For those who know me, I’m not easily impressed by the latest gadgets. But when I came across a crowd-funding campaign on RocketHub for HolograFX, the latest toy offering from Plano, Texas based Goliath Games, I was intrigued by this interesting combination of old style board-game and modern media.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Goliath is headquartered not too far from me, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to reach out and ask if they’d be willing to have me over for an interview. On July 9th, I made the trek to meet with the crew at Goliath, and find out what drives them to produce the latest in games and toys. And it was there in an unassuming office building, that I met the team working to bring to life the next big innovation in board games.
And to make the interview extra special, I lost my notes! Big thanks to David and Sara for being understanding as I haphazardly tried to remember four pages worth of questions.
PK: I’m here today at Goliath Games, in Plano, Texas; to take a look at one of Goliath’s newest toys, the “HolograFX.” If you’re not familiar with Goliath Games, you may have seen some of their well known family games in stores and on TV, such as “Pop the Pig,” “Doggie Doo,” and “Domino Rally.”
I’m joined by David Norman, President of Goliath’s U.S division. Mr. Norman, very good to meet you!
David: Hi! It’s great to be here and thanks for that great introduction. It’s been fun making a living out of a dog that poops! If you can make a living with a dog that poops, you can do anything!
PK: For those listening who are not overly familiar with Goliath, can you give us a little history about the company and yourself?
David: Yeah! So Goliath was a company that started about 30 years ago in Holland, and it started with this Israeli guy (Adi Golad), who found this game he loved, called Rummikub, in Israel. But his problem was his girlfriend was in Holland, and he needed to be with his girlfriend. So basically he started bringing these Rummikub games into Holland, and selling them from the back of his car.
And eventually he sold over 600,000 in one year in Holland, and began Goliath. And over thirty-years he’s expanded to different countries around the world. In 2008, I started up a company in the U.S in partnership with him, which is Goliath Games In America. We started out of my house, we’re selling games out of my house to local toy stores. And eventually we started hiring more people, and my wife said, “okay, you can’t have all these people at the house!”
So we moved into an office around 2010, and within five-years we’re now the fastest growing kids game in the country! We’re #4 according to the Industry Research Association in PD, we’re behind Hasbro, Spin Master, and Mattel. Doing those games you mentioned early, like Pop The Pig, and Doggie Doo, and our new addition Gooey Louie. So it’s been an incredible run for us, to really grow and get the business excited, which has been a blast!
PK: And with HolograFX, you’re bringing a toy, or new type of toy, a mixture of board-game and cell phone and tablet technology.
David: Yeah, we’ve kind of put it all together, what we’ve done is really created a sci-fi magic show, but we’ve enabled kids to have special effects with it. So what happens is, you use your smart-phone, and you run video on it. And that video reflects through a screen, and creates what’s called a Pepper’s Ghost effect.
Now where I’ve seen Pepper’s Ghost the most is in Disney Land, when you go to the parks. When you go the Haunted Mansion, you know how you see those little holograms flying out, and you want to reach out touch’em! Well this does the same thing with your magic show, we’ve taken these magic tricks and we’ve incorporated these holograms into it to make it part of the show.
PK: Now one thing that is kind of different, is you’re an established company, but you’re running what most people know as a Kickstarter program for the project, but of course your doing it through RocketHub.
David: Right, I started on RocketHub. I have a cousin who’s in the shoe business, who has this company called Spira. And he launched a new shoe super successfully through RocketHub, and is actually going to be featured on A&E with it.
Now I would love to consider myself established, but it’s really easy for me to remember back to 2008 when I worked out of my house, and I did all of that. The reason I did this on RocketHub, was I ran into a problem, and the problem is, nobody sells high-quality magic sets in the major mass-market stores. So there’s not a way, not a logical home for it in America. So I was like, “how do I get the word out to consumers, that this is really, really a cool toy?”
And it’s a complicated toy, it’s got all these tricks, I gotta explain Pepper’s Ghost, I gotta do all that stuff. It’s hard to explain in a short ad, so I needed a medium to tell the whole story. So even though we may be a little bit larger than the guy working out of his garage, because we’ve got three or four years into us, it felt like a perfect way to tell our story.
PK: What’s very different about HolograFX, compared to anything that might be similar out there?
David: Well, I think there’s nothing that enables magic to combine special effects with it. You can have an individual prop or a trick that you do, maybe there’s an illusionary element to it, but there’s been no way for kids to create really cool effects with it. Like I know I go to Las Vegas, and I see those magic shows, and they got the lights, the bright lights and stuff going.
And this enables kids to do it for the first time, and I don’t think there’s anything similar that uses Pepper’s Ghost to make those hologram reflections out there.
