How did Nerf Blasters evolve from the original 1989 Blast-A-Ball to one of only three Hasbro toy lines generating in excess of $400 million annually for Hasbro? How have hit mobile games like PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz become evergreen successes despite competing with over 100,000 other mobile games on the Apple App Store? The answer is continuous evolution in design.
As Jason Fagone of Wired Magazine wrote in the October 2012 article “The Evolution of Nerf,” Brian Jablonski is to Nerf what Jony Ive is to Apple. Jablonski is “an in-house guru” and “the keeper of the brand’s look and feel”. The evolution of Nerf Blasters started back in 1989 and 1991 when the first couple came out, the Blast-A-Ball and Bow ‘n’ Arrow respectively. I grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs warring with my brothers with these early toys. My mother worked for Minneapolis-based Tonka Toys which owned Nerf at the time. She had this to say about the early Nerf Blaster designs, “The Nerf line was a hit from the onset. It provided hours of playtime taking advantage of a typical male play pattern.” Through Jablonski’s design efforts, the Nerf Blasters have never been more popular. My soon-to-be three year old son’s favorite toy is his Nerf gun. For his birthday, I ordered the N-Strike Vulcan EBF-25 to satisfy his hunger for Nerf warfare. The blasters have gotten so popular, there is now a cult of enthusiasts whom mod their blasters.
Like Nerf guns, to be an evergreen success as PopCap’s Giordano Contestabile put it at his recent GDC Online session, hit mobile games require constant updating and design enhancements. For example, recent tweaks to the user interface for Bejeweled Blitz’s Daily Spin have increased its daily revenue by 131%.
Other mobile games are seeing similar results when improving their user interfaces. Riptide Games’ My Pet Zombie saw increased the click-through rate (CTR) for cross promotions from 6.6% to 32%. Just by testing and optimizing the creative, 4.8 times more users clicked the image. In another iOS game, NativeX worked with the developer through three rounds of design iterations and increased revenue by 650%. Like the Nerf Blasters, the future of the mobile game industry is going to be forged by long lasting brands that leverage continuous evolution and sequels.
Next time you walk through a game developer studio and see all of the Nerf Blasters everywhere, let it serve as a reminder to the importance of continuous design evolution.