Bop It! Twist It! Pull It!

How a riff on a TV remote control led to a groundbreaking interactive toy. By Robert Klara

In 1993, toy inventor Dan Klitsner was sitting in his San Francisco studio, looking for a hit. Sure enough, he would find one—one of the most successful and enduring toys of the era—but it would take a while to nail it. Or, we might say, to bop it.

Klitsner’s idea was to encourage kids parked on the sofa in front of the TV to actually move a little. His solution was called the Channel Bopper, a hammer-shaped remote control that required physical actions to control the TV—whack the hammer to change the channels, twist a knob to adjust the volume, and so on. “It was to make kids move when changing the channels—that was the idea,” Klitsner recalled on a recent afternoon, riding a bus over the Golden Gate Bridge. “Pull, twist, bop—those three commands.”

Regrettably for the young inventor, though, scouts for the toy companies weren’t nibbling. After tinkering with his prototype a bit more—including an ill-fated experiment in adding an LCD screen—the idea hit him: What if he reversed the whole scheme to have the game control the kid instead of the kid controlling the game?

The result was a foam-rubber hammer (it would soon become a wand), equipped with various movable doohickeys, that issued a series of commands that had to be followed in order: “Twist it!” “Pull it!” and “Bop it!”—the latter of which became the toy’s name.

And, after Hasbro licensed the concept and tweaked it a little more, it became a hit. Bop It! appeared in stores in 1996 and, over the ensuing two decades, has multiplied into a dizzying array of variants, including Bop It! Blast, Bop It! Bounce and Bop It! Smash. There was a Bratz-themed Bop It! and a Tetris Bop It! There have been microsize versions, including a keychain. Hasbro’s most recent update includes “new action-oriented Bop It! moves for today’s modern gamers,” with commands including “Answer it!” and “Selfie it!” All told, by Klitsner’s estimate, some 30 million Bop It!s have sold since the rollout.

As a toy, Bop It! essentially built on the popularity of Simon, the legendary Milton Bradley game introduced in 1978 that required kids to memorize an ever-lengthening series of flashes on a quadrant of colored pads, then repeat them back by punching the appropriate ones. By contrast, Bop It! demands that players repeat one command at a time—and make a move to accomplish each one. “It involves motion, and that’s the appeal,” said Nic Ricketts, curator of the Strong Museum of Play, which has several Bop It!s in its permanent collection. “If you take that to its extreme, you have Simon at the beginning, Bop It! in the middle and the Nintendo Wii at the end.”

Strong Museum vp of collections Chris Bensch added that Bop It! is significant because it “uses electronics in a way [that] makes you play in the physical world.” But the reason it’s fun, he said, is because the toy’s relentlessly accelerating commands guarantee that the player will screw up: “It’s silly—and it makes you laugh.”

Which, after all, had been Klitsner’s goal all along: The remote that controls the kid. Even though Bop It! is a generation old, Klitsner believes it’s still popular because people have always liked laughing at what other people do (YouTube, anyone?). “The secret to Bop It! is, from the beginning, it always had a humorous tone,” he said. “You only have to do what you’re told, [but] you get nervous, then you laugh and others laugh with you.”

The original sketch for Bop It! eventually became the baton-shaped toy Hasbro put on store shelves.

The original sketch for Bop It! eventually became the baton-shaped toy Hasbro put on store shelves.

The original sketch for Bop It! eventually became the baton-shaped toy Hasbro put on store shelves.

The original sketch for Bop It! eventually became the baton-shaped toy Hasbro put on store shelves.

As the toy’s inventor, Dan Klitsner (above) makes money by licensing his creation. Most recently, he’s worked with Universal on a Minions version and with Disney on a Star Wars Bop It!

As the toy’s inventor, Dan Klitsner (above) makes money by licensing his creation. Most recently, he’s worked with Universal on a Minions version and with Disney on a Star Wars Bop It!

Road Rage When Klitsner needed a sound effect for when a Bop It! player made a mistake, he used Homer Simpson’s famous “D’oh!”—at least in his original pitch. The official game employed another groan. When the inventor told Matt Groening this story some years later, the Simpsons creator confessed he was already quite familiar with Bop It! Not long after, a suspiciously similar game called Bonk-It! appeared in Episode 448, which aired in November 2009. In it, Bart, Lisa and Maggie play the game in the backseat of the family car until the game drives Homer so crazy he runs off the road. One has to wonder how many real-life parents have come close to this same outcome.

Road Rage When Klitsner needed a sound effect for when a Bop It! player made a mistake, he used Homer Simpson’s famous “D’oh!”—at least in his original pitch. The official game employed another groan. When the inventor told Matt Groening this story some years later, the Simpsons creator confessed he was already quite familiar with Bop It! Not long after, a suspiciously similar game called Bonk-It! appeared in Episode 448, which aired in November 2009. In it, Bart, Lisa and Maggie play the game in the backseat of the family car until the game drives Homer so crazy he runs off the road. One has to wonder how many real-life parents have come close to this same outcome.

Publish date: October 9, 2018 https://stage.adweek.com/brand-marketing/bop-it-was-supposed-to-be-a-riff-on-the-remote-control/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT