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Not Under the Tree This Year

By AUSTIN BUNN

Published: November 30, 2003

What does it take to make a successful toy? A graveyard. Every year, Meyer/Glass, a toy-invention company based in Chicago, pitches 200 concepts to manufacturers. They get contracts for about five, and ''we need at least one hit every year to keep going,'' says the company president, Steve Meyer. But even with recent winners like Catch Phrase, Gooey Louie and Silly 6 Pins, misfires are a necessary part of the design learning process. Here, the Meyer/Glass team -- Meyer; Randy Klimpert, the creative director; and Dianne Lauble, a designer -- analyze five toys that died so that others might live.

Fashion Shoot: Players match a hairstyle and makeup to a picture. This idea was an assignment we gave ourselves: how do you take a doll and make it a game? In this case, the manufacturer pushed the limits /made the doll head larger, put a flash in the camera and made it deluxe. It got too expensive. The threshold for a kids' game is $20. Fashion Shoot came to $25.

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Spider Bite: Steal Wilbur's eggs without waking him. The putting-your-hand-into-something game is the fallback position for a toy inventor. It's classic. We tried it as a vampire. The first model was a coffin. But we were still looking for a theme. What we learned was that kids don't like spiders. It scared the bejesus out of them. When people do''scary,'' you've got to stylize it so that it looks ''cute.'' Another problem is that once Wilbur jumped out, you had to pull him off your hand and push him back in. But if you don't want him on your hand, you don't want to be pushing him back in either. That's something we should have worked out a little better.

Real People: Players try to guess people's traits from their pictures. The idea was to take that ''man on the street'' feature you see in newspapers and turn it into a game. But with social-interaction games, adults want to know something about one another, not about strangers. This is one of those games we keep thinking about. Maybe we could add a racier twist to it.

Peppermint Rose: A scent-related girl's doll line. We started with the idea of a perfume shop and the phenomenon of the Body Shop, where you could make your own perfume. But television is critical for success, and you can't televise smell. We've worked with stale-pickle smell, gym-sock smell and other wacky smells. It's just hard to communicate them.

Dash-n-Dine: Players compete as waiters delivering orders. There were other food games on the market, like Eat at Ralph's, where you stuffed food into this mouth, and if it didn't like it, it spat it out. Also, it could have been an age mismatch. At the time we tested it, that generation of kids hadn't grown up with ''Happy Days'' and couldn't relate to diners. It's really hard to break a new board game. These days you wouldn't be able to sell Monopoly.


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