Inventor Profile: Mary Jo Reutter

Mary Jo and GamesLast November was the Toy and Game Inventor Awards better known as the TAGIEs and the 2010 winner for “Excellence in Game Design” was the lovely Mary Jo Reutter.  She’s invented Sumo Ham Slam by Gamewright, Flip-A-Longs by the Fat Brain Toy Co., Laundry Jumble by Educational Insights, and many others.  And luckily for all of us she has gracefully agreed to submit to an interview.  Here’s what she had to say…

1. How did you get started inventing games?

I started designing games before I realized that’s what I was doing. I was creative director for a new media company, and our big client was the California Science Center (museum of science and industry). One of my jobs was to find ways to get people to stop and look at interactive kiosks (the computer-based touch screen kind), and to want to learn about subjects they might otherwise think are boring —  like hazardous waste or carpooling. The best way to do this was to present the content as a simple game. That came very naturally to me, and with each project I took, I kept moving more and more towards anything related to games.

2. When you first got into the industry what surprised you the most?

How nice all the people are!

3. Being an inventor is tough, is there anything you wish you would have been told or is there something you wish you would have figured out sooner?

That would be a big list. Since I never worked inside any of the big game companies I had to figure out how things work from the outside. I did have some amazing encouragement early on that kept me going and helped me to slowly figure out the processes (which I’m still learning).  The trickiest to learn from the outside is the development cycle. Knowing which of my ideas to work on is probably the most difficult to figure out. As relationships build, I get more of an idea of what fits best for whom. I think I’m starting to catch on.

4. You’re a very prolific inventor, is there one game you’re most proud of?

Laundry Jumble BoxThat’s an interesting question. I’ve learned to let my babies go once they’re out of my hands – I don’t have an emotional attachment. I’m always willing to help out as much as I can through the development, but I happily step aside to let the companies do what they do best. One of the things that thrills me is when a company does great art! Sumo Ham Slam, Laundry Jumble and Buck Buck Moose are great examples of what art can do to make a game appealing. All three were very close to my original design, but the art took them way over the top.  It was also satisfying to work closely on the Flip-A-Longs series and I hope we’ll be doing more of those.  But I don’t have a single favorite.

5. What game do you wish you would have invented and why?

TabooTaboo. And Apples to Apples. Both have brilliant, simple game mechanics. I love Taboo because they got the whole thing right. A great name that’s provocative yet descriptive. The logo was fantastic in it’s day, and still holds up. The game is fun for a wide variety of people, has great replayability and no person is made to feel foolish (which is perhaps even more true of Apples to Apples).  And I love Taboo’s little buzzer (every time it comes out of the box, at least one person has to demonstrate how well it works as a shaver) – I just love the chachkies that come with games.

Mary Jo Reutter6. How did you get your TAGIE award home?  Did you hold it in your lap the whole flight back?  And where do you keep your TAGIE award now?

Ha! Yes, I thought about wearing it around my neck or as a tiara, but it’s far too heavy. I didn’t have to go through that crazy new TSA scanner, or they would have pulled me aside for a more thorough frisking. It was surprisingly easy to get through security. I guess there have not been any airport threats-by-award…yet. Right now it’s front and center on my entertainment center in my living room. I’m just off to give it another polish now (and another pinch to my arm to make sure I’m not dreaming).

I’ll post part 2 later in the week where I will review some of Mary Jo’s games!


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  1. Gina Manola

    What a great scoop! I met Mary Jo for the first time at this year’s TAGIE Awards. She is one of the nicest people I’ve met in the industry and I was thrilled to see her win the TAGIE. Laundry Jumble is an adorable game and she’s right about the design and illustration—it’s a beautifully conceived and developed game.

  2. Brian Turtle

    So happy for Mary Jo!
    she is honestly one of the nicest and happiest people I know!
    You know the expression “Attitudes are contageous”? Well, try spending some time with Mary Jo and NOT feeling all giddy and excited!
    Her enthusiasm is infectious, and she is just a joy to know.

    see you all soon!

  3. karven

    Her ideas are fresh, people were surprised. Her people are particularly enthusiastic. She always thought of others can not think of a place. She can give parents bring good things, those things can help them teach their children. Like building blocks game toyswill on the same.

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