“iPhone or mystery box?” a popular YouTuber is heard asking random people on the street. In one hand he holds a brand new iPhone 13 Pro Max, while the other struggles to prop up a cardboard box with a sketchily-scribbled question mark. If you’re one among the millions who have stumbled across such videos, you’ll know how they typically end. The person in question always picks the mystery box, even if the YouTuber keeps offering iPads and MacBooks against the decision.
The result? The mystery box would almost always reveal flowers, flamingo plushies and lollipop guns—all worth less than an iPhone in monetary value. Only in rare cases have people taken $300 worth sunglasses home after the public challenge. Nevertheless, the audience always seems to be happy with whatever they end up getting. Something is better than nothing, right?
However, in the rare cases where people choose the iPhone, the mystery box reveals stacks of other Apple products and gaming laptops—with baby Justin Bieber singing “let me show you what you’re missin’, paradise” in the background. FOMO-based engagement. It can’t be ruled out that these videos are staged. But even if they are, why are mystery boxes portrayed as the more appealing option out of the two? And why does everyone in the comment section agree with this trope by stating variations of “I’d still choose the box over an iPhone any day”?
Simply put, what makes the concept of mystery boxes so appealing to us? Can our taste for those turn into an ‘addiction’? If so, will our curiosity cost us in the long run? To answer all of these burning questions, SCREENSHOT interviewed several experts in the field to get a broader perspective on the phenomenon.
The tangible appeal
Let’s start with the type of mystery boxes delivering physical goods to our doorstep, shall we? Mostly available for purchase online, these boxes contain a collection of items that are unknown to the buyer until they’re opened. Sure, some sellers provide sneak-peeks and give you some control over deciding what goes into the package, but the exact contents remain a mystery until they’re unboxed.
In terms of the content in question, up until a few years ago, mystery boxes were dominated by fandoms and gamers. Given how their entire concept stems from gamer culture, sellers could essentially capitalise on interests and capture “Comic-Con in a box” for fans. This level of exclusiveness, however, led to the counter-growth of companies perceiving the service as a chance to host and drop new releases in literally everything from technology and gadgets to beauty, fashion and entertainment. As of today, there’s something for everyone—no matter what your age, preferences or interests.
When it comes to subscription-based boxes, the contents are usually hinged on a common theme. For example, Instagram-famous Hunt A Killer offers true-crime-style cases one can solve over a course of six months. With every package—or ‘episodes’, as the account calls it—comes more clues as you inch closer to cracking the case. “You can cancel any time,” Hunt A Killer writes on its website. “But fair warning: It’s addictive! Once you start, you too will eagerly wait for your box each and every month to keep the tale alive.”
In the case of one-time purchases, Amazon and Etsy are your go-tos. While the former lists official merchandise, Pokémon trading cards, Funko POP! bobbleheads as well as book and beauty bundles, the latter features jewellery, bath bombs, art supplies, Kpop photocards and even boxes dedicated to various internet aesthetics and subcultures like cottagecore and dark academia.
For Sam Birch, mystery boxes initially manifested as a healthy lifestyle subscription bundle with curated vegan snacks, vitamins and recipe cards for university students. “Around a year ago, I decided to launch a new box that I had a more vested interest in and created Smugglers Crate—a monthly mystery box for Star Wars fans which I sell through my own website and Etsy shop,” he told SCREENSHOT.
Featuring artwork, clothing, figures, mugs, keyrings and other memorabilia, Smugglers Crate is available in five types of plans that one can choose from: one-off crates, monthly crates, three-month prepaid crates and gift boxes. Apart from the Star Wars box, Birch also lists Thor Crate (dedicated to Marvel fans), Pokébox (curated for Pokémon enthusiasts) and Geek Crate (mystery box containing a mixture of gear from all of the fandoms mentioned above). “The Marvel box is still quite new but the Star Wars one is definitely the most popular,” Birch said.
