis on voice is perfect for pairing up with characters and brands. Also, from a toy perspective, it’s fun to take a character and twist its head or pull its arm.
The voice element is also key to your latest Bop It venture, the Bop It Button. Tell us a bit about that.
Well, there’s an opportunity with Bop It to bring more personal, customised, authentic mashups. I wanted to do something for Bop It’s 25th birthday that’s meaningful… So, I’ve made the most challenging, devious, addictive, annoying Bop It of all time – the Bop It Button.
Ha! It’s a single button – and it only has two commands… Bop It or Don’t Bop It… If it says Bop It, you push the button. If it says Don’t Bop It – you don’t push the button.
Sounds simple enough…
Well, it changes the cadence more than any other Bop It. And there are sometimes delays between Don’t and Bop It, so it gets confusing if you’re not paying attention! Oh, and it’ll also say Do Bop It and Do Not Bop It, so with the delays, that becomes tricky too!
I spoke too soon; it sounds nightmarish! When does it launch?
It’s launching on Kickstarter this month, but the main goal is to actually use this to do some good. The idea is to go to celebrities, ask them what causes they’re passionate about and use branded Bop It Buttons to raise money.
Let’s use Snoop Dogg as an example – and fans of Bop It grew up with Snoop Dog, so it’s a good fit! We’d ask Snoop if there’s a charity he’d want to support. We’d then put his voice and music into a Bop It Button, create a limited run of Snoop Dogg Bop It Buttons and sales of that would raise money for his chosen charity.
It’s a great idea. And a smart approach to licensing the game.
We hope to do some real good with it.
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