The trends on the toy market in 2018
This year’s Spielwarenmesse in Nuremberg took place at the beginning of February. In total, 2902 companies from 68 countries were represented with one million products. Here are the main trends for 2018.
Although last year was a difficult year for many exhibitors, most people are optimistic about the future. The Federal Association of Toy Retailers estimates that Germans spent 3.1 billion euros on toys last year. That’s about 2% more than in 2016.
According to a poll commissioned by the German Association of Toy Manufacturers, only 10% of its members expect to earn less in 2018 than in 2017. But the industry is facing new challenges as the toy market changes. For example, the US group Hasbro recently weakened. Toys “R” Us, the world’s largest toy retailer, filed for bankruptcy in September last year because competition from Internet retailers was too big. Around one in five of the company’s 180 USA branches is to be closed. Even Lego recently announced a sales drop of 2.6% in Germany in 2017 (more on that can be found here).
Video platforms are becoming increasingly important for marketing
“It’s no longer enough to just put a product on the shelf,” says Michael Sieber, the head of Simba Dickie. His company recently reported a turnover of 645 million euros, and is the second largest toy manufacturer in Germany. The company owns brands such as Bobbycar and Märklin.
“Content is gold,” says Sieber and explains what he means: “Children like to play the stories that they know.” Simba Dickie has taken over the Swedish entertainment company Ruta Ett AB, which produces the animated series “Heroes of the City.” The eponymous YouTube channel has more than 400,000 followers.
“How do we approach the children of tomorrow?” asks Florian Sieber, son and managing director of Märklin. He believes that video platforms like YouTube will become more and more important as a way to contact the target group. Lego and Steiff have long demonstrated how modern communication and toy licenses go hand in hand. The soft toy manufacturer Steiff brought out its first Mickey Mouse collection back in the 1950s. A new edition is planned for the Disney character’s 90th birthday.
Lego acquired the “Star Wars” license in 1999. The company is also planning to accompany the theatrical release of “Jurassic World 2” with appropriate kits. This is not without risk: if the movie flops, then the toy manufacturer’s sales will also be well below expectations. That’s why companies don’t just focus on movies, they also focus on their own computer games and apps. Lego, for example, has announced a cooperation with Bugatti, with a plan to release the Chiron in the near future as part of its technology series. Licenses are “just as important” as the company’s own core lines, which children use to re-enact stories from everyday life, says Frédéric Lehmann, head of Lego Germany. His assessment: “the combination is the key.”
The licensing business will continue to grow
The Spielwarenmesse organisers expect licensed toys to grow by 14% by 2020. That’s a lot more than for other toys. For the first time, studios such as NBC Universal, Fox, and Paramount Pictures have offered license previews to selected customers. For example, Walt Disney presented characters and films from the Marvel comic universe. In the best-case scenario, the license provider’s marketing creates a win-win situation for toy manufacturers.
Collaborative and fun games are on trend
“Team Spirit”, “Explore Nature”, “Just for Fun”: these are the key trend words at this year’s Spielwarenmesse. Team spirit is needed for cooperative games that promote community spirit and dialogue – skills that are also important later on in one’s professional life. Especially here, there seems to be a counter-trend to digitalisation and its far-reaching consequences. Many of the games selected by the fair’s international panel of experts completely abstain from anything digital.
Volker Mehringer of the University of Augsburg advises that you should “always take the trends at the Spielwarenmesse with a pinch of salt”. “Team Spirit” isn’t reinventing the wheel. Rather, social competence is part of a “cross-cultural developmental logic” in gaming behaviour. That starts with “exploration games” that are about exploring the world. At some point, this is expanded to include fantasy games, then role-playing games, construction games, and finally, games with rules, which include team sports.
Jens Junge links the “team spirit movement” with escape room games, which have been in vogue for several years. Adult participants get together in groups to solve tricky puzzles under time pressure. This has been taken up by the board game industry and further developed with youth and child-friendly content. The expert speaks of a boom. In the early 1980s, the board game industry released 250 new games a year. Now, that’s risen to about 1500 per year.
Junge can draw on his own research results as founder and director of the Institute of Ludology at the Design Academy in Berlin, which researches play.
It’s about getting back to nature
Although children spend more and more time with smartphones, tablets, and TV, it is easy to arouse the spirit of discovery in the youngest ones. There are more and more offers designed to “bring children back to nature in a playful way,” says Christian Ulrich, the fair’s marketing director. Above all, he is thinking about games that turn kids into little gardeners. “They sow and grow, cultivate and harvest plants, and also learn practically about what is needed for photosynthesis,” says Ulrich. He adds: “And they also take on a bit of responsibility. After all, they have to take care of the plants.”
“It’s about showing kids how to rediscover the world out there. The aim is to show them all the wonderful play opportunities that are right on their doorstep: in the garden and on the playground of the outdoors. This includes exploring plants and playing with water, so that children perceive nature with all their senses,” explains American toy expert Reyne Rice.
Switch off and just have fun
The third trend “Just for fun” is about games with a pure fun factor. These products are designed to help children to switch off completely in their “increasingly stressful everyday life”. Learning is not necessarily in the foreground, explains marketing director Christian Ulrich.
“Children should just get to be kids and play because it’s fun. Playing does not always have to do with education and learning. It’s about being open and creative, not just looking at the results,” says Reyne Rice.
Her final conclusion: “I believe that all the trends we select for the Spielwarenmesse will equip children with skills for their later lives. These are skills for the 21st century: living equally in the digital and tangible worlds, being socially and emotionally competent, speaking out for diversity and promoting empathy. Of course, technical toys will continue to influence families and children. But parents are finding that their children need a counterweight to their electronics toys, that they need to look beyond their monitors and get out into nature.”