The process of ordering Smugglers Crate goes something like this: choose your preferred plan out of the five—if you’re signing up for the monthly subscription crates, then your card would be charged on the day you purchase the first box and billed again on the 1st of every month until you cancel. After receiving your orders, Birch’s team starts the curation process to find exciting products every month.
“I source stock each month so the contents change on a monthly basis,” the seller explained on these terms. “I don’t want anyone who’s subscribed to receive a duplicate item from the previous crate.” Although there are set boxes for new customers, one or two items may be switched around from time to time.
When asked about the audience Birch has assembled, he categorised them into two types: diehard fans who love collecting merchandise and those looking to gift a crate full of surprises to their friends and family. “Diehard fans see the boxes as a way of collecting new memorabilia they may not have and to celebrate their love of the fandom on a monthly basis,” Birch explained. “While other people, especially on Etsy, see the box as a great gifting opportunity.”
Despite the differences in their purpose, however, both customers stand united in terms of one factor: feasibility. “Buying five to six independent Star Wars or Marvel items would be significantly more expensive to purchase as an individual—as they’d have to pay postage on each item and wouldn’t have access to the wholesale rates we purchase them for,” Birch continued, adding how—in the case of mystery boxes—buyers end up getting a crate full of items worth much more than what they paid for.
At the end of the day, Birch also acknowledged an overwhelmingly positive response from his customers. “Of course, some people will feel underwhelmed if they haven’t received an item from their favourite film or character but most people feel they’re getting great value for their money,” he admitted.
Hybe and the art of ‘virtual’ unboxing
Let’s be honest here. The physical appeal of mystery boxes is mostly justified on its own: grab yours online, keep refreshing the updates on your order and check your doorstep ever-so-often for a box full of excitement—all triggered by the common element of uncertainty. But what if this process could be shortened to give you even more frequent bursts of thrill?
That’s where platforms like Hybe and Lootie come in. While physical mystery boxes can be ordered, delivered and unboxed like everything else you buy off e-commerce websites, virtual boxes available on Hybe and Lootie can be opened directly online. Don’t like what you received? Don’t worry, you can choose to exchange it and proceed with shipment only if you’re happy with the content line-up you’ve got. “All the classic components of mystery boxes are there, but [we] work much more intuitively and dynamically, giving you more control and confidence than ever before,” Hybe justifies on its website.
But how do these platforms actually operate? How is the randomness achieved? And if the companies are in charge of the algorithm behind it all, won’t they have the ultimate autonomy of deciding who wins what?
Black box algorithms were a common practice in the gaming industry until recently. With the aim of generating randomised data, the information fed into and generated out of the algorithm can essentially be viewed and analysed by anyone. However, the exact blueprint of how it works remains with the company in question. Adjustments favouring the corporation can be made to the algorithm without the end-user knowing—leaving them with no choice but to believe the company’s baseless claims of honesty.
Hybe, on the other hand, details that its selection process is “truly fair” with user-focused safeguards in place to protect the buyer’s chances of bagging the jackpot. “The selection process has been fully documented, is totally transparent and cannot be tampered with—by anyone or for any reason,” the website reads. “With the evolution in the technology behind random generators, the mystery box experience is now defined by the user, not the company.”
In order to ‘hybe’ your way into mystery boxes, all you have to do is create an account and top up your balance. Once you’ve added the necessary credits, you can start browsing boxes that are either dedicated to a category (sneakers, gadgets, bags, belts and more) or a particular brand (Supreme, Off-White, Yeezy and KAWS among others). After zeroing in on a bundle, you can unbox it with just a click and either choose to ship the item you’ve received to your doorstep or sell it back to Hybe in exchange for store credits… which you can use to buy another mystery box and so on and so forth. Sounds dreamy, right?
A quick scroll through YouTube for the keyword ‘Hybe mystery box’, however, suggests otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of videos documenting experiences of people winning $1,000,000-worth boxes. But on a closer look, you’ll realise how most of them are—drum roll, please—sponsored. “Use my code for some EXTRA good luck,” the descriptions read, prompting viewers to then claim free boxes using an affiliate link.
