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“Every game needs to be easy to learn”, With Penny Bauder & Brent Bushnell

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. We aim to provide local communities with a new type of social space, encouraging them to come together, play, and foster a sense of connection through shared experiences. We’re seeing traditional […]

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Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. We aim to provide local communities with a new type of social space, encouraging them to come together, play, and foster a sense of connection through shared experiences. We’re seeing traditional entertainment destinations — like malls and shopping centers — decline and Millennials want engaging, connected spaces to turn to. Two Bit Circus provides a safe place to get together and enjoy the spectacle of gaming and immersive play.

We also see this as helping revitalize empty real estate and evolve it to be successful in the future. By grouping a variety of experiences in one area, businesses can add entertainment value and accommodate a much broader audience — which makes for a more compelling and inclusive business model and heightens the user experience.


As a part of our series about what’s around the corner for the toy, game, and video game industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brent Bushnell.

Brent Bushnellis the CEO of Two Bit Circus, a Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company. The interdisciplinary team strives to create immersive, social fun and is currently building a network of micro-amusement parks. The company regularly serves as immersive entertainment partners for brands and location-based facilities.

Previously, Brent was the on-camera inventor for the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. He was a founding member of a creative collective that created stunts for brands like Google and Disney and is responsible for the viral This Too Shall Pass music video for OK Go that garnered 50+ million views on YouTube. Brent is chairman of the non-profit Two Bit Circus Foundation which deploys STEAM-based programs to inspire students about invention. In his spare time, Brent enjoys mentoring teens in entrepreneurship, is a supporter of Clowns Without Borders and publishes on Twitter @brentbushnell.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

Ofcourse! When I met my co-founder Eric, we immediately connected over the fact that people were spending their time together on Facebook and their phones, but mostly not in real life. So we started building multiplayer, interactive projects on the weekends that we could bring to parties to get people playing together IRL. It was a great time for technology with microcontrollers, sensors, and computer vision all getting so easy to use that we could stitch together a fun experience in an evening. People enjoyed our motley creations, so we kept making them. Some were terrible, but others had kernels of fun. These public beta tests were invaluable and allowed us to pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t, so we could iterate and improve. The parties got bigger so our projects got bigger and bigger until eventually, brands started commissioning us to build and exhibit at events like the Superbowl, CES, and the Olympics.

When we built our micro-amusement park, we wanted the ethos of those early beta tests to support other creators like us. Now, we hold what we call “Beta Nights” every other month where developers and creators can showcase what they’re building and locals can come and get their hands on new, emerging experiences.

Fast forward a few years and those projects and that approach became the framework for what became Two Bit Circus and Two Bit Circus Foundation.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hah! We’ve been doing this for over a decade so that’s a lot of opportunities for stark terror and total elation. One in particular that still makes me laugh involves getting our liquor license for the Micro-Amusement Park. The ABC requires the core owners and their significant others to provide fingerprints and sign that you’re a good person. So we did, and then they came back and said my wife’s fingerprints weren’t clear enough. We tried multiple times until they realized, basically, she has no fingerprints! I had to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that she wasn’t a criminal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This might sound on the nose, but I owe a lot to my dad Nolan. He’s always been a busy businessman and inventor but the time I did get with him was inspirational. He constantly pushed me out of the house to go sell, build, and do. I had more sales experience by the time I graduated middle school than most MBAs. And missed parts of high school for business projects. I’ll never forget one time my brother and I had been building this collectible card game and we happened to have a deadline for the client that was before a family holiday. Dad said we weren’t going if we didn’t make the deadline. My brother Tyler and I literally worked all night and were at Kinko’s at 4 a.m. to finish in time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. Something we’ve put a lot of focus on is our Park as a Platform Program, which includes the Beta Nights mentioned earlier. For audiences, interactive public attractions haven’t changed a lot over the years and entertainment is driven a lot by novelty. Our goal is to facilitate a variety of novel entertainment for exhibition. For developers, getting a game in front of the public can be very challenging because of the resources that it requires. There are so many talented developers who have great games sitting idly somewhere but that are only partially developed because they lack the resources to test and promote their projects. We’d like to help fix that and evolve the process to support independent developers.

