Once upon a time, all yoyos were the same. Or at least close enough. A wooden oval with a groove carved into the middle down to a narrow axle. Variations were created where perhaps you had 3 pieces instead of 1, the shape was a tiny bit narrower, wider, bigger, smaller, heavier, lighter. You had either an ‘imperial’ shape, or a ‘butterfly’ shape. But fundamentally they all pretty much worked the same and the differences in how they played was small.
In the 1990’s yoyos changed. A lot. The addition of a plastic sleeve around a metal axle added time to how long your yoyo could sleep, as it reduced friction from cotton string dragging on wood or metal, to smooth plastic against smooth metal. The real changed happened with the ball bearing. Through the 90’s ball bearings changed what kind of tricks you could get away with. Tricks that would have instantly jammed up a fixed axle yoyo suddenly became possible. Tricks like barrel rolls that we take for granted as simple are nearly impossible on a fixed axle yoyo.
During the 2000’s manufacturers refined yoyo design. With the advent of “unresponsive” yoyoing (where the yoyo doesn’t come up when you tug, you have to do a ‘bind’ trick) the field of possible tricks was blown open. It’s funny to think from where we stand now that there was a time when no one knew how to do a bind, the trick we all just do reflexively now. It also drastically widened the scope of possible yoyo designs. Previously you were limited in design because you had to keep the ‘gap’ where the string wraps narrow enough to allow the yoyo to come up on a tug. With the dominance of unresponsive play all you needed was enough inner wall to hold a response system (starburst gave way to o-rings and then the silicone pad that is now standard)that you could bind with.
In the mid-late 2000’s advances in computer controlled lathes allowed for solid aluminum yoyos that could out-preform the variety of plastic and hybrid designs, although they were still really expensive. For those that were around at the time you probably remember that YoyoJam was the dominant force in high performing affordable yoyos. They specialized in plastic yoyos with metal rings to push weight out away from the hub for stability and longer play.
By 2012 prices had dropped significantly to the point where many of the larger brands had high performing metal yoyos that could be purchased for under $50. The limits of what worked as a yoyo were being tested. You had the Yoyofactory Superwide which was almost double the width of anything of it’s time. You also had things like the “Littles” by Chinese manufacturer Aoda that was a bit bigger than a quarter, but could play unresponsive and was capable of handling a lot of hard tricks.
As 2017 reaches it’s end we have been sitting comfortably in a place where the ‘ideal’ yoyo for competition and pushing the limits of trick development has become the industry standard. There are a lot of different designs possible within this narrow bracket, but what this means is that it’s really hard to find a yoyo that doesn’t play well. Since most of the consumers buying yoyos are kids who want to be the world champion one day, that means that most people who actually want to sell yoyos have to stick within the narrow frame of possible designs.
It’s kind of like Nickleback set the standard for yoyos. They do what they do well, but how many of us are really passionate about getting there next album right away? Or are we just buying it because that one song on the radio was catchy (because they are paid to play it twice an hour).
I’m not saying there isn’t innovation. Yoyofactory dropped the 9dragons which was an amazing novelty yoyo. Bi-metal yoyos have become the norm as mastery of the process has been established by machine shops in China.
What I’m enjoying as 2018 comes to a close is hearing how many people are bored and want something interesting.Many smaller brands are responding to that, the recent spate of slimline/responsive yoyos is evidence of this.I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings!