After Beanie Babies and Tamagotchis, children would not be satisfied with any toy. As dolls and games were becoming more and more technologically advanced, a toy would have to top even that if it had any chance of becoming popular. Then along came the Furby. Designed to be interactive, childlike and a surrogate playtime buddy, the Furby has become one of the most infamous and controversial toys in recent history.
The Furby was created by Dave Hampton, a former Mattel programmer, for Tiger Electronics. Making their grand debut at the 1998 International Toy Fair, they soon made waves and became the most popular toy of the holiday season. Naturally, much price gouging and bodily injuries ensued in the quest to obtain one of these coveted items.
Furbys came in a variety of colors and designs guaranteed to satisfy any preference. For a child's toy, it was also incredibly advanced. Through a special computer chip, it could listen, communicate with other Furbys, differentiate between light and dark, go to sleep, wake up, and be fed.
The Furby initially spoke a constructed language aptly called "Furbish," a sort of childish babble. Websites dedicated to the Furbish language, complete with a study of its phonology and syntax are available. Part of the appeal of the Furby was that it could also "learn" English.
Although for a time English was its only second language, others were added to make it marketable to an international audience.
Its interactivity was part of its allure. Yet the Furby's popularity began to decline in years to come. One had little control over a Furby; you simply couldn't turn it off. They also needed to be "fed" and cared for frequently, a task any child would soon neglect (as was the case with the Tamagotchi).
The Furby also had its limits. For instance, there were only so many English phrases it could acquire, all pre-programmed, He would also launch into an incessant babble no one would bother to understand. In the end, most parents--and eventually children--would find them to be extremely irritating.
Rumors and Criticisms
There were also many tales surrounding the potential sinister uses of a Furby. Furbys, among other things, were accused of being tools for international espionage and were rumored to have been banned from the Pentagon. Furbys were also accused of indoctrinating children with subliminal messages, though this claim was found to be untrue.
These criticisms have sparked a plethora of anti-Furby Websites dedicated to the supposed macabre nature of the Furby, including humorous ways to dispose of them.
Promotions and Refurbishments
McDonalds offered a Furby toy with its Happy Meals in 1999. However, these were mere dolls without any of the capabilities of its toy store counterpart.
In an attempt to revive flagging interest in the Furby, an improved version was created in 2005. These new Furbys came complete with voice recognition, the capability to show emotions and more memory.