COMMENTARY: I Don’t Know Art, But I Know What I Like (and That Includes Books about Lego)

Everybody loves Lego. But naturally, not everyone loves it in the same way. For some, what they find most appealing is the look of the bricks, which can capture the shape of an object—whether we’re talking about the Empire State Building or the Batmobile—while retaining an element of whimsy. For others, what makes Lego so awesome is the infinite number of possibilities it presents; that is, the fact that with enough pieces (and the right ones), a person can construct whatever they want. The only limiting factor is one’s imagination. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Sibling Rivalries Exist in the Toy World, Too

FrozenproductsA real-life sibling rivalry exists between Disney’s Frozen Elsa and Anna products—with one sister clearly winning. According to a Wall Street Journal article published last month, Disney marketing executives expected the sisters to be equals in popularity. As such, they were caught off-guard by the overwhelming preference for Elsa, who outsells Anna in dolls, toys, costumes, and other items. Disney, in response, makes sure to keep Elsa items in-stock at stores: For example, about 10 percent more Elsa dolls are stocked than Anna ones at Wal-Mart, according to the same Wall Street Journal article.

To help combat the Frozen sibling rivalry, companies are selling dolls with both sisters, and sales data from last holiday season shows that girls want to play with dolls or role-play with costumes featuring both characters. In turn, companies such as Jakks Pacific, as well as retailers like Toys “R” Us, are making and selling products, respectively, that involve the two sisters. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: What We Talk About When We Talk About Why Boys Don’t Play with Dolls on TV

NBWQDQUTdfblBOa-580x326-noPadIn a perfect world, toys would be toys and there would be no grand toy judge to pound his or her gavel and declare which ones are for boys and which are for girls–okay, that doesn’t actually happen, but rarely do kids get to decide which toys they want to play with before it’s already been preconceived as a boy or girl toy.

There have been many strides made towards creating toys that intend to promote gender equality—just check out this commentary, New Toys Inspire Girls to Cross Sterotypical Boundaries, from Alexi Velasquez, or, Dolls for Boys Are a Sign of the Times, from our own Phil Guie. Yet it seems that toy companies continually miss the mark.

Pinkifying “boy” toys doesn’t close a gender gap, and marketing toys that have previously been deemed “boyish” in a way that will appeal to girls may be smart for sales, but it’s important that we look beyond the toys themselves, and at the advertising campaigns that drive them. That’s where we really see the effect that it has on the way kids play. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: This Holiday Season, Let’s Not Forget the Value of Games

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 3.21.15 PMJust this weekend, I attended a party at a friend’s house—a “FriendsGiving” gathering hosted by her and her husband. After a delicious pre-holiday feast of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and veggies, we decided to let the food settle while playing a game of celebrity Charades. Our game was spontaneous, so we worked with what was at hand: post-it notes, a pen, and a salad bowl. We tore up the post-its, wrote the names of celebrities, and tossed them into the bowl before breaking into teams and doing our best Michael Jackson, George Washington, and Vanna White impressions.

This reminded me that games aren’t just for kids. Somewhere along the line, the concept of “fun and games” became synonomous with youth, a lack of responsibility, and blissful ignorance. But one could make the argument that grown-ups need games even more than kids sometimes, to help us unwind, loosen up, and chill out at the end of a busy day or a hectic work week. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Something in the Air, or, How I Do Drone On

Unmanned aircraft, or drones, have been in the news a lot recently. This past Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the authority to regulate drones, and can fine those who fly them recklessly.

DJI.InspireMeanwhile, a recent article in The Wall Street Journal profiled a Chinese company called SZ DJI Technology Co., which has created a new commercial drone armed with a high definition camera, among other bells and whistles. From the video footage I watched, what struck me was that the drone only weighs two pounds, and looks a lot like the R/C flyer toys that constantly make their way through The Toy Book offices.

According to the aforementioned NTSB ruling, drones are legally aircraft. So in the eyes of the federal government, they aren’t toys, despite the groundswell of drone hobbyists popping up in places like Chicago, and despite the fact that one can see a clear trail of evolution between these controversial machines and less notorious R/C toys. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Games, and Game-Players, Are Getting More Mobile All the Time

Nowadays, everything seems to be changing, from communicating to ordering dinner to dating. The same goes with the way we’re playing games.