In fact, it turns out that you can’t even make a profit out of purchasing such boxes. Unless you’ve been hoarding your luck for the past ten years, that is. Let’s take the case of $1 mystery boxes on Hybe. Before unboxing, you’ll be redirected to a screen listing all the potential items you can receive in the bundle. Here, the outcomes range between $2,500 Nike Blazer Mids to $1.36 ankle socks. The possibilities of getting these, on the other hand, are 0.00027 per cent and 22.148 per cent respectively. You know where I’m going with this.
Let’s say you ended up with the pair of socks and you want to ship it to your house. You spent $1 and got $1.36 worth of socks, right? Enter hefty shipping fees. I can’t even begin to imagine the charges if I were to ship one all the way here to India. Now, let’s imagine you saved a country in your previous life and ended up with the $2,500 Nike trainers. Enter hefty shipping fees, again. Which one do you think would be cheaper: ordering Nike shoes off a mystery box platform or purchasing one from its official website or physical outlet?
The tightrope between curiosity and obsession
Even if you feel finessed with your purchase, the appeal of virtual mystery boxes is clear as day. Externally, Hybe gamifies the entire unboxing experience like that of opening treasure chests at the bottom of the ocean. The autonomy of either choosing to ship or exchange the item for store credits also helps hook users to some extent. Although I hate to admit it, the disappointment of receiving low valued items further feeds into the narrative.
“Next one’s the one,” you’ll be heard consoling yourself as you top up your balance, open more boxes and exchange them for store credits—only to open even more boxes. But all of this is mere tertiary knowledge. Is there anyone who’s actually hooked onto such websites? If so, how did they tumble down the rabbit hole? And, most importantly, can this phenomenon be termed an ‘addiction’ similar to gambling and lottery tickets?
In my chat with Theodore, the enthusiast acknowledged dipping his toes into mystery boxes back in 2020. “I usually shop on Hybe, as I’ve heard others are quite sketchy,” he said. Having purchased 76 boxes to date, the major motivation for Theodore lies in the feasibility of the concept. “Normally, it’s just the ability to win something cool. When I pay less, then the value of the item goes up.” In terms of the said value, Theodore has previously received an Xbox controller worth $60. At the time, however, he’d chosen to exchange it for store credit.
When asked if he’d ever been scammed on Hybe, Theodore denied all allegations. “Nor has my email or credit card number been used [illegally],” he continued, adding how he’s not hooked onto mystery boxes and doesn’t have any specific urge to open them. “I do know someone who’s addicted to mystery boxes and buys a large amount every few weeks—for food, items and clothing,” he admitted.
One such “self-declared hybeast” is 19-year-old Max. “I open almost 20 boxes every day, mostly gadgets and sneakers,” he said. As of 2021, the biggest mystery box achievement for Max has been a $900 pair of Nike Air Jordan 12 Retro PSNY ‘Bordeaux’. “I remember paying a lot for shipping it to Australia. But it was the rarest unboxing I’d done and I wanted to keep it.”
As for the rest of the items Max decides to ship, he lists them on eBay in hopes of making a profit. “Mostly, I just sell them close to the amount I paid for the box plus its shipping cost. I’m not really making anything from this side hustle.” So why does he do it in the first place, you ask? “The unboxing, the thrill of it. I’m addicted and I know it, and so does my family.” He then went on to describe the feeling as a “dopamine rush” every time he slides his cursor up to open virtual boxes on platforms like Hybe. “There’s a Discord server just for us Hybe freaks, where I know some people who open up to 50 boxes every day on different websites.” Say what?
In order to get more insights, I circled back to Birch and his physical mystery crates. Is the situation similar on that front as well? “Some people have been subscribed since the month we launched, so there have been some very loyal customers,” he started. “I feel like people could potentially get addicted, but in the same way people get hooked to buying trading card packs, NFT releases or loot boxes in video games—where the chance of getting a ‘rare’ or ‘high value’ [item] is completely random and, in most cases, very small.”
