by MARY COUZIN, CEO and founder, Chicago Toy & Game Group
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people everywhere have been playing games. In just a few months, the change in societal dynamic has impacted both sales and overall trends across the industry. According to data from The NPD Group, the resurgence in games has translated into a sales increase of around 250% since families began spending time together at home starting in March. Much of the appeal is that playing games offers a way for people to connect both in person — and virtually — to escape what’s happening in the world.
In the earliest weeks, games sold out fast, especially those with titles having a timely theme, such as Goliath’s Virus! and Z-Man’s Pandemic. We’re months into a world of social distancing and inventory levels are still low in some areas.
“All of us in the industry are working hard with our retail partners to get them back in stock,” says David Norman, president of Goliath North America.
While many types of games have had brisk sales, players have been selective in their choices.
“When your game night participants are mostly limited to those you live with, you’re looking for engaging and fun family games that have broad appeal and lots of replayability,” notes Kim Vandenbroucke, game expert and founder of Brainy Chick and The Game Aisle.
CLASSIC AND NOSTALGIC GAMES
Families quarantined at home went head first into the classics — those familiar games that reminded them of simpler times, such as Monopoly, UNO, Rummikub, and Lucky Ducks.
“The biggest trend I’ve seen year to date has been consumers not only embracing tabletop gaming in general — which I believe will have positive long-term implications for the category — but also really leaning into game brands they know and trust, like UNO and Pictionary,” says Ray Adler, vice president and global head of games at Mattel. “The use of technology to augment tabletop play will continue to be something to watch, especially as long as social distancing lasts.”
GAMING SOLO OR TOGETHER
A number of games that consumers can play solo or with a friend also had an uptick in popularity in recent months.
Games including Hasbro’s Jenga; Mindware’s Q-Bitz; WowWee’s Hands Full; Educational Insights’ Robot Face Race; and ThinkFun’s Heads Talk, Tails Walk, and the younger-skewing My First Rush Hour have all been hits during the pandemic.
GAMING ONLINE, NOW WITH ZOOM!
Technology is providing ways for players to spend time together apart, and playing games over video conferencing (VC) software, such as Zoom and Google Meets, is something that few could have ever predicted.
While traditional online games like Solitaire remained strong, Jackbox Games became a quick favorite spanning generations, and countless gaming apps had a big increase in players. But it was traditional games being played digitally that became a new trend as players developed ways to get creative with rules, and created new names for their favorite games. Breaking Games’ Sparkle Kitty became Sparkle Kingdom online while Hasbro’s Boggle and Battleship, Bananagrams’ line of games, The Op’s Blank Slate, Educational Insights’ Blurt, and Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons took off in new ways.
“The effect of COVID-19 on families’ lives has of course been very complex,” says Dougal Grimes, Spin Master’s senior director of global games inventor relations and partnerships. “Tabletop gaming, board games, and puzzles offered a great way to connect with people while under quarantine. People gravitated toward games that work well over VC, such as trivia, drawing, and word games, with many creative ways found online on how to play classics via VC. Poker, chess, and checkers — and easy games like Hedbanz and Upwords — rose in popularity. As we move forward, we think customers will be looking for newness or further twists on classics to add variety to game night.”
NEW AND DIFFERENT
Families may have started with classics, but as the pandemic wore on, they wanted to try new and different games, and they were sharing what they played on social media in the same way that they share food pictures.
Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, says that the store is experiencing a resurgence in popularity for longer strategy games for families, and there is significantly less customer pushback on the higher price points these games often carry.
The demand for freshness has prompted additional publishers to release games to market earlier than they previously planned, all in an effort to feed the public’s appetite.
“Our well-known games like 5 Second Rule, Game of Things, and Relative Insanity saw fantastic sales in March and April, but now we are seeing consumers looking for new ideas, resulting in a sales increase for Relative Insanity: See What I Mean?, which is Jeff Foxworthy’s newest game,” says Lisa Wuennemann, associate vice president at PlayMonster. “We are also seeing great early interest in our new Drone Home game.”
ORIGINAL, STANDALONE GAMES BASED ON LICENSED IP
There was a time when pop culture licenses were simply applied to an existing game. That has changed as a wave of standalone games based on licensed intellectual properties (IP) have been winning audiences and taking increasing space at retailers big and small.
Big G Creative scored hits with Carpool Karaoke, Trapper Keeper, Kenny G Keepin’ It Saxy, and more, while Prospero Hall (acquired by Funko last year) developed games based on Pan Am, Jaws, and Top Gun. The Op (formerly USAopoly) has been making licensed editions of popular games for the past 25 years, but has recently introduced games based on individual IP.
“During this last decade, we too have expanded our offering of standalone licensed IP games, including Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31, IT: Evil Below, Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist, and Thanos Rising to name a few,” says Tony Serebriany, director of inventor relations and international sales at The Op. “We have also kept up our licensed co-branded games with current and retro IP like Monopoly: Godzilla Edition, Munchkin: Disney Edition, and Talisman: Star Wars Edition.”
Serebriany says that Marvel and Harry Potter have seen “incredible growth” for the company.
GETTING CREATIVE WITH RULES AND FOSTERING INCLUSIVITY
The world is evolving — and so is the way that people play. In some instances, that means bending or even rewriting the rules of the game to have more fun.
“Because the only way we can connect with people outside the home is on screens … people are modifying existing game rules and making up their own new rules to simplify games they find intriguing but too complicated, [and] to add newness and variety,” says Peggy Brown, inventor of games such as Who’s the G.O.A.T.? “Boredom during the pandemic is spurring creativity in all kinds of ways, and [when it comes to changing rules] well, why not? I always say, ‘Once you buy a game, it’s yours to keep — you can play it any way you want!’ It’s all okay!”
People rediscovering the joy of playing games bodes well for the future of the games category overall, and the game industry itself is now in the midst of a long overdue change.
In recent months, a positive development has taken place in the games category and the toy industry as a whole — the many conversations that are taking place regarding how to make our industry more inclusive and diverse. Voices such as The Toy Coach Azhelle Wade and game designer Eric Lang continue to provide thoughtful insight that is worth following.
Stay safe, stay calm, and play on!
This article was originally published in the July/August 2020 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!