One area of interest for creative individuals, like the students of Exceptional Minds, might be Product Design. Essentially, a product designer: Identifies opportunities for new products, analyzes how a new product ties in with market needs and consumer preferences, and sets design requirements based on briefs from internal teams and external partners (Pavlou). In this kind of work creativity, teamwork, and sensitivity to market trends are key. Even big companies, like Hasbro, can make mistakes. In addition to growing up with Hasbro’s toys and board games, I also played computer games from their short-lived video game division, my favorite being the Tonka games. For as short a time as Hasbro made video games, Hasbro Interactive had a big impact on my childhood and the childhoods of many.
Since the introduction of Mr. Potato Head in 1952, Hasbro has been a dominant force in the toy industry. Hasbro created many beloved toys, such as GI Joe, the Transformers, and My Little Pony, as well as several popular board games through their acquisitions of Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers. Hasbro set its sights on the video game market in 1995, and thus, Hasbro Interactive was founded.
Hasbro subsidiary Milton Bradley had experience in video games, having purchased General Consumer in 1983, the creators of the Vectrex. Though technologically impressive with its built-in vector display, Vectrex failed to make a dent in the market, and Milton Bradley was sold to Hasbro the following year. In the early 1990s, during the heat of the console war between Sega and Nintendo, Hasbro attempted to break into the console market. They set their sights on creating a VR system with fantastic 3D worlds made possible through a powerful microprocessor (Trimble 3). Unfortunately, it turned out that such technology could not be affordably produced for decades to come, so the project was nixed.
By 1995, personal computers were becoming more affordable. Alan Hassenfeld, grandson of Hasbro co-founder Henry Hassenfeld and brother of the late Hasbro CEO Stephen Hassenfeld, was in charge of Hasbro at the time. To head up the new video games division, he chose Tom Dusenberry from Parker Brothers. Dusenberry’s experience in board games proved valuable in the new venture.
Figure 1: box art, Monopoly (1995, Hasbro Interactive, MobyGames)
A strong start:
The initial offerings were mostly adaptations of Hasbro’s popular board games. The first of these was Monopoly in 1995. Created by Command and Conquer creator Westwood Studios, this adaptation of the popular board game accompanied the gameplay with 3D animations and midi music, supported network play, and let players customize the rules. Hasbro followed this with even more adaptations, including Boggle and Battleship, which expanded on their source material with new gameplay modes, only possible in a video game. Monopoly itself got a number of revisions, one based on Star Wars and one based on the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.
Figure 2: box art, Tonka Construction (1996, Hasbro Interactive, MobyGames)
Over the years, Hasbro Interactive made additional games based on Hasbro properties. Tonka Construction was released as part of Hasbro’s line of Edutainment games published under the Playskool brand, marking the start of a long-running franchise based on their popular line of toy trucks. Some of these included Tonka Search & Rescue, which plays similar to Construction but with fire and rescue missions; Tonka Garage, which explored vehicle maintenance and let players build their own vehicle; and Tonka Raceway, where gamers could import their vehicles from Tonka Garage and race them (MobyGames).
Figure 3: box art, Frogger (1997, Hasbro Interactive, MobyGames)
If Hasbro were to grow as a game studio, they knew they would have to move past making games based solely on Hasbro’s properties. They tried this in 1997 with Frogger by Sony Cambridge, a reimagining of the popular 80s arcade game. Although the frustrating time limit, poor level design, and tedious gameplay irked critics (Douglas, 1997) , the game still sold incredibly well and spawned a sequel by Blitz Interactive (MobyGames).
In 1998, Hasbro Interactive acquired Atari Interactive, granting access to more arcade classics like Centipede, Missile Command, Q*Bert, and the one that started it all, Pong. These were all published under the Atari brand. Although these old IPs never regained their former dominance, it is interesting that even back in the 90s game companies were using nostalgia as a marketing tool.
Another notable acquisition by Hasbro Interactive that year was Microprose, a company specializing in simulation, most notably Civilization. In 1999, Microprose and Hasbro released Rollercoaster Tycoon. The brainchild of game designer Chris Sawyer, Rollercoaster Tycoon has players build and manage various amusement parks, each with their own goals. Though not the first amusement park simulation game, it’s definitely one of the most popular, with players becoming engrossed in constructing their own coasters and managing their parks.
Figure 4: box art, RollerCoaster Tycoon (1999, Hasbro Interactive, MobyGames)
So, what went wrong?
It mostly came down to the company spending too much money and not getting adequate returns on their investments. At one point, Dusenberry planned to acquire Electronic Arts, which very well could have changed the course of gaming history. Unfortunately, despite a few hits, these buyouts did not lead to profitability. To add insult to injury, many Hasbro Interactive games were being returned by customers.
One of Hasbro Interactive’s last efforts was browser-based games. Because they had a multitude of board games and 80’s arcade games under them, this should have been a perfect fit. Heading up this venture was Al Verrecchia, who later became CEO of Hasbro. Initially, they were going to partner with AOL, but when that fell through, they joined the Go To Network. Unfortunately, the hiring market was difficult then, with so many companies going online, and the venture was put on hold (Trimble 11).
By 2000, Hasbro as a whole was losing money, with multiple products underperforming. In 2001, Hasbro Interactive was sold to French game publisher Infogrames (Trimble 12). As part of the buyout, Infogrames licensed Hasbro’s properties, allowing Hasbro to keep a foot in the games industry, even if they were no longer publishing. In 2003, Infogrames branded itself as Atari Interactive and has kept its name since (MobyGames).
Today, Hasbro is stronger than ever as a company, with Transformers being a blockbuster film franchise, My Little Pony spawning a whole subculture, and their board games still being a big part of American culture. Their properties are still released as video games for almost every platform; it’s no longer Hasbro Interactive’s name on the box.
“Atari Interactive, Inc..” MobyGames, https://www.mobygames.com/company/atari-interactive-inc
Douglas, Adam. “Frogger.” IGN, 4 Nov. 1997, https://www.ign.com/articles/1997/11/04/frogger-4
Pavlou, Christina. “Product Designer Job Description.” Recruiting Resources: How to Recruit and Hire Better, 25 Apr. 2022, https://resources.workable.com/product-designer-job-description
Trimble, Chris. “Hasbro Interactive.” Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Dartmouth College, 22 Mar. 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20050529034125/http://mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/
“Cover Art or Packaging Material from Frogger (1997).” MobyGames, https://www.mobygames.com/game/1517/frogger/cover/group-2044/cover-1912/.
“Cover Art or Packaging Material from Monopoly (1995).” MobyGames, https://www.mobygames.com/game/867/monopoly/cover/group-3323/cover-27073/.
“Cover Art or Packaging Material from RollerCoaster Tycoon (1999).” MobyGames, https://www.mobygames.com/game/288/rollercoaster-tycoon/cover/group-4236/cover-362/.
“Cover Art or Packaging Material from Tonka Construction (1996).” MobyGames, https://www.mobygames.com/game/14902/tonka-construction/cover/group-270822/cover-685214/.