At the same time, Birch outlined how buyers of most physical mystery boxes are guaranteed a certain value in each bundle and roughly know the types of products they’ll receive. “In our case, for example, we list the type of items included in our description and show pictures of past or current boxes—so people can get an idea of what to expect,” he added.
The psychological conversation
Now that we’ve gathered insights from both buyers and sellers, it’s time to get some experts to weigh into the psychological side of the conversation. To understand the mental metrics of mystery boxes, let’s first backtrack to the concept of gaming loot boxes.
“At its core, in-game loot boxes are items that can be paid for using real-world money or time within the game,” Brad Marshall, an internet, screen and gaming addiction expert—also known as ‘The Unplugged Psychologist’ across social media—told SCREENSHOT. “The items of ‘loot boxes’ have varying names in each game but all essentially function to give the player randomised contents as part of the transaction. These contents can be helpful to a player in the game or purely cosmetic.”
If you’ve ever played PUBG, visualise the iconic red and blue crate filled with random equipment dropped from aeroplanes. Once the crate lands in an open field, everyone scrambles towards it—turning the area dangerous for ill-equipped players and a feeding ground for those who are already well-equipped. In-game loot boxes can also be bought with gaming currency and sometimes be traded among players in exchange for some real bucks. “This last point is key,” noted Doctor Rachel Kowert, a research psychologist, award-winning author and science content creator.
When I queried both the experts about the addictiveness fostered by loot boxes, they highlighted how the industry does not prefer the term ‘addictive’ to refer to the concept. According to Marshall, developers usually incorporate gambling techniques for “better player engagement” and to make games more “sticky.”
“If we put loot boxes aside and talk about game design in general, one core technique many games borrow from gambling is the ‘Near Miss Effect’—sometimes known as the ‘Fun Failure Effect’,” he explained. “Basically, this refers to the idea where you can get so close to achieving a goal or ‘winning’ but fall just short. The game sets off the dopamine receptors (with the aid of visual and sound cues) for the player to experience a ‘high’, despite not actually winning or achieving that task.” Sounds like Project Makeover’s toxic advertising strategy, am I right?
“I think loot boxes are incorporated for monetisation,” Doctor Kowert explained, highlighting how the boxes are designed to be enticing but are additive, not integral, for player engagement. “Everything about their design is meant to be desirable—they are colourful, fun, make funny sounds and confetti may fly when you open them. They also run on the idea of intermittent reinforcement or variable rewards, which is a psychological mechanism that is known to increase engagement.”
So have these concepts actually proven successful? If yes, then what’s the level of increased engagement we’re looking at? Marshall agreed to the claims by outlining how the gaming industry is estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year. “A large part of this is its popularity but that is, in my opinion, inextricably linked to the ‘addictive’ game design,” he said.
Now onto the elephant in the room. As the director of the Internet Addiction Clinic at Northshore Kidspace, has Marshall ever come across gamers who are obsessed with loot boxes? “Yes, I routinely see children and teenagers who are hooked on loot boxes and micro transactions. It’s not uncommon in my clinic to meet children as young as six to nine years old who have spent hundreds of dollars on their parents’ credit cards,” the expert confirmed.
In Marshall’s experience, the demographic initially deny knowing what they’re up to, “but when you unpack it with them, they typically tell a story of understanding their purchase and not being able to stop themselves from going back for more.”
In 19-year-old Max’s case, the appeal lies in gamified virtual unboxings. “I’m not interested in things that have a fixed result, the unpredictability of mystery boxes is what keeps me going,” he admitted. So are there any long-term effects of such a phenomenon? Will virtual unboxings motivate one to take monetary risks in their real life too?
