The Toy Book®
Vol. 15, No. 8
is the Name of the Game
A Shift in Leisure Time Activities Impacts the Game Category
By Nancy Lombardi
The board game category may be one of the
toughest in the industry. Sure, there are limited-edition versions of
everyone's favorites, retro games are a hit with all the generations, and Monopoly
and Uno are still among the classics that reign supreme. But what about
those with a new concept - how do they fit into an equation that is dominated
by games that are often older than its players?
The best way
to break down the popular board games is to place them into three
categories, according to Sid Good, president of Good Marketing,
a product development and consulting firm focusing on the kids'
marketplace. There are the classic games that everyone is still
playing, games of the licensed variety, and the special-edition
One of Good's
clients, Hasbro, has an especially strong hold on the first and
last category with Monopoly. Not only is the game still one of America's
favorites, but it has morphed into other forms, the latest include
a Marvel comics edition, a Nascar edition, and a millennium edition.
are the classics such as Candyland and Chutes and Ladders,"
says Good. "Then there is the licensed area. It has always
been there, but in the last several years it has grown extraordinarily,
primarily in the preschool area, which is really a reflection of
the entire industry."
within the licensed category produces games that are trying to reach
out to the young adult set using hit properties such as MTV, VH-1,
and Chicken Soup for the Soul.
are title driven which should make them big for Christmas,"
says Cheryl Stern, vice-president of The Game Keeper store operations.
"The three of them cover a broad spectrum of age. This reaches
the college market when we typically don't have anything for them."
edition group takes games such as Clue, Monopoly,
Scrabble, and Trivial Pursuit and gives the consumer
a reason to purchase it again even though they may already own one,
according to Good.
G. Steven Cleere,
director of client services for Trade Marketing, Inc., an agency
that helps clients maximize their retail relationships, says he
works with Hasbro in the games and puzzles area and sees Hasbro's
idea of releasing limited-edition games as a trend the other manufacturers
will start to build off of.
for Young and Old
we analyze a category the focus is on the new. Here there seems
to be a trend toward repackaging and renewing the classics. The
Game Keeper's Stern thinks she understands why this trend may be
happening now. Stern notes that this has been a soft category for
the last two years, attributing this to an aging population and
a lack of game play in the homes of those with young children.
boomers are aging. The way they spend their downtime has changed,"
she says. "Their children are grown and out of the house so
they are socializing more with their peers and unless they are game
players by inclination they are just not going to start now."
She notes that
they have more disposable income now that they would rather use
to go to the movies or to dinner. "It's typical of adults who
have young children at home to play a game since money is tight,"
she says. "They'll have a few friends over, maybe put the kids
to bed, then they'll sit around and play a game because they're
looking for something to do."
generation is a different story entirely. Rather than shifting the
way they spend their time and money, as the adults are doing, many
of today's kids have never played the classic games on the market.
more and more 20-somethings that have never played Risk or
Stratego. My generation was raised on these games,"
So it's this
combination of factors, the older generation's habits changing and
the younger generation never having formed these habits, that may
prove to be a more dangerous trend than the electronic games that
so many are worried about. Because as many pointed out, the electronics
and the traditional both have their place with kids. Each offers
an entirely different play experience.
the problem for the game retailer, because if you don't play games
you aren't coming into the store. Stern points out that retailers
who specialize in selling games are performing a service to their
customers by carrying the widest range of products possible and
that is what she feels has given The Game Keeper, and other retailers
like this one, an edge in a very small marketplace.
potentially daunting trend for this category is that consumers are
always responsive to new ideas, fads, and technology as it relates
to other aspects of the industry but when it comes to games they
stick to the tried-and-true. This category may be the hardest to
break into with a new product. Games are often quite pricey and
to take a chance on an unknown is a huge risk for a consumer who
may be throwing as much as $40 away if the game isn't what they
are looking for. That is part of the reason licenses sell so well
as do the classics.
Sid Good refers
to this as security blanket purchasing. "If the parent loved
the game as a child, chances are their child will love the game
too. Or if a parent buys a new game knowing that their child loves
the licensed character then there is a good chance that the child
will enjoy the game," says Good.
