Toy Fair 2017


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.

NorthStarGames_HappySalmon

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.

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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.

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.

Fashionistas

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.

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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. »

Eight Reasons Why Pokémon Go Is Succeeding Where Toys Have Failed

20160706012433!Pokemon_GoIf you haven’t noticed the runaway success of Pokémon Go this past week, you’re living under a rock. Look outside—all those people looking at their phones, glancing around, and walking slowly into traffic (hopefully not) are playing the hottest new augmented reality (AR) game. The word on the street is that this is the future of gaming. Perhaps it is. But it’s certainly not the first augmented reality game. The toy industry has been taking shots at this category for years with little to no success. At Toy Fair 2012, WowWee introduced its App Gear line. [Read more...]

Summer Toy Trends

New toys and games hitting shelves will inspire summertime play whether kids are at home, on vacation, or at the playground. The Toy Industry Association (TIA) spoke with industry experts to gain insight into what’s trending in outdoor play, what indoor playthings encourage creative skill-building and learning, and the top franchises and licenses expected to impact toy sales this summer.

Outdoor Play & New Destinations

As excitement builds for the “lazy days” of summer, toys sales show that families are anything but lazy. The NPD Group reported that the Outdoor & Sports Toys category saw a 9 percent increase in sales last year to $3.59 billion.

“The traditional outdoor play patterns—especially those related to exercise, like bicycling, running, and jumping—may not change much,” says Adrienne Appell, TIA toy trend specialist, “but toymakers are putting twists on classic toys and activities to keep kids engaged.”

New tech trends are complementing outdoor play, says J. Alison Bryant, CEO and chief play officer of PlayScience, PlayLab & Sandbox, adding that kids and families are using mobile technologies to enjoy navigational techniques such as geocaching, so they can learn about what they see on nature hikes or while playing on a beach.

“This is still relatively nascent, but what is great about it is that families are using technology to augment and enhance their play experience, not replace it,” Bryant notes.

Traveling to specialty toy stores can be perfect summer outings, especially during times when it may be rainy or too hot to be outside. Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA), says this season’s store-based events break up families’ packed schedules and provide venues for fun group activities.

“Specialty toy stores compete by making their stores a destination and providing child- and family-centered experiences that are unique in their communities,” Mosley says. “So, in ASTRA stores you’ll often see creative and fun opportunities pop up in the summer—everything from Make Your Own Garden Stone to a several-days-long Build-a-Fort Art Camp.”

Fun Ways to Play Indoors

Not all summer play takes place outside. Kids also enjoy playing inside, especially with toys and games that will boost their creative and artistic abilities. The new offerings from one of TIA’s main trends for this year, named “Ultimate Creator,” encourages kids to find and build their talents as digital artists, filmmakers, jewelers, and more.

“The season also presents opportunities for kids to explore their passions and interests through play,” says Appell. “Once they’ve returned to the house after a day outside, kids may be inspired to make their own ice cream with their parents, or design swimwear with toys and products under the Ultimate Creator trend.”

Additionally, products that teach or reinforce Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) are providing ways to keep learning fun outside of the classroom. Kids wishing to visit exotic and atypical places can arrive there almost instantly with new virtual reality (VR) products and content. Whether with a brand’s VR kit or by assembling cardboard glasses to connect to a smartphone, the sector breaks new ground in terms of offering 360-degree experiences.

“The essence of VR is to be immersed in a location it will teach children about, and transport them to places they couldn’t otherwise visit—deep in the ocean, the edge of a volcano, into a rain forest, or even into the nucleus of an atom,” says David Kleeman, senior vice president of global trends at Dubit. “It’s inexpensive, comfortable, and simple for [kids] to use, and we anticipate a growing amount of content for kids beginning this spring and summer, as the devices become widespread.”

Summer Blockbusters

Licensed toys account for 32 percent of U.S. toy sales, according to The NPD Group, and that number is expected to climb as various new entertainment reaches fans on the silver screen. This summer, theaters will be packed with blockbuster films featuring new and classic characters.

“Fans and industry professionals have high expectations for Captain America: Civil War, while families will likely make an outing for PG movies like Finding Dory,” Appell notes.

Other family-friendly summer blockbusters slated for release include The Angry Birds Movie, and sequels to Ice Age and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The licensed toys and games they inspire will run the gamut from tech to traditional and will keep kids busy playing for hours.