“With specific reference to video game loot boxes, yes. I do think they can be addictive. Especially for children and teenagers who have underdeveloped areas of the brain responsible for emotional and impulse control (prefrontal cortex and amygdala etc),” Marshall noted. According to the expert, however, the long term effects of this obsession are “grossly understudied”—given the lack of longitudinal research in the area. “But the short to medium term effects on a small cohort of kids, for example: one to three per cent in Australia, are significant,” he concluded.
When it comes to physical mystery boxes, Marshall believes the concept is a simple play on the ‘Christmas gift’ idea. “Anything wrapped up has an air of excitement about it, so I can see the appeal for anyone seeking a sense of excitement in their life,” he said. The expert further acknowledged the presence of famous YouTubers and bloggers who post unboxing videos in order to expand their fanbase and make more money with sponsored deals. “So in that sense, it would be easy to see how those ‘average’ Joes would see a video like that and want to give it a try.”
A tale of downward spirals
In my chat with Max, the “hybeast” admitted how he’s previously tried to curb his urges, but only ended up buying even more to compensate for the unboxing-induced dopamine. In one of my questions, I’d also included the popular idiom “will curiosity kill the cat?” Max rephrased it and told me the right question, in this context, would be to ask: “will curiosity kill the cat financially?”
“My bank balance has taken a hit ever since I started purchasing mystery boxes and I’ve even borrowed cash from my family”
As for Theodore, he advises people who have an unhealthy relationship with unboxings to cut off all communication and emails with the websites or online vendors—given how they would use all means necessary to encourage you to keep purchasing more bundles. “Just buy things straight if you want them,” he added.
From his experience, Marshall recommends the involvement of parents in the process, especially when it comes to children and teens looking to set appropriate boundaries and limit their use. “Now, this doesn’t mean no technology or screen time—as that’s likely detrimental to health and too far the other way,” he warned, instead suggesting simple steps like limiting the amount of use and unlinking credit cards with gaming accounts.
For older demographics, this road is slightly different. “I believe adults should be free to spend their money how they deem fit. However, if they are struggling, it would be around similar exclusion and limits they place on themselves and get family or friends to help,” Marshall said. Here’s an example given by the expert: if there’s a game on your phone that you spend hours on, apart from all the mindless scrolling on TikTok, start by locking yourself out of the app and giving the passcode to a friend you trust.
“This is not fool-proof but it’ll help you add a layer of protection, in case you’re feeling the urge to log on and spend money,” Marshall explained.
Now that we’ve listed tips on pulling ourselves from the spiral, one question remains: Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with both mystery and loot boxes in the first place? Marshall highlighted how these concepts are pretty similar to betting on a sport or horse race. “It’s a game of chance with varying rewards. So, I do think it’s possible for adults to spend ‘within their means’ if that brings them enjoyment.” That being said, the expert condones children and teenagers being targeted or even permitted to purchase such boxes. “Fundamentally, that’s where we must work towards [and establish] reasonable safeguards in many countries that still resist this.”
So if you believe you’re engaging in any sort of behaviour that is causing physical, social or psychological harm to yourself or others, Doctor Kowert advises seeking professional aid. “To help get you started, there are many mental health resources available at www.takethis.org,” she summed up.
On the other hand, if you believe your relationship with mystery boxes are healthy and controlled, I suggest sticking to the physical ones rather than purchasing them off virtual spaces which can shrink the entire experience in the name of convenience. And if a vendor looks sketchy before you commit, Birch has some suggestions for you: “My advice would be to avoid purchasing one that doesn’t show you examples of past boxes or has no reviews, as this will likely be a scam.”
In the end, it’s worth remembering that you get to decide how you want to enjoy a mystery box. And the answer to the ‘addictive’ narrative of these items would always depend on who you’re asking.
If you were active on Tumblr back in 2018, you’d probably remember scrolling through a parallel universe of ‘confession Tumblr’—where users admitted their deepest desires for others to either cringe or relate to. While most confessions helped normalise sexual attraction to the clown from It and eating Tide pods for breakfast, there was a niche community on the rise obsessed with ‘oddbody Furbies’: a series of customised Furbies given different bodies than the original (and iconic) model.