Many of the
mass marketers are as afraid to stock unknown games as consumers
are to buy them. Naturally, many manufacturers, especially brand
new companies, turn to the specialty market. Because as Stern pointed
out earlier, it's this sort of variety that gives the game retailer
its edge. They have the ability to play a game in the store allowing
the customer to give it a try before putting money down to buy it.
aren't willing to take a chance on a new board game unless someone
shows them," says Mary Stoody, owner of Winston's Game Co.
with two locations in Illinois and three in Pennsylvania. "That's
just what we will do in the store. We'll play a game with them for
roughly three minutes and that is how we sell the more obscure games."
It worked for one such game - Zobmondo, from Zobmondo, Inc.
It debuted last fall and has been a continuously strong seller since
spend a little bit more if there is customer service behind it showing
them what they'll get," says Stoody.
owner of That Games Store, is in agreement, demonstrating many games
as well as puzzles at one time in her establishment. "In the
fall we have inventors come in for 'meet the inventor day' where
consumers can talk about the game and get an autographed copy,"
As a result
the popularity grows and then it often crosses over into the mass.
Stoody says that some of her best sellers have been games that are
now sold in the mass market such as Tribond and Sequence.
the only way a consumer will take a chance on a new game is if it
has a wow factor. One new game, that she used as an example, is
trying to make a name for itself: "Wicked Words - it
has a great title. It catches the consumer right away. You are going
to wonder how wicked it will get," she says.
is another game that is wowing people. It retails for approximately
$60 but players see the quality of the game. They see the weight
and size of the box and that alone has the perception of quality,
according to Canfield. "It's an intriguing game-even the name
is intriguing," she says.
does mention that the average price a consumer is willing to spend
on a game is $20-$30. About $35 is the limit but, "it has to
have bells and whistles at that price," says Canfield.
owner of Game Show in New York City, explains what he calls the
great divide as it relates to price and interest. "Domestic
games need to be a lower price point. We are moving a lot of translated
European games, those tend to be $50-$60 items. Many more games
are being translated, especially from German," he says.
are not willing to take a chance on a game that expensive. The catch
here is the interest of the subject matter because Martinedes says
that so many of the European are subject intensive. "Many true
game players have the notion that if it's something they have never
tried before they should give it a shot. It's not an easy sell to
somebody that just comes in cold and is looking to pick up a game.
Those expensive and experimental ones are for the die-hard game
player," he says.
The increased use of
electronic games, whether the handheld or the console version, are deferring
the interest of kids from many other toy categories and many say it is most
evident in the game sector. Kids think nothing of playing with handhelds and
when their favorite board games are offered in that form it is easier to play
with that version than it is to round up everyone and sit around the table to
that Hasbro is discontinuing many of its travel games in favor of
an electronic counterpart. "It's become a sore spot with our
customers because you can occupy two people versus buying a machine
for each child. Lots of parents have complained to us about this,"
But many say
that board game makers have not much to worry about for a number
of reasons. A handheld game is often more expensive than a board
game because it only occupies one child at a time whereas a board
game occupies a number of children.
is also the difference of everyone sitting around the board and
looking at it as opposed to handing off a handheld version to share,"
says Shelley Pazer, one of the principals in the Discovery Group,
a market research company specializing in children, which conducts
toy testing for Sesame Street Parents Magazine. The traditional
game teaches children many skills such as social interaction and
waiting for your turn.
Ellen Sackoff adds, "It's a different kind of interaction to
sit around the board with kids; it's perceived as quiet interaction."
One game they
both pointed out as the perfect blending of the traditional game
with the new technology is Damert's Brain-O-Matic. "It's
a board game with an electronic component - it's a take-off of Trivial
Pursuit," says Sackoff. "Games are including more
interactive features as a payoff or randomizer because the kids
then think the game is cooler," says Pazer. Discovery Group
also cited Pressman's HydroBattle as an item that incorporates
the traditional game format with technology.
A further reason
traditionalists can rejoice is that many say players can become
bored easily with the handheld electronic game faster than they
will with traditional board game.
A handheld offers
solitary play while a board game can bring together all different sorts of
people each time it's played, adding different dimensions and dynamics to the
game play. This may be one point Hasbro was trying to make with its campaign,
Get Together Games. Aside from a good marketing tool to sell product, it shows
how games are a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment.
that she tells everyone that asks her about the impact of technology
not to worry because as long as humans are social animals there
is nothing like the interaction of sitting across from people. "There
is the comradery of playing a game together, the laughter, the socialization,"
that frequent many of the retailers cited here know that it's true--
no machine can match the energy, laughter, fun, strategy, and competitive
nature that another human being exudes.
with permission from Adventure Publishing Group ©1999. All rights reserved.