C2C Studios

Board Games Continue Down a Winning Path

by Mary Couzin, founder, SMG Leisure

Many game industry experts consider this the golden age of board games. History will decide if the moniker sticks, but one thing is for sure: Games and puzzles were the fastest-growing toy category last year, climbing 11 percent to $1.6 billion, according to The NPD Group. This year, game sales continue to grow at 24 percent, more than three times the growth of the toy industry overall. And that number could be even higher if you consider all the crowdsourced board games, a category that has become a major player (pun intended) in the publication and manufacturing of board games. Platforms such as Kickstarter allow independent game designers to reach thousands of consumers, and retailers are tuned in to this trend, which will only continue to rise.

Though lots of games sell at retail for less than $20, and some fall into the impulse category at less than $10, other more complicated games are selling for more than $50, contributing to the overall rise in game sales. During a recent trip to Target, I spotted 10 games selling for more than $50 each. Target.com has 67 titles selling for more than $50, including multiple strategy games.


North Star Games’ Happy Salmon

There is a perfect storm of many trends contributing to strong game sales. Below are the top trends from my research. We could meet over signature cocktails at one of the growing number of board game cafes and enjoy a long discussion on this topic, but it’s tough find an open table!

Getting Social

One of the best things about board games is that they allow for face-to-face social interaction, and many small business owners are seeing the value in this. Game cafes are opening worldwide, bringing people together over cocktails and board games. Specialty game stores have increased their game nights, where friends and strangers can come together to play, and some stores have added workshops to teach people how to play new games. Some local businesses will even send people to your home to teach you and your family how to play games you want to learn. Even larger retailers, such as Barnes and Noble, are getting in on board game events. The specialty retailer recently expanded their game events to all 640 of their stores. This trend is spilling over into corporate lunch hours and after-hours work events. If I had a dollar for every time someone outside our industry mentioned this, I could buy more of those $50 games.

Crowdsourcing Continues

The crowdfunded trend continues to be strong. More than $500 million has been pledged on all types of games (digital, video, projects, board, etc.) on Kickstarter since the platform’s inception, and of that, $265 million went to board games alone, outpacing video and digital projects.

Both independent companies and inventors use Kickstarter to launch their new products, and larger companies use the platform to find products to add to their lines. Looney Lab’s successful launch of Pyramid Arcade decreased many risks for the company. On a larger scale, Hasbro partnered with Indiegogo last year to source new games from independent game designers, and it was so successful that the company will repeat the effort this year. Of all the trends in games over the past few years, crowdfunding has probably had the biggest impact.


Looney Labs’ Pyramid Arcade

Silly and Simple

While complicated strategy games for adults are populating the shelves, games that require almost no instructions for silly and simple fun are also selling out at retail. The incredible success of Hasbro’s Pie Face last year proves that easy-to-learn, laughter-inducing games are popular with consumers. And this year, North Star Games’ Happy Salmon will be a sure hit in this category. At ASTRA Marketplace & Academy, the fast-paced action card game drew a huge crowd. Goliath Games also has a wide range of products in this genre, which has contributed to the company’s growth in North America.

Adult Party Games

Games aren’t just for kids. Adult party games that gather lots of people together for a good laugh have been gaining traction in the past few years, thanks to mega hits like Cards Against Humanity. And by “adult” I mean “cheeky,” and by “cheeky” I mean “kinda dirty.” This not-so-family-friendly trend continues this year with games such as Galactic Sneeze’s recent release Spank the Yeti, No Kidding’s Rotten Apples, PlayMonster’s Game of Nasty Things, and more.

Going Green

Game companies are jumping on the conservation train this year by using smaller boxes, pouches instead of boxes, and less internal packaging. This not only helps the environment, but it also helps cut costs and allows retailers to expand their offerings since smaller packaging means more products fit on a shelf. Hasbro recently earned Newsweek’s 2016 Green Rankings at No. 1 out of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. on overall environmental performance.