One of the most coveted oddbody Furbies on Tumblr back then was the long Furby. Three years later, with hundreds of fan accounts on Instagram and more than 742 pages on its official Wiki fandom, the love for long Furbies is apparent. But what makes them so appealing? Is it possible to break down the demand for these handmade creations so that the rest of the internet can understand their appeal? Maybe all of the marketers and innovators out there can pick something up from this to help spur their own cultural trend.
In a bid to reach this haven, Screen Shot spoke to four of the top long Furby sellers on Etsy. From chaotically-wholesome commissions to a diverse range of uses, here’s all the love and insights they had to share for the handmade creations.
What is a long Furby?
Often referred to as ‘Long Boi’, a long Furby is characterised by its elongated body. Varying in length typically ranging between 3 to 5 feet, the popular oddbody ‘species’ can be broadly categorised into two: the ‘traditional long Furby’ with two small feet at the bottom and the ‘limbed long Furby’ featuring full-fledged arms and legs.
There are various ways a long Furby can be made. Creators can either acquire original Furby models on sites like eBay to later gut and partly replace them with a long and flexible plushy body, or alternatively, skin the models to elongate the fur while leaving the toy fully functional. Customised orders are also made from scratch depending on a customer’s preference.
“The toys that I wanted often didn’t exist,” started Sara Tobias, owner of PlushieCouture on Etsy. “So, inspired by my parents who are incredibly creative, I would try making them instead.” Although Tobias initially acquired Furbies to prank others, the creator later wanted to put them to good use and thereby started creating the oddbodies. “When I shared these with my family and friends, everyone loved them, and PlushieCouture was born!” Tobias added.
As for Alison Lord and her Etsy shop AlisonMakes, the creator tried her hand at making a long Furby years ago after spotting it on her social media feed—but ended up failing at the initial attempt. “Then I sort of forgot about it until the first lockdown hit when I created the Furby version of Joe Exotic (a big cultural icon at the time) and set up an Instagram account for fun.” Lord later kicked off AlisonMakes by creating baby Joes, presently regarding her initial draft as a “long Furby sacrilege.”
On the other hand, Evelyn Surman and Melody Ding (masterminds behind LongFurbyShop and DinnerIsServed respectively) came across long Furbies via YouTuber StrangeAeons who did a ‘deep dive’ on the dedicated Tumblr community. Inspired by a certain video where the YouTuber makes her own long Furby son named ‘Thursday Plurbonym-Boyporridge’, Ding—a 14-year-old creator—was inspired to make her own.
“It was a mess. Me and my friend knew nothing about Furbies at the time and even bought the wrong materials,” Ding said, currently at a sum total of 90 sales on Etsy. As for Surman, the idea of a long Furby was “absolutely hilarious, if somewhat cursed. I knew I had to make my own, so last June I made my first long Furby named ‘Rabies’ as a birthday present to myself—who now serves as the template for all of my designs.”
A socially distanced tale of bestsellers
Before we get into breaking down the appeal for long Furbies, let’s analyse the present demand for these creations on Etsy. For Lord, her bestselling Furbies are the long Furblings. “These mini baby long bois fly out of the shop as soon as I list them,” Lord mentioned. The longest Furby the creator has made to date is a Furby owl with a sculpted and feathery face. “He was about five and a half feet long and had a series of claws down the length of his body and was a real work of art.”
The owl was made by Lord following a sudden urge, later staying in her house and periodically scaring members of her family until a customer bought him. “He is now in New York, so this has now become a global thing,” Lord added.
As for Surman, the creator’s bestsellers are both the black fur with blue corduroy and black fur with yellow plaids which admittingly resembles YouTuber StrangeAeons’ own Furby named ‘Thursday’. “The longest Furby I’ve made was 5 feet long—which was almost as tall as me! And that one was so much fun to make as the customer wanted me to recreate a Furby as an inside joke within his friend group. It’s so rewarding creating pieces which mean a lot to people.”