PK: Based on the website, and what you’ve told me you’re getting a lot of interest at the toy trade shows, and you’ve just recently won best toy in France.
David: Yeah, what happened is, the company as I mentioned started in Europe. And the European toy market is different than the U.S, they go through and they judge what they think the best toys will be before the year starts, and it kinda creates a marketing thing, and we’ve won a lot of really cool awards.
And in France, we were just named “The Outstanding Toy of the Year,” and we beat out toys like Furby, I mean it was a really cool thing. And so they’ve announced it’s the top electronics toy, and then ranked us against thirteen other winners in their different categories, and picked HolograFX as the overall top toy. We expect a similar award in another European country, but they haven’t announced it yet.
And then we’re also in the line, we’re nominated for the awards in Holland, and then in England they’ve already named us “Top Technology Toy” through the Gadget Show system, which is kinda how they look at the tech toys. So we’ve gotten really, really good response from Europe, but again the U.S market is different, just because magic is a smaller category here.
And also, the items that had app-plus items which really came out last year, in fact there was a lot of sections of them in stores last year, but they didn’t do particularly well. And I think they didn’t do super well, because they didn’t have the right… it was cool technology, but it wasn’t tied to the right product, and I think we’ve found a way to do, is to really integrate the technology that’s in your smart-phone and make it a cool part of the magic experience.
PK: For the toy, I know the story is centered around a sci-fi story, and there’s two episodes. Is this something that will continue on with additional downloadable content?
David: Yes, here’s what’s going to happen. So we have two episodes, and each episode has about fifteen-minutes of video, that lets you use the tricks. We’ll come out in January with a downloadable episode that uses the same props. And then in Spring, March and April, we’ll come out with two expansion sets, that will have all new props and new storylines to add on to it as well.
So we’re hoping by April, we’ll have the two here, plus the downloadable one in January, and the two new ones by March and April.
PK: Depending on how successful this particular product is, do you think you’ll branch out into similar, or same type of product, but different themes? With this being basically sci-fi, there was a mention of maybe superhero or other type comic-book type themes?
David: Yeah, we’re in talks right now with the major licenses you would think of, to do really cool things. Think Marvel, think Star Wars, that kind of thing, to prove this technology with this toy, and then do it with licenses. Cause now, we can do it with Superman, or Iron Man, flying around, or I don’t know if you’re like me, but with Star Wars, the most iconic holographic image I can think of is, Princess Leia is coming out of R2D2 and seeing that.
So there’s really a lot of really cool licensing avenues for us, but we wanted to establish the product on its own first, and then go into those sci-fi licenses that made sense.
PK: Aside from entertainment, are you also looking at educational versions?
David: We haven’t put educational in, we’ve done… looking at a girls property. You know, to do fashion design and things like that. Where kids can actually model their own clothing and see themselves in 3D walking around. One of the cool things about this product, is you can actually take a video of yourself, and make yourself part of the holographic show.
Like some of the characters we have in there, you could switch to become you. And so we think that would be really cool with girls dress-up play where they can put themselves in there and try on different clothes, and model it and turn around walk the runway.
But we do think that tied to your thinking that this is something really expandable, like we’ve poured tons of money into this, R&D. And we hired actors from New York, who are theater people, to come down and act this out. You can imagine the filming to get the thirty-minutes of video to do all the instructions, so yeah all the instructions are online, so each trick we explain how to do it, and how it works out. It’s huge investment, so if we only get this item, we haven’t done enough. So we expect to get a section out there in stores.
PK: As far as the live action videos for the toy, did you do all of it here on location? Or how was that accomplished?
David: It’s funny, so my partner is this guy Adi Golad (Goliath Games founder), and he’s a genius in the toy industry. He’s picked the great items, he’s got four kids, one of his kids is this girl named Jael, whose a film student in New York. So she is the character “Siren Electra,” who turns into “Selectra,” I think. I’ll have to look that up and tell you again. Anyway, she’s the lead character in it, who becomes the scientist who turns evil when the meteor hits us.
And we were having trouble finding good people to do it, so she got all of her buddies from theater school in New York, and she got them and flew them to LA, and we did it in LA. And we had the inventor, the inventor is this guy named Andre Armenante.
And he’s a young 20′s magician, who I met in Las Vegas, who did this show for me like in a dark room, and it was almost all like one of those seedy things, and you’re like oh wow this is so cool! But he directed it in LA, and he directed it in his house, so the whole filming was done there.
PK: When this is all completed, about how much do you think you’ll be selling it for?
David: We think it’ll be in specialty stores, for $39.99, and we think some stores may discount it down to $34.99 for when Christmas comes along.
