Mark Flitman: Video Game Producer & Toy Developer Speaks on Toys, Games, and the Industry

by Julia DeKorte | 19 May 2024

Biographies and Interviews

(POP's Julia deKorte) Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Mark! Let's get right into it... Why and how did you get into the toy industry?

I always loved toys, since I was a kid, and I have always wanted to be in the toy industry, but it’s very hard to get into it. It’s very closed, and sometimes secretive. So my way, finally, to get into it, was through my experience in video games. Hasbro was looking to get into video games, so they thought I would be a benefit to them.


What are your roles and responsibilities in the toy industry?

When I started at Hasbro, I started in research and development. It was a group of experienced toy creators and developers that worked with various teams at Hasbro as well as concepts that they came up with themselves. So that was a great start.


After a few years, that group broke up and people kind of dispersed into different areas. A few of us hung together, and one of my bosses started a group at Hasbro called CakeMix, which was an internal video production house. Matthew Malone, who was really an inspirational mentor to me, said, “Why don’t we do this on the inside, and save money, and be able to be present all the time when we’re making these videos or commercials and creating maybe even animations that could turn into television shows?” So, I was part of that group.


And then my boss, Matthew, he said, “You’ve got to create your own future!” Which is really rare, in any company, for a boss to say, “Find a place! Find something!” So I started to realize that all the development teams at Hasbro, when they needed audio, whether it was music, sound effects, or voice for toys, they all had to start from scratch. None of them knew where to go, none of them knew where to find talent. So I said, “Well, why don’t I try and create a hub where they can all come and get their audio needs done in one place?” And that way, I’ll find the talent for them, I’ll work on the scripts, I’ll direct the sessions if they want, whether it’s finding voice talent, whether it’s finding dogs or cats or horses for furReal toys, whether its finding music for My Little Pony or Sesame Street, or working with them on dialogue to create a play pattern for a toy, it was all in one place.


What’s the most exciting thing you’ve gotten to do in your whole career?

When I was at Acclaim, it was a young company that was very successful. It was like a big family. It was one of those companies where the CEO and Presidents were approachable. At a lot of companies, you know who they are but you don’t really see them. At Acclaim, you could go up to their office, or on a daily basis if I was working on an important title, they’d be calling me multiple times a day to see where things were at and how things were going. So that was a great experience. And they had great licenses: Simpsons, Marvel, Wrestling, relationships with all the movie studios, had all the sports titles, they had a contract with Midway games so anything that Midway developed in the arcades they could court to the home market.


What is it about the toy and game industry as a whole that you love?

I love the creativity. I love the fact that you’re making people happy. Toys and video games help people get through the tough times and escape.


What has been your biggest achievement?

It sounds kinda sappy, but my biggest achievement is either recently I found that people were influenced or grew up with some of the games or toys I made, and that’s always nice when you can influence someone, or they tell you how happy they were when they purchased something that you were apart of.


But, I have two beautiful girls, one just graduated college and she’s going to be a teacher, and the other one graduated the Art Institute in Chicago and she’s very creative and I’m just happy that I’ve got two kids with good heads on their shoulders.


What advice would you give to someone that’s looking to break into the toy industry?

Have a skill. Whether it’s an art skill where you can work on concepts or an engineering skill, those things will help you get into the door sooner. Have a specific skill, and not just that you think you’re the most creative person out there and you have the greatest ideas.


What is your favorite video game you’ve ever gotten to work on?

I really loved making the Littlest Pet Shop digitals. Before I got involved, there was no real goal in the game, it was just a time filler. And from my experience in college and graduate school in filmmaking and story-telling, and my experience in video games, I wanted to create digital toys that had a story behind them and specific goals, so when little kids played them, they knew why they were going what they were doing.


As far as video games, Marvel games were create, some of the Simpsons titles I enjoyed, and working on the Wrestling titles was a lot of fun. And with any of those, I tried to make a more in-depth storyline.


You moved from Chicago to California to New York and more. What advice would you give to someone who might be nervous to move across the country to somewhere they don’t know anyone?

The first move is the hardest. But once you do it, it’s the best thing you’re ever going to do in your life. You meet different creative people and friends along the way, and then you have friends all over the place. I can’t tell you not to be scared or tentative about the first move, but I can tell you once I do that first one, the rest are easy.


How do you recharge or take a break?

Sometimes I play video games, but sometimes you want to get away from all that. When Toys ‘R’ Us was still a thing, I would go a few times a week and walk around the aisles and see what my products were doing or what the competition was. I also enjoy movies, but because most of what I do is indoors, I think getting out is a great thing. Getting fresh air and sunshine. I got a kayak recently, so I’ve loved that.


What advice would you give to someone who’s graduating high school right now?

I’m 100% for the college experience, for a number of reasons. For the education, for the experience of being outside of your home, and for the social skills you learn. Meeting people all over the place, it’s just a good experience all around. Hopefully it’ll make you a stronger, more solid individual, more aware of the world.


Or, if you know exactly what you want to do, go for it, but be driven. Be creative.


What was your favorite toy or game as a child?

Frisbee. I still remember the day that came out. Silly Putty. Super Ball. Slinky. The Kenner’s Give-A-Show Projector.


Do you have a mantra that you live by?

I just try and make people happy around me, not cause any trouble, and work at making myself happy. For a lot of your life you’re working to make other people happy, but I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’ve said, “You know what? It’s my time.”


What or who inspires you?

I’m inspired by creative people that are talented and take their jobs seriously and really excel in what they do.


Tell me something about yourself that you think would surprise people.

I’m actually a bit shy and prefer to be quiet at gatherings and just observe.


Finish the sentence: I’m lucky because…

I’m lucky because I got to do what I wanted to do in my life, made a living, have two wonderful girls, and at this point in my life, I’m healthy.


Any last thoughts?

Stay creative. Stick to what you believe in. Keep trying to make better toys. 


For more about Mark Flitman, check out his book It's Not All Fun & Games.

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