We’ve known for years that games were becoming social. People (ahem, Gen X-ers) still send out Candy Crush and Farmville requests on the ever-dissolving Facebook. However, instead of these communally competitive games, new mobile apps are actually bringing players together to compete in a face-to-face (or screen-to-screen?) arena. For the most part, these apps are free (or cheap) to own, filling up the game cabinet without the expense of buying new extensions and themes of the same games.

1017181_150945871760166_378131469_nCards Against Humanity—a spin-off of the much more tame Apples to Apples card game—is a crowd favorite among my hometown friends. So when Evil Apples, a mobile version loosely based on both games from Evil Studios Ltd., was released for iOS devices, my hometown friends and I were brought back together in a competitively disturbing way. Users can prompt friends to download the app and join the game. Once everyone signs on, the game begins as players try to come up with the funniest–and most disturbingly wrong–phrases. There’s even a chat feature in the game for players to comment–or to remind stragglers that the game is waiting on their card. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: As Play Gets Smarter, More Toys Come to Life Digitally

It’s official: Smart toys are taking over the toy space.

Gone are the days in which kids are content with traditional methods of play. Books, activities, and games are all available for kids on mobile devices, and they expect their toys to be no different. But although the mediums that kids are interacting with daily are changing, the one thing that won’t ever change is that kids love play.

Angry Birds Stella Telepods

Angry Birds Stella Telepods

Smart toys integrate physical toys and technology—essentially giving digital life to toys. Manufacturers are starting to realize the added value in these products and how wildly popular they can be. More than 72 million kids say they want smart toys, according to market research firm Interpret in a GameByte study.

In addition, kids are using mobile devices more than ever before. Seventy-one percent of households with a child age 4 to 14 reported owning a smartphone in 2014, already up from 55 percent in 2012, according to The NPD Group. Also, kids who own tablets doubled from 2012 to 2014, growing from 21 percent to 43 percent, respectively. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: China Toy Expo Showcases Regional Toy Brands with Worldwide Potential

DreamBeyond2Toy trade shows are terrific places in which to catch a sneak peek of the next play product sure to take the marketplace by storm. Recently, I was covering China Toy Expo, sponsored by China Toy & Juvenile Products Association, which took place this past week at the Shanghai New International Expo Center in Shanghai. While the show featured plenty of toy brands that would be familiar to Westerners—many of them imported by Chinese companies for domestic distribution—there were also lots of Chinese toy manufacturers on-hand, bearing properties that they hope will do well at home.

And of course, if a product does well in its native market, one assumes there’s a good chance it will gain an international partner that will help it take the next step. Think of Lego, which began selling in Europe during the 1940s before expanding to North America during the ’60s. Not every new toy brand can be Lego, of course; however, it’s always fun to speculate on new products and their potential to become the next big global star due to built-in appeal, compelling features, etc. Here are a few domestically-made items from China Toy Expo, which in this author’s opinion, have a shot at breaking out worldwide. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Science Toys Appeal to Kids Younger Than Ever

In the past, the term “science toy” commonly elicited thoughts of volcano kits, magnifying glasses, and telescopes—and not much else. However, times have changed. Kids and parents today have a broad range of options to choose from in the science category, from toys that teach kids about outer space to kits that help them learn computer programming. With all the options available today, the industry is seeing new trends in the science toy space, and kids are reaping the benefits.

thamesDemand has grown for toys geared toward kids as young as 3 and 4 years old. Andrew Quartin, CEO of Thames & Kosmos, says, “I visit a lot of retail stores, and more times than not, I get requests for things specifically for 4-year-olds, and sometimes for 3-year-olds. This presents specific challenges, because the way kids ages 3 and 4 learn is very different from the way kids ages 6, 8, 10, or 12 learn.” The key to creating a successful product for this age demographic lies in how easy it is to play with. “One of the strongest assets of our kits are the manuals and the ease-of-use we create with them. How do you do that for a 3-year-old that hasn’t learned to read yet? Our thought is that we’re going to model our manuals after picture books, so it’ll be very image-driven and will tackle topics that they’re interested in.” [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The Toy Industry Stands Up for National Bullying Prevention Month

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and whether or not you believe bullying is a natural rite of passage among children, versus a series of preventable behaviors that can leave lasting emotional damage on the young, one thing is clear: It has become a part of the national conversation. Joining the voices chiming in on the subject is the toy industry, which in the months leading up to October, has seen a number of actions among various players to address the problem of bullying. Some take the form of products that try to make kids understand the bad feelings that come with being picked on; others seek galvanize youth into taking a stand against bullying together. [Read more...]