WIT members help digital games surf into the licensed merchandise space.

by Genna Rosenberg, CEO, GennComm; Women in Toys executive board member

There are currently 2.2 billion active gamers globally, according to NewsZoo’s 2017 annual global gaming report. One billion gamers generated more than $108.9 billion in revenue last year. Eighty-seven percent ($94.4 billion) of this revenue was from digital games, and Women in Toys, Licensing, and Entertainment (WIT) members are pioneering this new economy.

Arcade games started it all in the 1970s and 1980s, as kids and adults plowed quarters into machines to gobble up Pac-Man ghosts and Centipedes. Atari 2600 and computer games followed, enabling gamers to play from their own homes. Now, those kids are grown up and have spending power and kids of their own.

Throughout the years, trends shifted from playing at home to playing at any time and place. Almost everyone, from 3-year-olds to senior citizens, is playing games on smartphones and tablets. Gaming is surpassing participation in team sports and meet-ups at the mall among tweens and young adults. Even my parents spend countless hours connecting digitally on Words with Friends on their iPad Minis instead of playing dominoes at get-togethers. Are we developing new skills and staying mentally sharp? Are we connecting with communities or disconnecting from them? Depends on whom you ask.

But, with more than a quarter of the planet involved in digital gaming, it’s no surprise that monetizing digital gaming outside the mobile screen is big business. The opportunity for developers to connect their digital goldmines in real life is delicious. It starts with immersing engaged communities of gamers with products and gear that authentically connect to brands they love, making toys an obvious sweet spot.

Classic toy brands, such as Tetris, are still en vogue. Tetris celebrates a milestone this year, with WIT board member Janice Ross bringing the beloved digital game into new licensed merchandise territory with collaborations in almost every category. On the opposite spectrum, the newer mega-hit Fortnite, from Epic Games—available on every gaming platform—has more than 200 million registered players and generated more than $1 billion in digital in-store app purchases. To optimize profits from its rabid fan base, IMG Director of Licensing Elizabeth Scarwid worked with partners to develop and launch Fortnite-licensed action figures, collectibles, and games to appeal to its huge fan base and bring the experience to the real world. WIT Wonder Women, including Jazwares Chief Commercial Officer Laura Zebersky, quickly jumped on the Fortnite train with collectible action figures and its famous piñata. Hasbro rushed a Fortnite mashup of its classic board game Monopoly based on the digital phenomenon. Others, such as Funko, Moose Toys, and McFarlane Toys, are also creating in the Fortnite toy box.

Walmart was first to market the line of Fortnite toys with huge displays in its toy aisles, toy demos, and sprays for shoppers timed to the release of Fornite Battle.

SYBO Games’ Subway Surfers, the No. 1 most-downloaded mobile game in 2017 and the first to cross 1 billion downloads on Google Play, bets its game will have global appeal. The game has more than 2.1 billion downloads across all platforms.

Subway Surfers is more than a game, but a lifestyle,” SYBO’s head of licensing and WIT Wonder Woman Naz Amarchi-Cuevas says.

The team brought the brand’s essence into the physical world with Subsurf merchandise that is authentic to its audience and a series of IRL events, such as the Subsurf booth at Lisbon’s Rock in Rio festival, where fans hone parkour skills like Subway Surfers characters Jake and Tricky. The licensing strategy focuses on core themes that appeal to Subway Surfers global audience, which connects with culture over country and embraces skate, art, dance, and music in Subsurf merchandise.

Things are coming full circle as gamers gather as they did in the arcade days. eSports gaming arenas are popping up worldwide, where gamers gear up, connect IRL, and share their experiences on social media. I can’t wait to see which titles top the leaderboards in this fast-paced game space. »

Genna Rosenberg is an executive board member of WIT and CEO of GennComm, a global marketing communications agency focused on the business of entertainment and play. She also founded the think tank GennComm/ImaGENNation to focus on brand and IP innovation. She and her team always keep an eye on trends, empowerment, and social responsibility.


This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of The Toy Book.