Two Bit Circus Foundation is wholly focused on creating an environment for inspired learning. We provide kids of all means with access to tools and resources for hands-on STEAM learning. Students learn how to make their own games, and then throw their own carnival. Think of it as a reimagining of the science faire, just more fun, and the kids are still using important disciplines including Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) to build, create, market and promote their exhibition. Through this program, we’ve prevented over 570 tons of usable materials from going into landfills, have introduced over a million students to STEAM disciplines and trained over 5k educators. We recently hosted our annual Anti-Gala at the park, sponsored by Vans, celebrating creativity, STEAM learning and all those supporting our efforts.

Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in toys or games that you are working on?

Two Bit Circus is full of indie arcades, tech-enhanced carnival games, VR/AR/XR experiences, an interactive theater, and much more. This evolving environment allows us to experiment with new forms of storytelling and emerging technologies. And while we like technology, our core focus is on multiplayer, social play. Bringing people together and giving them the tools to control their narrative is at the heart of our innovations. As an example, we riffed on the classic escape room to create our Story Rooms. One of them is Space Squad in Space where groups of three to six players work together to navigate the galaxy in a replayable adventure that is fun for the whole family.

Another favorite is Dr. Botcher’s Minute Medical School. It puts players in a hospital operating room working together in a ridiculous surgery simulator. Players use a joystick to navigate around blood cells, use computers and sensors to color coordinate nutrients and medicine, and work together to learn more about the patient’s history. For us, technological innovation is intrinsically tied to storytelling and group play.

How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?

The parks are designed to enliven even the biggest adversaries of fun, to encourage friends and strangers to connect through play, and to connect communities through new and memorable social experiences. Traditionally, we’ve seen gaming as a solitary experience, but at Two Bit Circus, we’re turning that on its head and fostering a place for elbow-to-elbow play.

You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. We aim to provide local communities with a new type of social space, encouraging them to come together, play, and foster a sense of connection through shared experiences. We’re seeing traditional entertainment destinations — like malls and shopping centers — decline and Millennials want engaging, connected spaces to turn to. Two Bit Circus provides a safe place to get together and enjoy the spectacle of gaming and immersive play.

We also see this as helping revitalize empty real estate and evolve it to be successful in the future. By grouping a variety of experiences in one area, businesses can add entertainment value and accommodate a much broader audience — which makes for a more compelling and inclusive business model and heightens the user experience.

I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage toys or gamification to enhance education?

There are so many ways! People are sometimes quick to brush off toys or games as being silly, when in fact, there are so many skills and life lessons you can learn, such as narrative building, puzzle skills, critical thinking, and more. Playing with toys or games that foster untethered creative exploration can enhance technical problem solving. And the best part is, they can easily be implemented in all areas of education, particularly STEAM. Robots and fire work wonders teaching kids about science and mechanics!

I know that this question may be outside of your core expertise, but I’m sure you will be able to share some important insight. In your opinion, how is the US doing with regard to engaging young people, and particularly girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

I think we’ve made great strides in STEM education for women, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

Strong leadership

I’m very fortunate to work with Dr. Leah Hanes, the CEO of Two Bit Circus Foundation, whose focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion make up the core of our efforts at our nonprofit. Leah strives to provide all demographics with access to STEAM education and materials, whether they are able to afford it or have to get grants to make it possible. I think seeing a strong, accomplished woman at the helm of this has really increased engagement among the young girls Leah has helped.

Initiate interest early on

I think initiating interest and advancement in these subjects at a young age can inspire more girls to embrace these areas of learning. Teaching them ways to solve problems and use critical thinking skills that traditional education is struggling to provide are key to fostering engagement.

Everyday materials can make a change

I know in certain parts of the United States and across many areas of the world, there’s a lack of support or resources available to drive STEAM education. That’s why, with the Foundation, we try to use accessible materials, like cardboard, to help spark creativity and invention.

How would you define a “successful” game or toy? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?

A successful game is easy to learn, hard to master. It has to be easily understood by a broad range of people, yet challenging enough to keep everyone entertained. It’s a tricky balance, but you notice this when you play a game that gets it right.

