Each year in February the world's largest Toy Fair is held in New York City. This is the Mecca for buyers, sellers, promoters and inventors of toys, dolls, plush toys and games. Every conceivable type of whimsical product is displayed and hyped with gusto, creative marketing and some bluster. The event is attended by people from over 100 countries.
This year the Toy Fair was reflective of what is going on in the world economy. Attendance was down, there were noticeably fewer vendors displaying product, the glitz was considerably dimmer and the overall mood was very somber. The world's largest toy companies Mattel, Fisher Price and Hasbro reported sales declines for the recently concluded 2008 year. Mid-size and smaller vendors had even worse news to report and many seemed to be barely hanging on, hoping for a robust 2009 Holiday selling season to resurrect their fortunes.
For the past decade or more the exciting growth in the toy / game world was in electronic products. Electronic Arts became a juggernaut by producing action video games targeting the highly desirable male teen demographic. However, this year even Electronic Arts has struggled, sales dropped and just recently the Company announced the resignation of their most prolific game design engineer.
Interestingly, there was one area of vigor and strength touted at the Toy Fair: mundane board games. Yep, the kind of game families used to play around the kitchen table after dinner. Parents and kids interacting; while they enjoyed time together, talking, negotiating, competing, laughing and bonding. Great concept! Board game sales actually enjoyed a record year.
Hasbro introduced several new iterations of classic Monopoly. The world's most popular board game, Monopoly is played by almost 500 million people all over the world. The iconic game, crafted during the Depression to mimic the various strata of society during that time, is the gold standard in the board game space. At this year's Toy Fair new board game offerings were on display as never before and seemed to be the center of renewed interest from buyers noting the tenor of the times. The simple board game is enjoying a revival, in part because the times we are living through have adjusted our sites to the importance of quality family time.
Video games are typically solitary or demographic specific products. Board games offer a wholly different play platform. An eight year girl, her 10 year old brother, visiting college age sister and mom and dad can all enjoy a game of Sorry. The game is played at a leisurely pace. Lots of kibitzing is part of the fun. Soda's and popcorn are ubiquitous while the family enjoys the game.
My consumer product consulting firm is approached with a number of toy and game submissions each year. Many are quite ingenious. The marketplace for this type of product is extremely competitive, as are most mature consumer product categories. However, the market is always open to novel, inventive new products. The Great Depression, similar in some ways to our current economic circumstance, was a Golden Age for consumer product inventiveness. The opportunity to launch successful products today is just as ripe.
The key to launching a successful board game, as with so many other consumer products, is simplicity. Make sure the play rules are quickly and easily understood. If playing the game requires a tutorial and lots of qualifiers, the likelihood for achieving retail placement and commercial success is minimal. It is important that the competitive aspects of the game depend upon a mixture of basic skill and chance. Every player, no matter age, education or experience, should enjoy a reasonable chance of winning.
The world is undergoing a sea change caused by an economic malady that affects virtually all of us. The opportunity to profit from this adjustment of societal values and attitudes offers entrepreneurs unique possibilities to provide products with timely features and benefits that fit the times. The return to popularity of board games is symbolic of this new reality.