This article, which appeared in February, was by far the most widely read and controversial article we have ever posted. It led to the creation of the World Congress of Play and a change in my world view and maybe yours.
The Toy Industry is dead.
It existed back in the 20th Century when it was the only game in town for those who wanted to play. In the 21st Century, however, toy companies are just one part of the greater Play Industry which consists of those who create video games; develop apps; manufacture tablets; and create immersive digital worlds. And just wait; we are going to soon have to include 3D Printing companies as well. In other words, the Play Industry includes any entity that seeks to provide play or a platform for it to take place.
If you think that what we call our industry is just a matter of semantics, think again. Let me assure you that if you believe you are in the Toy Industry you are going to get steamrolled by any company that recognizes that the battles are no longer for shelf space in a toy department but for time and mindshare in an 8 year old’s brain.
The challenge that we all face is that our institutions have not yet caught up with that reality. Retail stores continue to separate play products into different departments rather than merchandising them in one big family play center. The Toy Industry Association continues to put on a Toy Fair which is still almost entirely a showcase for traditional toys. NPD provides industry analysis that puts traditional toys in a separate $16.5 Billion category from the $13.3 Billion Video Game hardware and software sector. Euromonitor, on the other hand, counts Video Game hardware and software and Traditional Toys and Games together ($42 Billion estimated for 2012).
As a result, the toy industry is currently like one of those 15th Century explorers whose maps included whole parts of the globe that were marked "Unknown." In short, we don't just need a "bigger boat;" we need a better map.
What can be done?
The industry first must recognize who its true competitors are. Once done, it must demand the data and analysis it needs to effectively compete in a 21stCentury world of consumer play that is far vaster and
weirder than anyone in the 20th Century ever imagined.
NPD needs to emulate Euromonitor and start tracking the entire Play Industry as one sector. If they do not, the lack of true competitive information will continue to have a negative impact on toy industry decision making.
The Toy Industry Association needs to provide everyone with a Play Fair that includes all the “players” and not just those who deal in the material world. If they don’t someone else will.
The Toy Industry is dead. Long live the Play Industry.