Galactic Sneeze_SpanktheYeti

Galactic Sneezes’ Spank the Yeti

The Importance of STREAM

Hot on the heels of the familiar STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and STEAM (which adds art to the mix) trends, is STREAM (which includes reading and writing). Games are a great way to help kids learn these important educational concepts, and demand for these products is at a high. This year, ThinkFun’s Circuit Maze, Foxmind’s Pack’n Go!, Griddly Games’ Rocket Lander, Pressman’s Pass the Pen, and Blue Orange’s Dr. Eureka are great options for STREAM learning.

Screen Fatigue

Peggy Brown, game inventor and producer of the upcoming documentary film OPERATION Operation: The Power of Play, believes the rise in the popularity of board games across all genres is because people are unconsciously longing to connect with more meaningful story-based experiences, and desperate to connect with each other. She says, “While board games can be perceived as old-fashioned, there’s no doubt that they bring us together and force us to interact with each other in ways nothing else does. Playing board games, for players of any age, can reconnect us, compel us to discover and invent new and different ways to communicate and solve problems, and refresh our basic social skills which, for most of us, get rusty in the fast and often lonely connections of the interwebs. In an era where we’ve become connected to everybody and are subsequently close to nobody, board games plug us in to each other as we unplug from our devices, even if it’s only for a short time.”

I don’t see an end in sight to the continued rise of board games. At London, Nuremberg, and New York Toy Fairs, as well as ASTRA Marketplace recently, I heard many times from retailers that they were increasing their board game selection and allocated space, all of which is golden news, contributing to a burgeoning golden age.

MaryHeadMary Couzin is CEO and founder of the Chicago Toy & Game Group, with a mission of promoting the importance of play through hosting consumer, fashion, inventor, and media events. Events include Chicago Toy & Game Fair, Inventor and Innovation Conferences, Toy & Game Innovation Awards, PlayCHIC Fashion Show, Young Inventor Challenge, and more.

Construction Toys Build Up Success

by Sean McGowan, founder, SMG Leisure

The construction category accounted for about 10.5 percent of total U.S. toy industry retail sales in 2015, according to The NPD Group. The category rose 9 percent in 2015, on top of a rise of 11 percent in 2014. Over the past 15 years or so, construction toys have been the most consistent growth segment of the U.S. toy industry. Growth has been so strong and so consistent that if you were to exclude construction toys from total industry sales, there would have been essentially no growth in U.S. toy industry sales from 2003 through 2014 (prior to the massive surge in action figure sales last year), especially excluding the effects of inflation. It is the only one of the NPD toy industry super categories not to show at least one year-on-year annual decline during this period.

It is notable that not only does the category not owe its strong and steady growth during this period to the increased use of technology (electronics, Wi-Fi connections, apps, etc.), but also that the growth is actually in spite of an explosion in consumer interest in video games and smart gadgets. The category’s best years actually came after the introduction of the iPhone. (A side corollary here is that the biggest gains in Lego’s profitability came at a time when its main raw material—plastic resins—were undergoing a dramatic increase in costs, although recent years have offered some relief. Lego may be the most “plastic” of all toys, and yet wild gyrations in the cost of the feedstock did nothing to disrupt its growth, even as other toy makers were blaming rising resin costs for their own dips in profitability.)


Lego Friends Adventure Camp Treehouse

Lego’s category market share, which we estimate at greater than 80 percent, suggests that Lego did not simply ride the strength of the category—it created it. In my view, the company’s success has been based on several key components operating both separately and together. First, it changed its corporate culture (with astonishing speed, given its size, age, and prior success) to become more attentive to feedback from both retailers and consumers. Second, it stepped up its already impressive research and development efforts, developing a team of designers with an uncanny ability to discern what consumers worldwide would be interested in seeing in the way of new themes. Third, it expanded its licensing efforts to incorporate a broad range of topical as well as timeless licenses. However, it is crucial to note that Lego’s growth over the past decade has not simply been the result of a significant increase in licensed toys. This is not all about Marvel and Star Wars. The company’s City line sets have seen growth that keeps pace with licensed categories. Fourth, it introduced Lego Friends, by far its most successful effort to attract girls to the play pattern that for so many years was considered one for boys.

