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Game on: toy vs tech

Flourish 26 Sep 2016

Are traditional toys being left on the shelf? Big kids must ensure old-fashioned toys survive in a tech-smart world.

 Monopoly board game
...there's a trend to get people off devices and connecting with each other... we've seen a but of resurgence of the traditional board game because of that.

Remember hopscotch, marbles, hula hoops, skipping ropes and building blocks? They are games many of us played, as did our parents and grandparents.

Skip forward to today’s children, who would prefer to play games on their mobile device than board games such as Snakes and Ladders.

Traditional toys are fighting for survival in a tech-obsessed world, market research company IBISWorld says. Dolls and building blocks face intense competition from alternative forms of entertainment, particularly video and computer games.

Jem Anning, IBISWorld Senior Industry Analyst, says developments in video game technology and the continual release of games have diverted children’s attention and intensified competition.

Research shows children are demanding more sophisticated toys at a younger age.

It’s easy to see why toys such as Sphero (a spherical robot toy controlled by a smartphone or tablet) have been so successful 

Claire Tindall, Sphero’s Director of Marketing and Communications, questions why children whose lives are immersed in technology should settle for less with their toys.

“Unlike traditional toys, where right out of the box, they are as good as they’ll ever be, we have the ability to enhance the experience over time through app updates. Our BB-8 App-Enabled Droid has a new feature that enables you to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens with your Sphero BB-8. It visibly reacts to events in the movie with animations and sounds,” Claire says.

The spin on tradition

Hasbro, the world’s second largest toy maker, believes there is still demand for traditional toys, but says they have evolved. Roz Fisher, Hasbro Pacific Marketing Director, says toys such as Mr Potato Head, released in 1952, are still popular, but have changed.

“He was a free-form play character and the essence of what he is, is still the same ... we’ve just done things like creating a pop culture version of him ... so we had Darth Vader ... and Ironman.”

Roz says parents and grandparents are looking for toys such as Mr Potato Head, board games and Lego to reduce children’s screen time.

“We feel there’s a trend to get people off devices and connecting with each other and in the past 12 months we’ve seen a bit of resurgence of the traditional board game because of that.”

Barbie is another toy that has had to evolve to survive. In March, manufacturer Mattel made the most dramatic change to Barbie’s much-criticised figure in 57 years, launching three new body types – tall, curvy and petite – and adding varying skin tones, 15 eye colours and 22 hairstyles.


Fiona Cameron, Editor Toy & Hobby Retailer, says no one saw Frozen coming, certainly not Barbie. “Barbie has been on the decline ... but we can’t write her off – she went to the moon after all,” Fiona says.

She believes the idea of licensing toys (toys branded from movies)is growing. “Years ago Disney began to put brands on consumer products. There was the Mickey Mouse watch, for instance, but that was about it.

“Now it’s big business and a lot of the smaller retailers have had to move away from it to differentiate.”

Specialty toy retailer Chris Leggatt, who owns Trombie Toys in Melbourne’s Sandringham, doesn’t sell licensed toys.

“Five times a day I hear people say, ‘I need something for the child that has everything’. I find things they don’t have.”

Her customers are parents and grandparents, who like the customer service and advice they get from a small retailer.

“They come in here and they don’t go for things that are tech-driven, they want practical and traditional toys and things that encourage children to think and use their hands,” Chris says.

Sally-Anne McCormack, a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist, former teacher and mother of four, is worried by the tech trend.

“We are going to find in the future that things are lacking in this current generation. We won’t really know the impact for a number of years,” she says.

“Entrepreneurs can make something out of nothing, but kids these days don’t have those basic skills ... we will find we get a generation that’s not as creative.

“We’re just not giving these kids the opportunity to express themselves.”

Fiona Cameron says tech toys aren’t the enemy. “But kids need to learn about colour, shades, interaction and cause and effect ... when things fall off – that’s gravity.”

She says it’s up to parents and grandparents to ensure traditional toys survive. “It’s our job to ensure we interact with kids today, play board games and marbles and keep traditions alive.”

words Kirsty Bedford

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