What are the “5 Things You Need to Know To Create Successful Games or Toys” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Every game needs to be easy to learn, intuitive. If it isn’t easy to understand the ability to get people engaged becomes harder and the game’s success may falter.
  2. Involving both analog and digital aspects — playing in both the physical and digital realms — always makes a game more interesting.
  3. We like to focus on multiplayer games. We believe bringing people together is what games are all about, so for us, multiplayer has been a key to success.
  4. If you can’t make it multiplayer, try to involve others or make it interesting to watch from the other side. We had one game where one person was in a VR helmet fending off monsters around them. But those monsters were controlled by the other people in the room — turning a one-person game into a group experience.
  5. Get real feedback! Aspects that you may think are easily understood usually aren’t. Beta testing is everything and can add so much to a game. We have a platform for this at Two Bit Circus, where we host Beta Nights and invite developers to submit projects that they need real-life feedback on

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement of mentorship. I believe everyone has something they can teach and yet we have a shortage of mentors.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love Madelaine L’Engle’s quote “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” Two Bit Circus is a great example of this. We didn’t set out to make a micro-amusement park, but after experimenting on a variety of implementations, that was the correct solution. But we never would’ve known if we hadn’t just started something.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @brentbushnell & @twobitcircus

Instagram: @brentbushnell & @twobitcircus

Website: www.twobitcircus.com

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. We aim to provide local communities with a new type of social space, encouraging them to come together, play, and foster a sense of connection through shared experiences. We’re seeing traditional entertainment destinations — like malls and shopping centers — decline and Millennials want engaging, connected spaces to turn to. Two Bit Circus provides a safe place to get together and enjoy the spectacle of gaming and immersive play.

We also see this as helping revitalize empty real estate and evolve it to be successful in the future. By grouping a variety of experiences in one area, businesses can add entertainment value and accommodate a much broader audience — which makes for a more compelling and inclusive business model and heightens the user experience.


Asa part of our series about what’s around the corner for the toy, game, and video game industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brent Bushnell.

Brent Bushnellis the CEO of Two Bit Circus, a Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company. The interdisciplinary team strives to create immersive, social fun and is currently building a network of micro-amusement parks. The company regularly serves as immersive entertainment partners for brands and location-based facilities.

Previously, Brent was the on-camera inventor for the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. He was a founding member of a creative collective that created stunts for brands like Google and Disney and is responsible for the viral This Too Shall Pass music video for OK Go that garnered 50+ million views on YouTube. Brent is chairman of the non-profit Two Bit Circus Foundation which deploys STEAM-based programs to inspire students about invention. In his spare time, Brent enjoys mentoring teens in entrepreneurship, is a supporter of Clowns Without Borders and publishes on Twitter @brentbushnell.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

Ofcourse! When I met my co-founder Eric, we immediately connected over the fact that people were spending their time together on Facebook and their phones, but mostly not in real life. So we started building multiplayer, interactive projects on the weekends that we could bring to parties to get people playing together IRL. It was a great time for technology with microcontrollers, sensors, and computer vision all getting so easy to use that we could stitch together a fun experience in an evening. People enjoyed our motley creations, so we kept making them. Some were terrible, but others had kernels of fun. These public beta tests were invaluable and allowed us to pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t, so we could iterate and improve. The parties got bigger so our projects got bigger and bigger until eventually, brands started commissioning us to build and exhibit at events like the Superbowl, CES, and the Olympics.

When we built our micro-amusement park, we wanted the ethos of those early beta tests to support other creators like us. Now, we hold what we call “Beta Nights” every other month where developers and creators can showcase what they’re building and locals can come and get their hands on new, emerging experiences.