PK: That’s not too bad at all.
David: I think that’s pretty good, you get all these props to do eighteen different tricks, you get thirty-minutes worth of video footage, you get the screen, you get the carry-case. The box is actually designed to look kinda like a sci-fi trunk, that detectives would carry with them from place to place, so it’s got that to. So, I think a pretty good deal considering the work and energy put into it.
PK: Now I look at the different sets and the video, it looks like it’s not just sci-fi, but is it also maybe a mixture of Steampunk in some way?
David: I think it’s mostly a sci-fi story we tell through there, you take, you’re basically this group of scientists who have to save the world, from a meteor that’s about to attack it. And so they figure out how to do that, and then one of the characters becomes a villain, and you’ve got figure out how to stop the villain from now destroying the world.
So it’s a really, really cool storyline, and again what’s neat is, the magician gets to change the story if they want. There’s different ways, the app you download to get the video, will have voice commands in it. So you can tell it, you want to take the story this direction, or take the story this direction. Just like one of those really cool comic-books, where you say you-know, if you want the world to end, go to page seven, or if you want to save the world, go to page twenty-three. And it’s got all that built into it, so you can tell a different story every time.
PK: As far as the technology, I know you submitted the apps for the Apple store, is this also going to be compatible with the Android market?
David: Yes! The Android, thank god the Android is a little easier to program for, the approval process there is usually about half a day, or a day, and Apple takes a little bit longer, so we wanted to get that one started.
But our goal is to have this product available for the RocketHub community middle of August, and then to have it in store later in September. But the RocketHub guys will get the best deal, as being the early adopters for it.
PK: As far as RocketHub, will contributors get any special incentives included?
David: Yeah! There’s a lot of cool stuff, there’s kinda of like a fun thing. Everyone who sponsors it, will get a video from the lady who was evil character Siren Electra. We also have the ability to get the downloadable app in January, and we also have a couple really cool big prizes. One is they can have dinner with the cast in New York, in the middle of February during the toy fair, and we’ll give them passes to see all the cool toys that all the other companies have done at the show.
You normally have to be part of the trade to get in there, but we’ll get’em in there as one of the members of our company, so they’ll have dinner with the cast, they’ll do that. We have another cool thing, which is you can have a magic show done for you and your friends in LA, by the guy who showed me the magic show, that got me to want to do this product.
So those are kinda the big picture ones, and there’s other ones where you can buy multiple kits and other deals along the way.
PK: Regardless of how this particular product works out, do you think you’ll try to expand more into other magical based toys?
David: You know, what I find in the toy industry, is you gotta have something great. Like I always have people say, “David, can you tell me by category, are you going to expand into this category? Are you going to add two things? Are you going to add three things? Are you going to do six new games, or four new games?” And that’s probably like the MBA approach of figuring out how to run your business, and I can’t run my business that way, I’m not that good, I’m just a toymaker at heart!
And so what I do, and some of the people around here, is we scour the globe looking for great toys. Either ones we invent, I feel like Indiana Jones of the toy searchers, where you’re just out there and meeting with people; and we’ve been to Hong Kong, Japan, everywhere in the U.S, all over Europe, England, India – everywhere, looking for cool ideas. And what normally happens is, the coolest ideas, we end up doing.
So if we can find other really cool ideas, like I would not have done just a regular magic set. But if I can find something to make it really, really cool, we’ll do it. So that’s more along our focus, and doing three more magic sets is to find something great.
PK: It seems like you have a really strong passion for the magic side of the toys, is that something you’ve always had?
David: Well it’s funny, my first job, I worked for Exxon. And believe this is why I love my toy job so much. My job, if you can believe it, was two years after the Valdez spill, my job was to sell Exxon oil to Alaskan fishermen. And for some reason, they didn’t want to buy it, can you imagine? They just weren’t interested.
One of the guys I worked with, was a magician. He was a close up magician, who taught me my very first thing of how to do card tricks, and I’m not a great magician, but I can do some small amount of it. And it’s super, super cool. And it’s always something where you can go to the small magic shops, or you go to the Toys R Us in Times Square, and you see a demo. And it’s so cool, but it’s felt like, it’s an area of toys that has such great potential, that is really underutilized.
So definitely when I saw this toy, it brought back that inner passion for magic I had, from selling Exxon Oil to Alaskan fishermen, and brought back that spark that I wanted to get back on the market somehow.
PK: Aside from the sales aspect of selling as many units as possible. Is there a hope to inspire a greater love of magic with the younger crowds out there?