And, in a sense, it is this success that leads to what I consider the fifth reason for Lego’s striking and consistent growth: It effectively expanded the construction category to incorporate elements of play that had previously been associated with other, non-construction toys. The rising popularity of its movie-licensed play sets and figures effectively put Lego in the action figure category, since kids would be playing with the Lego figures and play sets in much the same way that they might play with other licensed action figures. The Friends line tapped into young girls’ desire for dollhouse play, for collectibles, and for mini-dolls. Original themed sets, such as Ninjago and Chima, feature extensive vehicle play. The company even branched out into “board games” (although with less success than some of its other efforts). The Dimensions and Fusion lines are strong entrants in the toys-to-life and smart toy categories. In other words, much of Lego’s growth came as a result of taking the brand into new toy categories. In doing so, it effectively grew the construction toy category by taking over some of the play patterns previously held by non-construction toys.


Spin Master’s Meccano Micronoid

Looking at the category more broadly than just its bigger player, what is interesting lately is that Lego is not the only construction toy maker that is seeing growth. For most of the years between 2005 and 2015, Lego essentially got more than 100 percent of the category’s growth, while many of its construction toy rivals were seeing declines in sales. More recently, these other brands have seen growth.

• Since its acquisition by Mattel, Mega Bloks sales have stabilized and resumed growth (following a period of forced contraction after the acquisition).
• The Bridge Direct has picked up some share with its C3 line of construction sets (featuring licenses from the NBA, WWE, and Shopkins).
• K’nex may be a fraction of its peak size, but it has resumed rapid growth, benefitting from a shift back to domestic manufacturing, use of key licenses, and expansion of the brand into other play patterns. In other words, following a similar playbook as Lego.
• Meccano, acquired by Spin Master in 2013, has enjoyed a strong surge in shelf space, sales, and innovation.

It is worth noting again that with the exception of some of the Lego and Meccano lines, none of these toys are tech toys. Indeed, I believe a big part of their appeal is that they are not screen-based; they appeal to parents’ nostalgia for their own toys and their desire to keep their kids from staring at screens all day. In this sense, perhaps the future of construction toys has never been brighter.

I’ve learned you can never say never—and that you can never say always—in the toy industry, but it certainly feels like this is a category with a promising future. Construction toys offer boundless hours of open ended-play (even if they are based on licensed themes), a play pattern that is inherently good for a developing young mind, an option that millennial parents see as part of the highly coveted STEM movement, and incredible durability. (My parents’ basement was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and the only toys that survived were Lego bricks.) I believe Lego is likely to continue to be the dominant player in this category, but the fact that it is no longer the only player that is doing well is a very good sign for the whole segment. »

SeanMcGowanSean McGowan is the founder of SMG Leisure. He has been closely following the toy industry for 30 years, analyzing product trends, cost changes, marketing practices, and other aspects of how products and companies succeed (or don’t). He also follows digital gaming, sporting goods, and juvenile products. McGowan started SMG Leisure in January 2016 to continue this work beyond the parameters of Wall Street. 

Fresh, Fierce, and Fabulous: Innovative and Classic Dolls to Spur Sales Through Q4

by Kristin Morency Goldman, communications specialist, Toy Industry Association

This spring, The NPD Group reported a 16 percent uptick in doll sales for the first quarter of the year, and industry experts at BMO Capital Markets predict that doll sales will continue to grow by about 10 percent overall this year, thanks to a slew of innovative, licensed, and classic dolls hitting store shelves through the holiday season.

“The initial launch of Hasbro’s version of the Disney Princess dolls, the introduction of the curvy Fashionista Barbie from Mattel, and a new line of DC Super Hero Girls action dolls, also from Mattel, appear to be generating strong sales at retail,” says Gerrick Johnson, toy analyst at BMO Capital Markets.