“Films’ toys often further the family fun even after the credits roll because they tend to be engaging and appropriate for all ages,” says Appell. “The play experiences offered by life-size accessories, mobile games, and everything in between should be able to keep toy sales strong and kids playing for hours.”

TIA tracks trends on a year-round basis to provide industry stakeholders with insight into what’s new and what’s on the horizon in the toy and youth entertainment product industry. Visit www.toyassociation.org/trends for more information.


Justin_HeadshotJustin Smulison is the newest member of TIA’s Marketing Communications team, after years as a journalist and custom content producer in legal publishing. A proud husband and father, he is thrilled to report on toys and characters that he and his 2-year-old daughter play with together, and to be involved in an industry that positively impacts her and future generations.

The New Age of Feature Plush

Feature plush has come a long way, expanding far beyond plush toys that just talk or make sounds. This year, plush are more realistic and interactive than ever.

Last year, most interactive plush introductions responded to touch, voice, or movements. This year, companies continue to raise the standard, taking plush to the next level. [Read more...]

The New Flavor of Activity Toys

Mom was wrong: apparently, it’s more than OK to play with your food.

Since the inception of Kenner Toys’ Easy-Bake Oven in 1963, kids have been expressing their creativity in the kitchen by baking up miniature sweet treats. And while the Easy-Bake Oven is one of the most iconic toys ever made, inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2006, new toys that let kids make and decorate real, edible foods are eating up shelf space like never before. [Read more...]

Coloring Outside the Age Lines

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Coloring books are integral to kids’ creative development, with thousands of titles featuring thick black outlines of cartoon characters, just waiting to be scribbled on, torn out, and hung on the refrigerator. But kids aren’t the only ones showing off their creativity with coloring books. Specialty retailers such as Michaels and Barnes and Noble are stocking the shelves with dozens of titles designed with adults in mind. [Read more...]

Fourth Annual HoliDAY of Play Lets Adults Be Kids Again

unnamedThe Toy Insider, in partnership with Woman’s Day magazine, hosted the fourth annual HoliDAY of Play event on Friday, October 16, where more than 100 digital influencers and members of the press met face-to-face with some of the top companies in the toy industry to get hands-on experience with the best toys on the market.

Guests were treated to a gourmet brunch while enjoying sweeping views of New York City during this exclusive 2.5-hour event. Toy Insider Mom Laurie Schacht greeted guests with the one and only Darth Vader, reinforcing the strength of the Star Wars force this year. Schacht then gave guests a full presentation on the Toy Insider’s Hot 20Top Tech 12, and STEM 10 picks, as well as the top toy trends of 2015, which include:

Character Craze: Thanks to the upcoming launch of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, characters will play an even bigger role in the toy box than ever before, From interactive figures like Spin Master’s Legendary Yoda and Thinkway Toy’s 16-inch Darth Vader, toHasbro’s entire line of amazing role-play fun, these toys are easily the hottest of the year. Additional characters that will continue to be mega popular among kids are DisneyFrozen’s Elsa, the pups from Paw Patrol, and new adorable dinos from Disney•Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Back to School Goes Full STEAM Ahead

The back-to-school season usually means the smell of newly sharpened pencils, a new wardrobe, and denial that the precious summer months have come to a close. You’ve probably heard the acronym STEAM being thrown around here and there, but this movement is making a bigger impact on the toy industry than ever before.

STEAM puts an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, art, and math, and these concepts have definitely made their way to back-to-school gear. But companies are doing a lot more than just making educational toys. They’re creating products that have value added to them—something kids appreciate without even knowing, and parents love for all of the extra benefits. [Read more...]

License to Build: Familiar Properties Fill Up the Shelves of the Construction Aisle

This article was originally published in the July/August 2014 issue of The Toy Book. To read the entire digital issue, click here.

The construction play pattern has always allowed kids to create buildable worlds and adventures straight from their imaginations. But with a recent surge of licensed toys entering the category, kids are able to build more and more familiar worlds based on their favorite existing properties. According to The NPD Group, dollar sales of licensed building sets grew by 6 percent from 2011 to 2013. As the world becomes more multi-media driven, licensed properties are deeply integrated into kids’ daily lives. Established building toy companies, as well as those looking to get their feet wet in the category, are jumping on the bandwagon with characters and environments that are already a staple among kids—and even collectors. [Read more...]