Game Theories The man who made the Furby fly explains how he comes up with his ideas.
(FORTUNE Small Business) – What does the co-developer of the Furby do for an encore? Since Richard Levy brought those blabbermouth dolls to the world in 1998, he's churned out games based on everything from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus to Chicken Soup for the Soul. A recent creation: Spirit of America, a patriotic trivia game that came from an urge to express his love of country after Sept. 11. "[Other] people were doing things within their skill set, so I created a game," he says. "We put it out in 60 days--record time." FSB's Julie Sloane spoke with this idea maven at his Bethesda, Md., home:
What does a toy inventor do all day?
Ninety percent of the time I'm on the phone, keeping my projects on track at the toy companies. I have probably five or six going at one time. I could have more, but I believe in the law of strawberry jam: The more you spread it, the thinner it gets. When something clicks, I focus on it like a laser beam so that if it doesn't happen, I know why.
How often do you come up with an idea?
I could go weeks with none. For example, I once spent 30 days, or maybe it was 31, doing nothing but playing a videogame called Solomon's Key. I'm talking 24/7. My brain turned to Jell-O. I came out of there and invented a board game called Adverteasing based on the recall of ad slogans. It sold over a million copies, so I think those 30 days--no, 31 days--were well spent.
What's the connection between playing videogames and inventing a board game about advertising?
If I stop creating for a long time [as I did when I was playing that game], I feel like, "My God, you'd better get something else going!"
What's the secret to making a successful toy?
A lot more products would make it if companies weren't so antsy. Monopoly is around because it had years to grow. Monopoly would never sell today. Game companies would sooner go back to Hollywood and license some movie name.
So would you say dating is most like (a) growing a garden, (b) slaying a dragon, or (c) catching a fish?
Why are you asking me about dating?
It's a question from the Mars/Venus game.
Oh! Very good. Growing a garden. It's all about nurturing.
Is it true that you're awake 20 hours a day?
I get about four or five hours of sleep a day. When the elves start whispering at 3 A.M., you don't go back to bed. When I get an idea, I run down, hit the computer, and start researching. It's not uncommon to find me at two in the afternoon napping on the floor for a couple of minutes. I let the energy flow.