Barbie Fashionistas, from Mattel

Johnson said this could be the strongest year for dolls since 2009, when Mattel introduced Barbie Fashionistas and the I Can Be… Barbie line; MGA Entertainment brought Moxie Girls to market; and Spin Master introduced its Liv dolls. In 2010, Mattel introduced Monster High, “adding even more firepower to the category,” says Johnson.

“The doll segment went from being a negative trending category for the five years prior, to one of the strongest categories for the next five years,” says Johnson, adding that he is expecting a similar reaction this year. “We’ll see in the fall if kids keep up the momentum.”

Innovations and new licenses in the category are stimulating demand, but the enduring value of classic play is also having an impact on doll sales, according to Adrienne Appell, trend expert at the Toy Industry Association (TIA).

“We know that toys in general are faring quite well, and some of the classic categories—including dolls—are experiencing a surge because kids still love to use their imaginations and role play,” says Appell.

Earlier this year, TIA identified the top trends in toys for 2016, including toys-to-life, which combine technology with traditional play, as well as toys that encourage families to play together.


Cabbage Patch Kids Baby So Real, from Wicked Cool Toys

“We are seeing tech-driven dolls, as well as licensed fashion dolls that appeal to both kids and adult collectors, which coincide with two of our top trends and tell us that the doll category is one to watch,” says Appell. “And we can’t forget about the enduring popularity of traditional dolls—like the classic baby doll—that allow kids to act out their future roles as parents.”

New introductions from leaders in the doll segment (Mattel and Hasbro) will spur interest in dolls—and sales—across the entire industry. From new innovations to tried-and-true classics, the following are just a few examples that are expected to impact the market through Q4:

Cabbage Patch Kids Baby So Real (coming in August), from Wicked Cool Toys, is an interactive, lifelike Cabbage Patch Kid that combines traditional doll play with groundbreaking technology. The soft and cuddly doll comes to life with animated LCD eyes that open, close, and look around as well as sensors for peek-a-boo, tickle play, and other interactions. An accompanying app heightens the play experience by allowing kids to bring the fun of parenting online with a virtual nursery, games, and video clips.

Little Friends Doll Feli, from Haba, is unlike any other Little Friends doll because her clothes and hairstyles can be removed and interchanged, allowing for customization. The 4-inch tall bendy doll is posable and compatible with all Haba dollhouse furniture and dollhouses.

Asana Yoga Girl, from Azaim Girlz, is an aspirational doll that encourages children to be active and develop lifelong healthy habits. The doll is sold with a pilates ball, hand weights, a yoga mat (which doubles as a slap bracelet), and a hair brush. A percentage of profits from the sale of each Asana doll will benefit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which is dedicated to reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity.

Mon Premier Bébé Bath Sail Away (Corolle) is a classic 12-inch doll for kids to play with in the bath, pool, or ocean. The lifelike baby doll is soft and posable, making it perfect for rocking and cuddling. It can also be hung to dry from the tab on the back of its neck after bathing or water play.

Based on the popular line of Star Darlings books and animation, the Disney Star Darlings doll line from Jakks Pacific encourages kids to “be confident, believe in themselves, and to shoot for the stars!” The fully posable dolls are decked out in outrageous fashions, and feature shimmer skin and sparkly eyes.

Betty Spaghetty dolls, from Moose Toys

Betty Spaghetty dolls, from Moose Toys

Harley Quinn, The Joker, and The Penguin are the new DC Comics Fashion Squad dolls, slated to “hit the runway” this fall. Appealing to doll lovers and collectors of all ages, members of the DC Comics Fashion Squad are decked out in couture costumes and represented in Madame Alexander’s 16-inch fashion doll sculpt.

Splashlings, from TPF Toys, is a beautiful line of collectible dolls and characters from under the sea with unique personalities. Collectible items within the line include mermaids and their “splashlings” (pets), treasures, gems, and play sets. Accompanying webisode content can be found at the Splashlings website.

