David Wexler is a toy inventor, film director and also happens to be the son of the inventor of Connect 4! He is the inventor of the award winning strategy game Fish Club, released by Blue Orange this year where two families of fish go head to head for the best spot in the aquarium.
Here is our conversation:
Nicole: What interested you in the game industry and how did you get started?
David: I grew up in and around the toy industry. My father Howard, inventor of Connect 4, had an office in the apartment building where we lived. I would often head downstairs to his office, a converted apartment that was like Santa’s Workshop. I was close with the artists, model makers and seamstresses that worked there, and loved setting up my own area where I could draw, work with clay, and paint. A lot of that creativity seeped in, probably subconsciously, throughout my childhood.
When I graduated college with a degree in Communication Arts with an emphasis on film, I immediately began making movies, commercials, and television shows. Soon I realized that a paper script was no different than a paper (or cardboard) model of a board game, and trying to sell both were equally as daunting! The skill set was very similar for me, and I realized I could create a niche in the “entertainment” business – noticing that lines were being blurred between toys, games, film, and television.
Nicole: How did you come up with the idea of Fish Club? What was your process of creating Fish club and how long did it take?
David: I came up with the idea for Fish Club some time in 2017. I was clearing out a storage facility, and unearthed some clear, plastic “tanks” that my father and I had used for various projects in development years prior. In my office I keep an area of assorted parts and tools (dice, pawns, etc.). Things to create games. I kept staring at this thing that looked like a tank, and immediately thought of a fish tank, or an aquarium. I always keep foam core on hand and began to create shapes – I thought about fish, and buoys, and scuba divers – things you would find in a tank. For my first model I used plastic rings (meant to look like life preservers), they were just on hand.
The idea would be to gather a group of your life preservers before your opponent as these various sea creatures got in the way. In the second model I decided to swap out fish for life preservers, and after play testing it a bunch it became clear that a curved bottom would add a nice randomizing sea floor to the game – giving it a bit of unpredictable action. I called it Fishy Tank – it became Fish Club through the development process with Blue Orange. Fish Club, from the first day I built the original prototype, felt like a special game. It played clean, I loved the characters, it had great replayability. I pictured it on shelves early on in the process – when that happens, you know you have something special.
Nicole: What makes Fish Club a unique game?
David: I think what makes Fish Club unique is that very young children, who might not even totally understand the gameplay, can enjoy dropping the characters and watching them bounce around their tank. There is also a satisfying aspect that if you cannot cluster together five fish, there can still be a winner – the one who has the largest cluster. This is a good way to prevent too many “ties,” which are ultimately unsatisfying. I love that Fish Club looks like an aquarium when you are done playing! No need to store it (I always hated putting games away in boxes!). Just leave it on your shelf, it looks like you have a new pet.
Nicole: What inspires you to invent?
David: The first seed of an idea, and my first drawing, as I begin to plan out the game – that’s the best part. Selling it, and having it do well, that’s the cherry on top, but it’s such a tough industry. If you don’t love the creating, you’re in trouble – there is a A LOT of rejection. What inspires me to invent is coming up with a story (in this case, two families of fish, going head to head, to fight for a new spot in the aquarium). I am a storyteller as a filmmaker, and that has translated naturally into working in the toy industry – even if the game doesn’t have great characters like Fish Club (currently we even have a Fish Club comic that is released weekly), I try to come up with a backstory (even if it’s just in my mind) for abstract strategy games.
Nicole: What advice would you give to new game creators?
David: It’s very important to love every aspect of the process. As I mentioned, the turn down rate is about 90 (if not 95%)! You need to have thick skin, and not take anything personally. Every successful concept or sale I’ve had was a NO before it was a YES. It takes a lot of perseverance and knowing that having a great product is only part of the battle. Timing, good design, and knowing the marketplace is just as important.
Nicole: What was your favorite game growing up and why?
David: I was lucky to be surrounded by a ton of wonderful games and toys growing up. Some of my favorite toys were products that my father invented that never even made it to market! I have wonderful memories of play testing new creations with my brother, family, and friends, all the time.
Nicole: Do you have any new game projects coming up?
David: It’s important to ALWAYS have new games and projects on deck and in development. I am constantly creating, pitching, and selling. In Spring 2021 I am releasing a line of six games for a wonderful company called Galison. The line is called Wexler Studios – three dice games, two card games, and a game called Paper Gravity. All of them are sold in beautifully designed tins. I am very excited about this line.
Fish Club has won several awards this year including The Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, the Mom’s Choice Gold Seal Award and the Creative Child Magazine 2020 Game of the Year Award in the Strategy category. Fish Club is also a finalist for the prestigious TOTY 2021 Award (Toy of the Year) in the Game category. You can vote for Fish Club here: https://toyawards.org/toyaward/custom/GameToy.aspx…
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