Big ideas in little form: President of Super Impulse, Alan Dorfman, talks tiny toys and Tetris

Why is Tetris perfect for World’s Smallest toys? We put Alan Dorfman under the microscope.

Alan, you’re the President of Super Impulse. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to welcome you…
Thank you! I’m just as pleased to be chosen for your interview; it’s an honour.

We’ve been looking to feature you for some time! For those that don’t know, what does Super Impulse create?
At Super Impulse, we design, develop and market toy products from our U.S. office in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and our development office in Columbus, Ohio.

And for what products are you best known?
We’re best known for thinking really small… Our signature product line is World’s Smallest, where we offer licensed, fully functional miniatures of the best-known toys, entertainment and lifestyle products as collectible toys.

Alan Dorfman, Super Impulse, Tetris, Toys & Games, Video Games

Yes, you jolly well do! And the saying “a picture’s worth 1000 words” is certainly true here… We’ll put in a couple of images so people can see how beautiful these things are. What are some of the products you make?
Our products include World’s Smallest Etch A Sketch, Hot Wheels, Rubik’s Cube, Stretch Armstrong, Monopoly… Hundreds more. We also do blind-box collectibles including Wacky Package Minis and Micro Toy Box. Also, we do co-branded Mr. Potato Head – Poptaters KISS, GPK, Bob Ross, The Dude Lebowski, Dwight Schrute, Sonic…

The list goes on! And without wanting to sound like a fanboy, I have to tell you: I absolutely LOVE World’s Smallest! What are some of the licenses you hold?
Pac-Man, Atari 2600, Jenga!, Scrabble, South Park, Beavis & Butthead, Barbie, Tonka, Uno and a whole lot more… Oh yes! We also do Tetris.

Alan Dorfman, Super Impulse, Tetris, Toys & Games, Video Games

Indeed! And tell me: what makes the Tetris brand right for you?
Tetris is right for us because it’s classic, it’s known worldwide… And it’s addictively great.

And why is Tetris such an iconic game, do you think?
I think it’s iconic for all those reasons. It’s also very accessible… Personally, I’m not a gamer, for example, but I play Tetris – I have since its early days in the U.S. Maybe also because it’s easy to play and hard to master… Maybe that it’s simple – but geometry and physics are utilised. Maybe it’s the great theme music!

How did the partnership with Tetris come about?
I’d worked with Blue Planet Software, the licensing agent for the Tetris brand, now known simply as Tetris, on Tetris product at my former company, Basic Fun. At Super Impulse, we’d acquired the rights to develop a line that we called Tiny Arcade – tiny arcade games. They’re four inches tall, with 1½ inch by two inch screens. We had a great team in place for their development – we did full, complete and accurate programming of the original games. We knew it was going to be a popular line and we went after the very best arcade era video games. Tetris HAD to be included.

You say full and complete… Did you not have to sacrifice any function to achieve that form?
We did not sacrifice a pixel! We created the program faithfully – we had to. The Tetris people are very protective of their brand, as they should be! They worked with us every step of the way. So the gameplay, the hi-res colors, the sound… They’re all authentic.

Wow. Well, I have to say it’s as close to a work of art as toys and games ever get! And in terms of the design, what kind of challenges do you face working on items of that scale?
We’ve become experts at looking at products from the perspective of how do we miniaturise this… When we first started discussing our concepts with factory engineers in China, they’d shake their heads and say it couldn’t be done. In response, I’d tell them that I thought it could – but that it was hard! If it was easy, it would’ve been done already.

Great point! Some lines are more challenging than others, presumably?
Right. Deco is always a challenge, though. On our Micro Fig line, and items like Barbie, the faces are hand painted. And sometimes – often, in fact – it’s more complex to make a functional item in miniature than it is in full size.

Why would that be?
Most of our processes are too small to be automated. Because of this, the costing is always a challenge. It often costs as much or more to make the miniature than it does to make the full-size product.

Wow! Well look, I encourage people to take a look at the range… They’re such brilliant products. How did you get into the industry, Alan?
I didn’t like law school!

Ha! Simple as that?!
Simple as that. I started a toy company called Basic Fun and ran that for 20 years, selling it in 2008. I remained there until 2011, though. Then we started Super Impulse, unofficially in 2013, officially in 2014. We launched at New York Toy Fair.

Lovely. What’s next for you and Super Impulse, Alan?
We’re always expanding our World’s Smallest line… Look for Nerf Blasters and real-hair Barbies coming soon. We’ll have at least a dozen new World’s Smallest for 2024.

Good Lord! You’re nothing if not prolific!
Ha! Well, our Poptaters line is also growing. We’re introducing some hilarious new styles throughout this year. We’re currently launching a collectible line of 3.75 inch collectible action figures called… 3.75. That’s where South Park, Beavis, Silent Bob and Jay, Star Trek, Hatsune Miko, Yu Gi Oh and more come in. And for 2024, we’ll be bringing back a retro line; collectible and functional – sure to wow kids and offend moms.

Nicely teased! Keep us posted on that. Finally, then, what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
You didn’t ask about more Tetris products.

I did not! What are your other Tetris products!
Well, for this year, we’re bringing back our Tetris Micro Arcade.

Alan Dorfman, Super Impulse, Tetris, Toys & Games, Video Games

Tetris Micro Arcade?
It’s full Tetris arcade play in a credit-card size! We ‘retired’ it for a year, but we’re bringing it back this summer. And for next year, we’re doing a completely playable 3D Tetris board game, based on a Buffalo Games product… It’ll easily fit in your pocket!

I know the one! We interviewed John Bell about it recently… People can read that here. It’s a great example of a brand reaching different audiences through adaptation. How did that deal come about for you?
I give all the credit to Megan Buettner, head of consumer products at Tetris. Megan knows our product line, and was looking for a way to adapt Tetris to our World’s Smallest range. She is the person that licensed Buffalo Games, so she put two and two together and made the match.

Alan Dorfman, Super Impulse, Tetris, Toys & Games, Video Games

And in regards to its gameplay being comparatively new, how does it fit into your product range?
Oh, it fits perfectly. We have a full range of fully functional World’s Smallest games, and some great 3D board games, like Mousetrap, Hungry Hippos, and Jenga, all featuring parts that you need to manipulate to play the game. In fact, when our head of product development, Daniel, was testing the early prototype, he said, “this game is really good!”… And this is a guy that has to test ALL our products!

Brilliant. Great insights; thank you so much for your time, Alan. Genuine pleasure.

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