The Toy Book caught up with Bop It creator Dan Klitsner for the 25th anniversary of the auditory and tactile toy. First released in 1996 by Hasbro’s Parker Brothers division, the handheld game became a sensation and has gone through many iterations, and continues to engage kids today.
Toy Book: How did the idea for Bop It come about?
Dan Klitsner: I was a freelance industrial designer designing products for the electronics company Memorex. One of my projects was to design TV remote controls. It occurred to me to do a line of toylike universal remotes for kids … There was one other idea quite different from the rest called the Channel Bopper. I thought of it as a way to make a TV remote fun: You bopped one side of this hammer on the table for channel up, one side for channel down, you pulled on the end of it to turn the TV on or off … At one point, someone said, “Maybe it’s not a remote.” It got me thinking of it being a game.
TB: Was it based on the “Simon Says” principle?
DK: When they say, “Bop It is like Simon Says,” I point out that they are, in fact, opposites. Simon is a stationary, flat, tabletop game that tests your ability to memorize ever-increasing sequences of light patterns using your fingers. In contrast, Bop It is always moving, it’s in your hands, and there is absolutely no memorization … I think the two games use very different parts of your brain and I sometimes wonder if the success of Bop It is partly due to how it somehow captured the difference in generations.
TB: Was Hasbro the clear choice to license the toy with?
DK: I was just fortunate that I pitched it to the legendary Bill Dohrmann [part of Parker Brothers and responsible for developing hundreds of games throughout his career] and that he got it. After I pitched it, I remember how he thoughtfully looked up and said, “We aren’t doing these kinds of games right now, but we should be.” I was equally lucky that very talented industrial designer Bob Welch was assigned the project at Parker Brothers and really brought it to life.
TB: How did you choose the voice of the toy?
DK: Bob Welch was also the first voice of Bop It, inserting his own voice for the words “bop it, twist it,” and “pull it.” Later, when its vocabulary greatly expanded, Hasbro hired various voice actors, including Scott Parkin on Bop It Extreme and Buddy Rubino in 2008, who is still the current voice of Bop It.
TB: How did you go about choosing the new capabilities when the toy went “Extreme”?
DK: It came about when I got a call from Parker Brothers saying that the toy was a hit and what did I have in mind as a follow-up. I’d already been thinking about extreme versions, things with all sorts of extremities that you needed to flick, squeeze, slide, poke, you name it.
DK: When Bop It appeared on SNL, I remember at first thinking, “Oh no, this is embarrassing” because of the subject matter … On the other hand, I’ve heard that all publicity is good publicity, so I think it probably helped. The Simpsons episode I’m most proud of. I had met Matt Groening at a TED conference and he had told me, “You invented Bop It? I hate that game.” We exchanged a signed toy and I still have the one he drew a picture of Bart Simpson on. Lo and behold, the next season of the show there was an episode where it starts out with a Bop It–like device being played in the back seat of the car and Homer goes crazy and throws it out the window, only to have another one thrown back in his window.
TB: At 25 years old, the toy has had a full life. What do you see for the next 25?
DK: For the next 25 years, I’m mostly excited about an initiative my wife, Alicia, and I have started called Bop It for Good. The long-term vision is to find ways to take advantage of Bop It’s unique voice-based gameplay to use the toy to do the most good for worthwhile charitable causes. The first project is called the Bop It Button. September 27 has been declared Bop It Day, and to commemorate this milestone, I’ve spent the entire pandemic independently developing the Button, a brand-new, surprisingly challenging, one-button Bop It game … Bop It is one of the few games that can be played equally well with or without vision, connecting blind and sighted kids through play, sometimes making what they need most — a friend.