Fast forward a few years and those projects and that approach became the framework for what became Two Bit Circus and Two Bit Circus Foundation.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hah! We’ve been doing this for over a decade so that’s a lot of opportunities for stark terror and total elation. One in particular that still makes me laugh involves getting our liquor license for the Micro-Amusement Park. The ABC requires the core owners and their significant others to provide fingerprints and sign that you’re a good person. So we did, and then they came back and said my wife’s fingerprints weren’t clear enough. We tried multiple times until they realized, basically, she has no fingerprints! I had to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that she wasn’t a criminal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This might sound on the nose, but I owe a lot to my dad Nolan. He’s always been a busy businessman and inventor but the time I did get with him was inspirational. He constantly pushed me out of the house to go sell, build, and do. I had more sales experience by the time I graduated middle school than most MBAs. And missed parts of high school for business projects. I’ll never forget one time my brother and I had been building this collectible card game and we happened to have a deadline for the client that was before a family holiday. Dad said we weren’t going if we didn’t make the deadline. My brother Tyler and I literally worked all night and were at Kinko’s at 4 a.m. to finish in time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. Something we’ve put a lot of focus on is our Park as a Platform Program, which includes the Beta Nights mentioned earlier. For audiences, interactive public attractions haven’t changed a lot over the years and entertainment is driven a lot by novelty. Our goal is to facilitate a variety of novel entertainment for exhibition. For developers, getting a game in front of the public can be very challenging because of the resources that it requires. There are so many talented developers who have great games sitting idly somewhere but that are only partially developed because they lack the resources to test and promote their projects. We’d like to help fix that and evolve the process to support independent developers.

Two Bit Circus Foundation is wholly focused on creating an environment for inspired learning. We provide kids of all means with access to tools and resources for hands-on STEAM learning. Students learn how to make their own games, and then throw their own carnival. Think of it as a reimagining of the science faire, just more fun, and the kids are still using important disciplines including Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) to build, create, market and promote their exhibition. Through this program, we’ve prevented over 570 tons of usable materials from going into landfills, have introduced over a million students to STEAM disciplines and trained over 5k educators. We recently hosted our annual Anti-Gala at the park, sponsored by Vans, celebrating creativity, STEAM learning and all those supporting our efforts.

Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in toys or games that you are working on?

Two Bit Circus is full of indie arcades, tech-enhanced carnival games, VR/AR/XR experiences, an interactive theater, and much more. This evolving environment allows us to experiment with new forms of storytelling and emerging technologies. And while we like technology, our core focus is on multiplayer, social play. Bringing people together and giving them the tools to control their narrative is at the heart of our innovations. As an example, we riffed on the classic escape room to create our Story Rooms. One of them is Space Squad in Space where groups of three to six players work together to navigate the galaxy in a replayable adventure that is fun for the whole family.

Another favorite is Dr. Botcher’s Minute Medical School. It puts players in a hospital operating room working together in a ridiculous surgery simulator. Players use a joystick to navigate around blood cells, use computers and sensors to color coordinate nutrients and medicine, and work together to learn more about the patient’s history. For us, technological innovation is intrinsically tied to storytelling and group play.

How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?

The parks are designed to enliven even the biggest adversaries of fun, to encourage friends and strangers to connect through play, and to connect communities through new and memorable social experiences. Traditionally, we’ve seen gaming as a solitary experience, but at Two Bit Circus, we’re turning that on its head and fostering a place for elbow-to-elbow play.

You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. We aim to provide local communities with a new type of social space, encouraging them to come together, play, and foster a sense of connection through shared experiences. We’re seeing traditional entertainment destinations — like malls and shopping centers — decline and Millennials want engaging, connected spaces to turn to. Two Bit Circus provides a safe place to get together and enjoy the spectacle of gaming and immersive play.

We also see this as helping revitalize empty real estate and evolve it to be successful in the future. By grouping a variety of experiences in one area, businesses can add entertainment value and accommodate a much broader audience — which makes for a more compelling and inclusive business model and heightens the user experience.

I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage toys or gamification to enhance education?

There are so many ways! People are sometimes quick to brush off toys or games as being silly, when in fact, there are so many skills and life lessons you can learn, such as narrative building, puzzle skills, critical thinking, and more. Playing with toys or games that foster untethered creative exploration can enhance technical problem solving. And the best part is, they can easily be implemented in all areas of education, particularly STEAM. Robots and fire work wonders teaching kids about science and mechanics!

