- Associated Press - Thursday, February 13, 2014

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Before there was YouTube, the website, there was Utube the game, created by inventor Michael Hicks.

Now Hicks, who moved to Asheville six years ago, is hoping to make a big splash with the simple game, played with a bendable tube and rubber balls.

After creating the game in 1999 and watching it sell 40,000 units, Hicks struck a deal with a “major toy company” to sell it nationally and internationally. But the deal didn’t pan out, the company reverted the rights to Hicks, and now he’s selling Utube through Asheville’s Curio Toys.

“We are starting over,” Hicks said. “But the great thing is that there’s more potential than ever. If I could get one good viral video, we could sell 100,000 this year.”

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube didn’t exist when Utube first came to the scene, he said.

Beyond the game, Hicks himself has had something of a personal comeback in recent years, he said.

“I was in crippling pain for 17 years from an industrial accident when I was 20,” he said. “I weighed 340 pounds and smoked three or four packages of cigarettes a day. I was getting pain pills.”

He credits Asheville’s healthy living lifestyle with turning that all around.

“I quit smoking, quit fast food,” he said. “I learned from so many people in Asheville. I learned to calm down and breathe. Now I’m the most patient person around,” he said.

Hicks was living in Spartanburg, S.C., and between jobs when he had a “light-bulb moment” while fooling around with dryer hose. Adding a rubber ball to the hose, he decided there was something there.

“I have always had ideas, but this one was different,” he said. He worked out the patent application and got the game manufactured and on sale.

After creating Utube in 1999, he sold the game from 2000-04 and promoted it on “Good Morning America” and the QVC cable shopping channel, he said.

Utube is all about “hand eye coordination” as the ball is maneuvered in and out of the tube, he said. “It’s very simple, it just requires you to focus.”

___

Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, http://www.citizen-times.com