congressThe play industries—traditional toys and games, video games, digital, and theme parks—have often been seen as four separate industries with little crossover in competition. After all, theme parks aren’t taking over any of the traditional games’ retail shelf space, right?

Not quite. This compartmentalized view of these industries could actually stop industry players from realizing their true competitors. As the concept of play develops and changes, so does the market in which it exists.

“Children do not experience a gap between virtual play and physical play. It’s seamless. So as a result, they live in a much bigger universe than we do,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of Global Toy Experts. “They don’t think like that; it’s just play. One of the real secrets to success in the future, I think, is creating seamless play.”

From this idea comes the birth of the World Congress of Play, a new conference co-founded by Gottlieb and Charles Albert, co-founder of Creativity Inc., Inspire Ltd. (HK), Funfare LLC, and Creativity Mobile. The conference, which takes place from September 9 to 11 in San Francisco, brings together leaders from the traditional toy and game, video game, digital, and theme park industries to create one big play industry.

Gottlieb believes that the purpose of the conference is to introduce people to each other and educate them about who their competition really is and what that competition is really about. “We no longer compete for square inches on a shelf,” he says, “but we compete for time in a person’s head.”

The goals of this conference include creating new relationships, new businesses, new business transactions, and new products, while focusing on play’s integral position in society as a whole. With talks of gameification (bringing play and game aspects into the work world to make it more enjoyable) rising, it’s clear that everyone—even adults—is looking for ways to play every day.

“We think the importance of play is so key to society and culture that it has to be seen in that broader context,” says Gottlieb. “I always maintain that the toy industry helps shape the future because we are the first access children have to the adult world and work. It’s a play format.”

Merging and overlapping these industries will change the methods of business within the industries. Gottlieb says that a lot of the traditional toy industry does not intuit the business models that digital companies follow, and vice versa. In part, the World Congress of Play is designed to point out these missteps, break down silos, inspire new ideas, encourage new relationships, and unite all members of the play industry to create a more efficient play economy for the 21st century.

I asked a couple of the World Congress of Play speakers how bringing these play industries together as one will change the way their respective industries begin to view competition and in what ways they believe this event will present that to their respective industries, and received the following responses:

Nancy MacIntyre, CEO and co-founder, Fingerprint
“While it’s true that each one of these entertainment categories have been viewed independently and certainly there have been different marketshare leaders in [each category], the business has been shifting to an approach that looks at the full consumer experience across a whole property for many years. Going back to the 80’s (Star Wars), 90’s (The Matrix), 00’s (Harry Potter), toy makers, video game makers, and theme parks have collaborated to provide both unique play experiences and parallel story lines across platforms. Online games allowed designers to expand the play experience without the boundaries of retail; anyone with a computer could participate. And today, mobile games remove the barrier of location; play can happen anytime, anywhere, and be always evolving. The best IP owners/licensors will look at the platforms holistically and work with partners to expand offerings across platforms. The notion of competition for the consumer’s dollar and time will still exist, but it is collaboration around creating breakthrough experiences that expand retail businesses and expand engagement with brands that is the future of the ‘play’ business.”

Chris Heatherly, vice president of production and marketing, Disney Interactive
“In the not too distant past, the toy and video game industries had the luxury of staying in their corners of the universe. Today, the only way to look at play is holistically. It’s not even clear that pure play toy or video game companies as we know them will exist in 10 years – at least in the same form. This is a digital generation growing up with the expectations of on-demand and interactive entertainment. To respond, brands are increasingly being dimensionalized in a transmedia way. The World Congress of Play is a necessarily forum to discuss this evolution and I’m excited about attending. Should be a great discussion.”

Darran Garnham, chief business development officer and chief licensing officer, Mind Candy
“We can no longer plan entertainment for consumption in just one medium anymore; the transmedia nature of brands requires a cross-platform approach. I’m very excited that we now have a variety of opportunities within our industry to share ideas and adapt to the changing times. The World Congress of Play offers a forum for synergy and discovery across a number of different forms of entertainment.”

Oren Jacob, CEO and co-founder, ToyTalk 
“For generations, characters have reached out to us through books, movies, television but up until now, we haven’t had a way to talk back to them. The iPad changed that. With a camera, microphone, and connection to the Internet, entertainment is now a personal, portable two-way experience that had fundamentally changed the way we create characters and tell stories.”

To register to attend the first World Congress of Play, visit!register/cqvr. Registration is $950. Cost includes all speaking sessions, networking events, and meals. For more information and ongoing updates to the list of speakers and agenda topics, visit