I know that this question may be outside of your core expertise, but I’m sure you will be able to share some important insight. In your opinion, how is the US doing with regard to engaging young people, and particularly girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

I think we’ve made great strides in STEM education for women, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

Strong leadership

I’m very fortunate to work with Dr. Leah Hanes, the CEO of Two Bit Circus Foundation, whose focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion make up the core of our efforts at our nonprofit. Leah strives to provide all demographics with access to STEAM education and materials, whether they are able to afford it or have to get grants to make it possible. I think seeing a strong, accomplished woman at the helm of this has really increased engagement among the young girls Leah has helped.

Initiate interest early on

I think initiating interest and advancement in these subjects at a young age can inspire more girls to embrace these areas of learning. Teaching them ways to solve problems and use critical thinking skills that traditional education is struggling to provide are key to fostering engagement.

Everyday materials can make a change

I know in certain parts of the United States and across many areas of the world, there’s a lack of support or resources available to drive STEAM education. That’s why, with the Foundation, we try to use accessible materials, like cardboard, to help spark creativity and invention.

How would you define a “successful” game or toy? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?

A successful game is easy to learn, hard to master. It has to be easily understood by a broad range of people, yet challenging enough to keep everyone entertained. It’s a tricky balance, but you notice this when you play a game that gets it right.

What are the “5 Things You Need to Know To Create Successful Games or Toys” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Every game needs to be easy to learn, intuitive. If it isn’t easy to understand the ability to get people engaged becomes harder and the game’s success may falter.
  2. Involving both analog and digital aspects — playing in both the physical and digital realms — always makes a game more interesting.
  3. We like to focus on multiplayer games. We believe bringing people together is what games are all about, so for us, multiplayer has been a key to success.
  4. If you can’t make it multiplayer, try to involve others or make it interesting to watch from the other side. We had one game where one person was in a VR helmet fending off monsters around them. But those monsters were controlled by the other people in the room — turning a one-person game into a group experience.
  5. Get real feedback! Aspects that you may think are easily understood usually aren’t. Beta testing is everything and can add so much to a game. We have a platform for this at Two Bit Circus, where we host Beta Nights and invite developers to submit projects that they need real-life feedback on

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement of mentorship. I believe everyone has something they can teach and yet we have a shortage of mentors.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love Madelaine L’Engle’s quote “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” Two Bit Circus is a great example of this. We didn’t set out to make a micro-amusement park, but after experimenting on a variety of implementations, that was the correct solution. But we never would’ve known if we hadn’t just started something.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @brentbushnell & @twobitcircus

Instagram: @brentbushnell & @twobitcircus

Website: www.twobitcircus.com

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. We aim to provide local communities with a new type of social space, encouraging them to come together, play, and foster a sense of connection through shared experiences. We’re seeing traditional entertainment destinations — like malls and shopping centers — decline and Millennials want engaging, connected spaces to turn to. Two Bit Circus provides a safe place to get together and enjoy the spectacle of gaming and immersive play.

We also see this as helping revitalize empty real estate and evolve it to be successful in the future. By grouping a variety of experiences in one area, businesses can add entertainment value and accommodate a much broader audience — which makes for a more compelling and inclusive business model and heightens the user experience.


Asa part of our series about what’s around the corner for the toy, game, and video game industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brent Bushnell.

Brent Bushnellis the CEO of Two Bit Circus, a Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company. The interdisciplinary team strives to create immersive, social fun and is currently building a network of micro-amusement parks. The company regularly serves as immersive entertainment partners for brands and location-based facilities.

Previously, Brent was the on-camera inventor for the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. He was a founding member of a creative collective that created stunts for brands like Google and Disney and is responsible for the viral This Too Shall Pass music video for OK Go that garnered 50+ million views on YouTube. Brent is chairman of the non-profit Two Bit Circus Foundation which deploys STEAM-based programs to inspire students about invention. In his spare time, Brent enjoys mentoring teens in entrepreneurship, is a supporter of Clowns Without Borders and publishes on Twitter @brentbushnell.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

Ofcourse! When I met my co-founder Eric, we immediately connected over the fact that people were spending their time together on Facebook and their phones, but mostly not in real life. So we started building multiplayer, interactive projects on the weekends that we could bring to parties to get people playing together IRL. It was a great time for technology with microcontrollers, sensors, and computer vision all getting so easy to use that we could stitch together a fun experience in an evening. People enjoyed our motley creations, so we kept making them. Some were terrible, but others had kernels of fun. These public beta tests were invaluable and allowed us to pinpoint what was working and what wasn’t, so we could iterate and improve. The parties got bigger so our projects got bigger and bigger until eventually, brands started commissioning us to build and exhibit at events like the Superbowl, CES, and the Olympics.