No business can be left out in the whirlwind without analysing the impact the pandemic has had on its operations. In the world of long Furbies, the rollercoaster has only gone up, my friend! “The demand for long Furbies has skyrocketed over the past 12 months,” said Lord. “I think at this time, more than ever, people want to buy nice things that make them feel happy and long Furbies are fun.”
Although both Lord and Surman started their respective Etsy shops over the pandemic, the demand for their creations has remained steady over the period. “In the last year, we have seen more and more Furby-specific social media and shops come online,” said Tobias. “We love seeing more people discover Furbies and hope they’ve been a comfort in this horrible/crazy year.”
The A-Z drive behind purchases
It’s now time to address the much-awaited question: what makes long Furbies so appealing to the Furby fandom? Let’s start by analysing the purpose behind these creations.
“The best thing about long Furbies is that you can create your own purpose,” said Lord. “It can either live in your room and keep you company at night, or you can take it out and about and photograph it engaged in everyday activities.” Running a dedicated ‘long Furby making club’ at the high school she works at, Lord mentioned how club members are keen on hosting Furby picnics in the park when they are done.
Although the customers that Melody deals with usually buy oddbodies as a present, long Furbies in particular, are often bought for themselves. “A lot of people who want a long Furby companion but don’t want to make one themselves come on Etsy,” the creator said.
Surman adds on to the ‘companion’ status long Furbies have achieved—describing them as “a companion with which to rule the world.” However, Surman also credits their charms to “the sheer ridiculousness” of the entire concept. “The fact that they don’t have a specific purpose, I think, is part of their appeal.” Ding further backed up these claims: “The novelty appeal in them is because they are so weird—it’s kind of endearing.”
According to Tobias, the purpose backing the demand for long Furbies is either the search for a “fun cuddly friend” or a “fun creepy gift.” “We’ve seen people adopt them for the unboxing experience or because they’re great conversation starters. A few offices have even adopted them as a sort of mascot. I love showing them to people for the first time. Their reaction says it all—these aren’t something anyone can look away from.”
Tobias and Lord further touched upon the world of the online Furby fandom. “The long Furby community is one of the nicest online groups. The people are so diverse, of all ages and creative abilities, and I have never felt so welcome in any online community before,” Lord summed up.
Decoding the psychological appeal of long Furbies
A quick scroll through ‘Furblr’ (a parallel Tumblr dedicated to the long Furby fandom) will land you scratching your head as you then proceed to spot dedicated names popping up along with the images. This is because Furby lovers often name their long Furbies. Remember how we talked about the ‘companion’ status they have achieved? This is also the reason why the Furby fandom refuses to be labelled as ‘collectors’. You don’t collect family now, do you?
“I love it when a customer names their Furby and gets them a necklace made with their names,” admitted Lord. The creator also highlighted how some people in the community treat them like their own children, “For a lot of people who have long Furbies, it’s a reconnection with their childhood and a safe place for them to be who they really feel they are,” Lord added.
While explaining the ‘familial’ status of long Furbies, all four Etsy sellers admit to being dedicated Furby lovers themselves—sometimes creating a long Furby they find hard to let go of. “My long Furby ‘Rabies’ is very much part of the family and my siblings have pretty much accepted him as an adopted brother!” exclaimed Surman. Tobias admitted to giving all of the Furbies created by PlushieCouture a personality and backstory “with the hope they’ll be adopted into a loving home.”
“I thought Furbies were extremely creepy at first,” said 14-year-old Ding as she then proceeded to explain how Furbies have grown on her over time. “I’m too young to feel any nostalgia but I find they have a cursed charm to them.” The creator further admitted her attachment to her own long Furbies Orange Juice and Richard. “They spend their days on the couch with other Furby oddbodies staring at us.”
When asked about the demand for long Furbies among Ding’s age group, the creator admitted how she was lucky to find friends who share the same interest as her. “I’m pretty sure most people view long Furbies as cursed abominations but the people I interact with love them.”