Moose Toys is bringing back the classic Betty Spaghetty doll. First introduced in the late ’90s, the all-new Betty Spaghetty will let kids use their imaginations as they mix and match her outfits and hair to create a personalized doll that is completely unique.

The Hanna, Jane, and Theresa dolls from Little Poland Gallery are beautifully made of 100-percent cotton and other natural resources. The 15-inch tall playmates are perfect for little ones ages 18 months and up. »

NPD Says U.S. Toy Industry Mid-Year Sales Grow More Than 7 Percent

The U.S. toy industry grew 7.5 percent in the first half of this year, outpacing last year’s mid-year and annual growth rates, according to The NPD Group. NPD estimates that the industry will grow approximately 7 percent, or $1.4 billion, for full-year 2016.

vcsPRAsset_520707_126670_1e732e38-e10c-40ae-b27a-7b9633991b38_0 [Read more...]

TSCA Reform Bill Passes Senate

TSCAThe U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation reforming the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) on June 7, according to the Toy Industry Association (TIA). The bill, which is now awaiting signature by President Obama, marks Congress’ first major update to the legislation in 40 years and represents a major victory for the toy industry.

TIA will host an educational webinar to explain how the TSCA reform impacts toy companies’ chemical use management program. The webinar will take place on Thursday, June 16th from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. (EST), registration is now open.

Once President Obama signs the bill into law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin the process of prioritizing chemicals and taking necessary steps to review them. TIA intends to stay engaged with EPA in order to find opportunities to participate in the development of future rules and regulations impacting the toy industry.

Toy Industry Grows Nearly Seven Percent in 2015

NPDToyPerformanceU.S. toy sales grew 6.7 percent in 2015, according to retail sales data from The NPD Group, generating $19.4 billion and marking one of the strongest performances the industry has seen in a number of years.

Nine of the 11 super-categories posted gains in 2015. Games/Puzzles and Vehicles grew the fastest at 10.8 percent and 9.7 percent, respectively, followed by Building Sets and Outdoor & Sports Toys. Outdoor & Sports Toys and Dolls had the largest dollar gains followed by Building Sets and Infant/Toddler/Preschool Toys. Star Wars was the number-one absolute dollar growth contributor to three of the super-categories: Action Figures, Vehicles, and All Other Toys. [Read more...]

TIA Celebrates 100 Years with September Ribbon Cutting at The Strong

TIACentenaryThe Toy Industry Association (TIA) will kick off its 100th anniversary celebrations on September 17 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Toy Halls of Fame Exhibit at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. The event will honor contributors to the toy industry’s evolution and success, including a number of TIA members.

[Read more...]

NPD Projects U.S. Toy Industry to Grow 6.2 Percent This Year

NPDGrouplogoAccording to The NPD Group, U.S. toy industry sales will grow 6.2 percent, or just over $1 billion, for full-year 2015. The forecast is based on the positive mid-year sales performance of the industry, which grew by 6.5 percent, or about $400 million, through July 4.

[Read more...]

TIA Webinar Focuses on Distribution Channel Trends and Growth Strategies

TIA LogoThe Toy Industry Association (TIA)’s Shifting Channels: Strategies for Growth in the Toy Industry webinar is scheduled to take place on August 6 from 2 to 3 p.m. ET. It will highlight key findings from a Vanderbilt University study on distribution channel trends in the toy industry as well as potential pathways to success.

[Read more...]

TIF Publishes Annual Report, Reaches Milestone

TIF2014AnnualReportThe Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) has released its 2014 Annual Report. Thanks to toy donations and financial contributions from individual and corporate supporters, TIF was able to serve nearly 5 million kids, and reach 56 percent more kids than during the previous year. Another milestone was met in 2014: More than $100 million worth of toys have been donated to The Toy Bank, TIF’s signature program, since the program’s inception in 2003. Just under $19 million in toys were donated last year.

[Read more...]