When we built our micro-amusement park, we wanted the ethos of those early beta tests to support other creators like us. Now, we hold what we call “Beta Nights” every other month where developers and creators can showcase what they’re building and locals can come and get their hands on new, emerging experiences.

Fast forward a few years and those projects and that approach became the framework for what became Two Bit Circus and Two Bit Circus Foundation.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Hah! We’ve been doing this for over a decade so that’s a lot of opportunities for stark terror and total elation. One in particular that still makes me laugh involves getting our liquor license for the Micro-Amusement Park. The ABC requires the core owners and their significant others to provide fingerprints and sign that you’re a good person. So we did, and then they came back and said my wife’s fingerprints weren’t clear enough. We tried multiple times until they realized, basically, she has no fingerprints! I had to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that she wasn’t a criminal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This might sound on the nose, but I owe a lot to my dad Nolan. He’s always been a busy businessman and inventor but the time I did get with him was inspirational. He constantly pushed me out of the house to go sell, build, and do. I had more sales experience by the time I graduated middle school than most MBAs. And missed parts of high school for business projects. I’ll never forget one time my brother and I had been building this collectible card game and we happened to have a deadline for the client that was before a family holiday. Dad said we weren’t going if we didn’t make the deadline. My brother Tyler and I literally worked all night and were at Kinko’s at 4 a.m. to finish in time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. Something we’ve put a lot of focus on is our Park as a Platform Program, which includes the Beta Nights mentioned earlier. For audiences, interactive public attractions haven’t changed a lot over the years and entertainment is driven a lot by novelty. Our goal is to facilitate a variety of novel entertainment for exhibition. For developers, getting a game in front of the public can be very challenging because of the resources that it requires. There are so many talented developers who have great games sitting idly somewhere but that are only partially developed because they lack the resources to test and promote their projects. We’d like to help fix that and evolve the process to support independent developers.

Two Bit Circus Foundation is wholly focused on creating an environment for inspired learning. We provide kids of all means with access to tools and resources for hands-on STEAM learning. Students learn how to make their own games, and then throw their own carnival. Think of it as a reimagining of the science faire, just more fun, and the kids are still using important disciplines including Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) to build, create, market and promote their exhibition. Through this program, we’ve prevented over 570 tons of usable materials from going into landfills, have introduced over a million students to STEAM disciplines and trained over 5k educators. We recently hosted our annual Anti-Gala at the park, sponsored by Vans, celebrating creativity, STEAM learning and all those supporting our efforts.

Ok fantastic. Let’s now move to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell us about the technological innovations in toys or games that you are working on?

Two Bit Circus is full of indie arcades, tech-enhanced carnival games, VR/AR/XR experiences, an interactive theater, and much more. This evolving environment allows us to experiment with new forms of storytelling and emerging technologies. And while we like technology, our core focus is on multiplayer, social play. Bringing people together and giving them the tools to control their narrative is at the heart of our innovations. As an example, we riffed on the classic escape room to create our Story Rooms. One of them is Space Squad in Space where groups of three to six players work together to navigate the galaxy in a replayable adventure that is fun for the whole family.

Another favorite is Dr. Botcher’s Minute Medical School. It puts players in a hospital operating room working together in a ridiculous surgery simulator. Players use a joystick to navigate around blood cells, use computers and sensors to color coordinate nutrients and medicine, and work together to learn more about the patient’s history. For us, technological innovation is intrinsically tied to storytelling and group play.

How do you think this might disrupt the status quo?

The parks are designed to enliven even the biggest adversaries of fun, to encourage friends and strangers to connect through play, and to connect communities through new and memorable social experiences. Traditionally, we’ve seen gaming as a solitary experience, but at Two Bit Circus, we’re turning that on its head and fostering a place for elbow-to-elbow play.