For a majority of its part, all four sellers admitted to witnessing an influx of positive comments to their posts on both Instagram and Etsy to date. “Most people are so kind and excited by the pieces I’ve made, and that feedback is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of creating,” said Surman while Ding and Tobias back up the amazing support they have gotten from the community themselves.
“I have been making artsy stuff since I was a child (I’m 47 now) and I am amazed that this particular hobby has taken off in such a big way for me,” said Lord, adding how she has gotten all 5-star reviews on Etsy, now aiming to produce the Furbies of everyone’s dreams.
What about the rest of the internet though? “Sometimes I get comments from very confused people who don’t have a clue why they’ve come across pictures of such cursed Furbies. But these comments are definitely more out of confusion than negativity,” Surman said. By replacing the word ‘negativity’ with mere ‘confusion’, Surman efficiently drops the mic regarding the debated topic.
A design process rooted in experimentation
Now that I hope most of you are slowly falling down the rabbit hole with me, how can we—as the audience—try our own hands at making a long Furby? Is there a list of materials we can take on our next trip to Hobby Lobby? “The process varies piece to piece depending on what the customer wants in terms of length, style and extra accessories,” said Surman. However, the creator outlined the typical design process that goes behind the creation of the wonderful species.
First up is commissioning, where sellers usually receive customised design orders via a written description or a picture from their customers. These creators then sketch out the design including the materials and extra customisation requests. A pattern based on the size and style is later rounded up before materials like the fabric and spine are ordered. The design is then cut and sewn to make the long Furby.
“From start to end, the process usually takes around 12 hours to finish,” Surman mentioned. However, this time frame is subjected to the complication of the design. “I love a challenge. So the added difficulty makes it all the more fun!”
As for Tobias, the creator finds inspiration in the materials themselves. Highlighting the absence of planning, Tobias uses an analogy to describe her design process. “If you’ve seen the movie Apollo 13, the engineers pour a box of materials onto a table and then find a way to turn these seemingly random items into a solution. My process often feels like that.” Working with reclaimed raw materials, Tobias further admitted to the uncertainty of the same fabrics being available to the creator during the process. “But it’s always exciting to see what it becomes!”
The role of experimentation and inspiration becomes apparent as Lord also admitted to kick-starting her projects with vague ideas for creations. “I recently made some based on fire and water because I had a new material I wanted to experiment with. I have made two Gremlins which stemmed from my background in ceramics. I also get inspired by films and television to create custom orders for individual specifications.”
Striking a balance between quality and length, Lord’s most recent order is that of a custom black and white striped long Furby—who is now headed off to Australia to live with his new family.
The tidal wave forward
In the next 5 years, the Etsy sellers mostly have their eyes set on expanding their business—a surefire motive given the increasing demand of the coveted creations. “Looking back, I can see how much my ability and ideas have evolved from my first creations to where I am now. I hope to continue to grow as an artist, from the Furbies themselves to Instagram and my photography skills and beyond,” Tobias stated.
As for Surman, the creator will be starting her studies at university next year. “I definitely want to continue creating pieces alongside my schoolwork,” she said, adding how her customers can expect new designs and materials this summer—possibly even expanding into the category of ‘limbed long Furbies’.
Admitting to having tremendous fun, Lord feels like she is currently “riding a tidal wave of a cultural phenomenon.” “I am not sure how long it will last for but I do hope it lasts though!” As for Ding, the creator has a more practical approach. “I plan on continuing to sell Furbies as long as there is demand for it and I still enjoy it,” the creator said. Viewing her business as “something casual and an extension of a hobby,” Ding admits to liking the scene as it is. “I just wanted to supply people with Furbies.”
As for all of the ‘merely confused’ people out there on the internet who are still having a hard time decoding long Furbies, here’s what we (yes, you can see my own listing on Etsy soon) have to tell you. Cringe culture is dead and with Lord by our side, we bet you secretly want one too!