"Buddy Ball", for those new to the game, consists of 4 or 5 players sitting in a circle around our 87-lb. dog Buddy, who is by and large laying on the floor on a soft spot of carpet. We sit “criss-cross-applesauce”, of course. The only playing pieces are a ball – the semi-deflated $2 vinyl ball about 10” in diameter that you get in a big bin at WalMart – and Buddy.
Players take turns calling out another player’s name, then bouncing the ball (softly) off of Buddy in a way that makes it a challenge for the named player to catch it. The only rules are: 1) You have to catch it before it hits the floor, and 2) you can’t throw it so hard as to motivate Buddy to get up and leave.
We can play this game for 20-30 minutes, and every time it’s a total hoot. There’s always something funny – either the noises Buddy makes to voice his discontent, or when he decides to roll over on his back, or when one of the kids isn’t looking and gets hit in the head. Even we parents get a laugh out of the game, and I usually participate actively. (Mom, not so much…)
Now, if you were to drill a hole through two floors and down into our basement, you would find hundreds of other toys and games. Many of them are “award winners” or best sellers. There’s “Loopz”, “Bullseye Bounce” and “Bop-It” for the type-A crowd. Every "Cranium" game for the feel-good crowd. A smattering of Blue Orange, ThinkFun, Gamewright, University Games, etc. – stuff for the whole family. My job has afforded access to a collection of the best games ever marketed.
And yet, we return to “Buddy Ball”.
But isn’t “Innovation” better? What about the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that went into developing all those games in our collection? At every conference I attend, industry pundits all decry the dearth of “real innovation”.
Here’s a thought: perhaps we should separate “innovation” from “novelty”. There are plenty of entries in the market each year that use technology or materials to provide novelty. They have a “cool factor” that drives initial purchase, but lack the staying power of truly innovative products.
Innovative products drive behavior beyond the purchase. They deliver on the promise of providing a better experience, expanded thought, or enhanced emotional well-being.
I’m not going to claim that “Buddy Ball” is innovative. I will say that it brings our family together in laughter – every time – for the price of a $2 ball and a willing dog.