Growing up on a kid-busy Walnut Creek cul-de-sac in the 1960s, Dan Klitsner was a regular game boy. Hot Wheels cars, card games, tree houses and building Heathkit radios and burglar alarms occupied his time.
Forty years later, nothing has changed.
The 54-year-old founder of KID Group LLC, a San Francisco-based toy invention and licensing firm, rides his bike to work, is a sucker for "Spoons," releases products on multiple platforms and creates games that set off alarms (the good kind) in the industry.
"I would come up with ideas for elaborate robots that involved ripping apart old toys to make new ones," he recalls. "You know, I'm kind of doing the same thing now."
His "Bop It" landed on the market in 1996 as the first in a series of best-selling audio game iterations. The "Bop It" line of toys won multiple Electronic Game of the Year awards from the Toy Retailers Association and were heralded for bop-twisting and pull-flicking the hands-on-video toy genre into a new era.
Plus, they provided Klitsner with 15 solid years of "buffer."
"Before, I had an industrial design group, a place to invent things. After Bop It, I could take chances, try things that are risky," he says.
But in the toy-eat-toy world, you're only as good as your latest megaselling idea. Klitsner's newest release, the Hasbro-licensed Bop It Tetris, may be just what he needs.
At the 2013 American International Toy Fair in early February, Bop It
"Tetris is a worldwide brand, so this entrenches Bop It as evergreen, because Tetris will be around forever," Klitsner predicts.
And who's to doubt him? The tile-matching Tetris game was invented in Russia, exported to the US in 1984, and became an immediate sensation. When a hand-held version launched in 1989, "the greatest video game ever" became a frequently used Tetris pronoun.
Klitsner came up with the idea of combining Tetris with Bop It five years ago. Mapping out grids with pieces of paper, he simplified the game into two light-filled and connected, cubes. After building a prototype he called "Qubis," he made a stop-action video and pitched it to Hasbro.
"It's about a minute long and it took about 30 minutes to shoot the video. After seeing that it looked good on TV, even as rough as it was, they loved it. They licensed it within 30 days."
Then, the project hit the skids, with Hasbro doubting Tetris would agree and traditionalists saying, "Bop It is a classic brand! A stand alone!" or, "It's a neat idea, but it'll never fly."
Selling a toy manufacturer on a new idea is never easy. Licensing is a slippery proposition where desire, drama, rarity, positioning and theatrics jockey for position.
"Having a crude, raw video might have reinforced the idea that it was a new concept," Klitsner suggests. "And the simple satisfaction of fitting a shape into an empty shape -- rotating a 3-D thought in your mind quickly, hitting it, moving on -- was addictive."
Klitsner says passive screen play is all well and good, but leaves people wanting a more physical type of play.
"Most video gaming is all clicking, so it makes the games feel similar," he says.
"Bop It Tetris," as a promotional video shows, involves two-handed twisting, rotational nudging with a finger and aggressively pushing illuminated tiles from right to left. It's not shooting hoops in the schoolyard, but in today's remote control world, it's active.
Klitsner, who grew up rarely sitting still (except to play board games at the dinner table with his fun-loving parents), is thrilled that you can't play his latest invention on a smartphone or a game console.
"Your hand has to twist the light, no button toggling," he says, cheerily. "It's musical, tactile, fast, can't be done on a screen ... and even a little kid can participate."