You, of course, know that games and toys are not simply entertainment, but they can be used for important purposes. What is the “purpose” or mission behind your company? How do you think you are helping people or society?

Our goal with Two Bit Circus is to create an environment where everyone can come together and connect while having fun and celebrating creativity. We aim to provide local communities with a new type of social space, encouraging them to come together, play, and foster a sense of connection through shared experiences. We’re seeing traditional entertainment destinations — like malls and shopping centers — decline and Millennials want engaging, connected spaces to turn to. Two Bit Circus provides a safe place to get together and enjoy the spectacle of gaming and immersive play.

We also see this as helping revitalize empty real estate and evolve it to be successful in the future. By grouping a variety of experiences in one area, businesses can add entertainment value and accommodate a much broader audience — which makes for a more compelling and inclusive business model and heightens the user experience.

I’m very interested in the interface between games and education. How do you think more people (parents, teachers etc.) or institutions (work, school etc.) can leverage toys or gamification to enhance education?

There are so many ways! People are sometimes quick to brush off toys or games as being silly, when in fact, there are so many skills and life lessons you can learn, such as narrative building, puzzle skills, critical thinking, and more. Playing with toys or games that foster untethered creative exploration can enhance technical problem solving. And the best part is, they can easily be implemented in all areas of education, particularly STEAM. Robots and fire work wonders teaching kids about science and mechanics!

I know that this question may be outside of your core expertise, but I’m sure you will be able to share some important insight. In your opinion, how is the US doing with regard to engaging young people, and particularly girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

I think we’ve made great strides in STEM education for women, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done.

Strong leadership

I’m very fortunate to work with Dr. Leah Hanes, the CEO of Two Bit Circus Foundation, whose focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion make up the core of our efforts at our nonprofit. Leah strives to provide all demographics with access to STEAM education and materials, whether they are able to afford it or have to get grants to make it possible. I think seeing a strong, accomplished woman at the helm of this has really increased engagement among the young girls Leah has helped.

Initiate interest early on

I think initiating interest and advancement in these subjects at a young age can inspire more girls to embrace these areas of learning. Teaching them ways to solve problems and use critical thinking skills that traditional education is struggling to provide are key to fostering engagement.

Everyday materials can make a change

I know in certain parts of the United States and across many areas of the world, there’s a lack of support or resources available to drive STEAM education. That’s why, with the Foundation, we try to use accessible materials, like cardboard, to help spark creativity and invention.

How would you define a “successful” game or toy? Can you share an example of a game or toy that you hold up as an aspiration?

A successful game is easy to learn, hard to master. It has to be easily understood by a broad range of people, yet challenging enough to keep everyone entertained. It’s a tricky balance, but you notice this when you play a game that gets it right.

What are the “5 Things You Need to Know To Create Successful Games or Toys” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Every game needs to be easy to learn, intuitive. If it isn’t easy to understand the ability to get people engaged becomes harder and the game’s success may falter.
  2. Involving both analog and digital aspects — playing in both the physical and digital realms — always makes a game more interesting.
  3. We like to focus on multiplayer games. We believe bringing people together is what games are all about, so for us, multiplayer has been a key to success.
  4. If you can’t make it multiplayer, try to involve others or make it interesting to watch from the other side. We had one game where one person was in a VR helmet fending off monsters around them. But those monsters were controlled by the other people in the room — turning a one-person game into a group experience.
  5. Get real feedback! Aspects that you may think are easily understood usually aren’t. Beta testing is everything and can add so much to a game. We have a platform for this at Two Bit Circus, where we host Beta Nights and invite developers to submit projects that they need real-life feedback on

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement of mentorship. I believe everyone has something they can teach and yet we have a shortage of mentors.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love Madelaine L’Engle’s quote “Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” Two Bit Circus is a great example of this. We didn’t set out to make a micro-amusement park, but after experimenting on a variety of implementations, that was the correct solution. But we never would’ve known if we hadn’t just started something.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @brentbushnell & @twobitcircus

Instagram: @brentbushnell & @twobitcircus

Website: www.twobitcircus.com

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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