David: Yeah, it’s interesting if you look at the big picture of the toy industry. Everyone is wondering if the toy industry will survive; you know you’ve got an iTouch or an iPad, or smart-phone, and you can play games on there, and you can do all this other stuff with electronics.
And I have, my big picture passion is, I believe is the physical experience kids have with toys, can’t be duplicated. And as much as I love the computer and the iPad, and the iPhone, and all that stuff. We’ve got to find an interesting way to connect with kids, and tell stories, and put it together. I think magic is a great way to do it, because it’s a way of making in-person communications, and also teaching a cool skill of how to do it right. So I have passion for kids having a great experience with toys, which I believe is slowly kind of drifting away.
Not because kids don’t want the toys, or don’t need them, but because people perceive electronics have kind of taken over. So it’s my job to get that physical experience back to kids, and people from other toy companies, I’m not the Lone Ranger in that, I think we’re all trying to make that pitch to out there to kids, and to parents.
PK: That was something that definitely intrigued me about it, because I know there’s a lot of concern that children and people in general are becoming completely obsessed with the phones, and tablets and such. And this is a kind of a unique and interesting way to combine the old and new school board-games with modern technology.
David: I think you’re exactly right, and I think you know, you can’t put your head in the sand with all this technology stuff, and think it’s going to go away. But I think you gotta bring the physical stuff back to it, you gotta bring the bring the person-to-person communication back, you gotta bring the thing, where you touch the toy, you feel it and do stuff as well. And the idea to communicate while in groups.
You know, this company is small, I think we now have nine-people in the U.S office. And it’s amazing how many people I interview who can’t hold a conversation. You try to talk to them, you’re trying to ask them questions, and they’re just not used to it. And I’ve got two kids who are twelve and sixteen, and I worry the same about them, despite all the stuff I’ve done with them. So I think it’s an area where we’ve all got to work on it together, and the great thing about toys is you get to have fun while you do it. Because you know what, you can’t complain, “I got to play with toys all day.”
PK: Now of course, the model you’ve been showing me, is a test model. And one question I would have is; since you’re having to place the phone in the cradle here, will there eventually be adapters to add like speakers, to increase the sound output?
David: Well the sound output, I think you’re gonna have to use the aftermarket stuff. You know, there’s so many things you can do, Bluetooth can add a speaker to. Actually, when we presented it to the trade, we Bluetooth’d are way to these big speakers, so it had this big huge, you know like when you go into the movie theater, and hear like that thing that does the THX, or whatever the sound is by.
And you’re like, “whoa this is awesome!” So I don’t think we need to invent that for the toy, I think that Bluetooth stuff to big speakers is already out there, to make that really cool.
PK: And what is the basic age-range for this particular product?
David: This product is age rated for eight and up, and we think the kids who will play with it are in the neighborhood of eight to fourteen, and of course I’m hoping a couple of adults will like it as much as I do to. But that’s the core age.
PK: I can absolutely see how adults with an inner-child trying to get out, will be fascinated by this, especially since you can make your own movies. Now when you use your own videos, can it be anything? Or does it have to be a specific format?
David: What happens is, the app has a way, it has a section in there that tells you how to take the video. And normally what you do is, is you take the video of your body, and it puts it on the body of the character in there. It wont be all of you, it will be mostly your face, and the biggest thing is having a solid background behind you, so it’s easy for the app to clip it out and put your face in there. But it’s the very cool part about it, for you to become the hologram and to become part of it. It think that’s one of the most interesting things about the whole toy.
The only other things I’d tell you as part of telling the story, we’re going to get these displays out into stores, where people can push a button and for fifteen or thirty-seconds, see the holograms in action. So you can obviously look at our videos on RocketHub, to see what’s going on, and learn a little more about the toy. And probably in early September, these display boxes will be in the top Toys R Us stores, probably about a third of them, so you can see it that way too.
But I encourage people to go to RocketHub, search “HolograFX,” and look at the item if you get a chance, and we’d love it if you’d sponsor us, and get one of these sets early. And check it out that way, and get more information about it, and if it sounds like something cool to you, please help us out and share the information with your friends. Because I believe this is one, even though it’s new-school technology, the way to tell our story is going to be old-school person-to-person, so anything people who like it, can do to spread the word, we’d really appreciate.
PK: Alright, well I think this looks incredible, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it in stores. And of course, thank you for taking time to speak with me today for the interview.
This is PK, at Goliath Games in Plano, Texas. And you’re listening to Krypton Radio. Y’all have a good day!
If you’re interested in contributing to Goliath’s fundraiser, they’ve only reached $1,440 of their $25,000 goal. And with only 35 days left on their campaign, they’re going to need your help to make this toy a reality!