Just Another Day's Work

The strange tale of how a craze was born

By Murakami Mutsuko

MOTHERHOOD IS A THANKLESS task. Just ask Maita Aki, the creator of the Tamagotchi. The 30-year-old Bandai employee didn't get a promotion, a raise or even a bonus for giving birth to the craze that has swept Asia and the world. Even her husband's reaction was muted. "We don't talk about it at home," she says. "He just said gambatte [keep it up]."

Does she feel unappreciated? "No, it wasn't my accomplishment alone. I only came up with the idea, developed the concept and took charge of the marketing program. It also took a technician and public relations person to make it into a product," she says. Maita hatched the idea for a virtual pet about a year ago while watching a television commercial about a little boy who insisted on taking his turtle to kindergarten. Precisely how this spawned a computer game, Maita is at a loss to say. But as the Tamagotchi seed developed, she worked out what was needed to make it a mega-hit with teenage Japanese girls -- it would have to be a portable game that could be played anywhere, anytime. And, most important, it would be kawaii, or cute.

What separates the Tamagotch (as it is known in Japan) from other electronic gadgets is the human-like demands it makes on its owners. "It is dependent on you -- that's one reason it became so popular," the childless creator says. "I think it's very important for humans to find joy caring for something."

Last October, Maita took Tamagotchi prototypes to the streets of Tokyo's Shibuya district for a consumer test. She handed them out to about 200 high-school girls. "Their eyes instantly lit up," she reports. The inventor monitored their reaction over several weeks, and analyzed results of questionnaires they answered. With this, she finalized details such as color (white is preferred), chain design and packaging. By November, the Tamagotchi was on the market in Japan. To date, some 10 million units have been sold on the domestic market. Worldwide figures are not yet available. Is Maita surprised? Well, yes. "I never imagined it would get this big," she allows.

Her background hardly prepared her for domination of the world toy market. After graduating from college, Maita joined the ranks of Japan's "office ladies," working in the computer section of a Tokyo company. Thinking a job at toymaker Bandai would bring her closer to working with children, she joined the company's sales and marketing department in 1990. For the first two years she tracked and logged sales data -- a dead-end job for some, but not for Maita. "It was good training and it's where I developed an instinct for what will sell and what won't."

Now she is working on a new game that she hopes will become an even bigger hit than the Tamagotchi. "I have more confidence in my feelings now and trust my hunches about a product's potential," she says.

--Source: www.pathfinder.com

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Last updated: February 25th, 1998
Tamagotchi and all related characters are registered trademarks of Bandai America.
Article recreated on my server in the event that Pathfinder erases it from their server. I did not write it, only republished it to avoid a dead link and lost article in the future.