When Twister’s three developers brought the concept to game publisher Milton Bradley in 1966, the firm agreed, initially, to manufacture the game. All it took was a demonstration of the play and they were persuaded. Twister’s play was simple and innovative. It had few rules, and never before had a boxed game’s players served as the playing pieces. But the public, at first, seemed tentative about the game. We know, today, that every game of Twister can cause peals of laughter on all sides. But just before the holidays that year, Sears, Roebuck & Co., one of the nation’s major retailers, refused to offer the game in its annual catalog. Sears found the idea of players of both sexes in such close contact too new and too risqué. I’m guessing that, unlike the team at Milton Bradley, nobody at Sears saw an actual game played. The retail giant disliked the idea of the game—and that put Milton Bradley in a (pardon the pun) spot.
We know now that Milton Bradley took Sears’s announcement seriously and stopped the game’s production. But a PR firm had placed the game in the lineup for Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show before the show got news of the game’s cancellation. Carson played the game with his guest, the lovely actress Eva Gabor. The audience roared with show-stopping laughter thanks to Carson’s well-timed facial expressions, Gabor’s exotic Hungarian accent, and her low-cut dress. The bit was hilarious and flirtatious, but not scandalous. The next day every copy of Twister flew off the shelves of the one store which stocked it. And Milton Bradley quickly resumed production. Twister proved a runaway success and has sold well ever since—all it took was a demonstration.
Radio/remote control toys have historically sold fairly well in most markets, with a global value sales CAGR of 4% between 2009 and 2014, which is mostly in line with toys and games as a whole. However, between 2011and 2014, the category saw growth accelerate each year, as new products started to grow interest in radio/remote control toys. However, these new products are not the traditional remote control cars that have been at the core of radio/remote control toys for years, but instead are sophisticated drones and robots that look to have staying power within the category.
Source: Euromonitor International
Taking playtime to the skies
Drones have rapidly become integral radio/remote control toys as consumers of various ages have become interested in these products. While the category has had flying products for some time, these were mostly contained to helicopters and planes. Now, however, drones have started to make up a strong portion of sales for numerous companies as consumers enjoy the easy aerial manoeuvrability as well as the ability to take videos with these drones. While drones with video capabilities used to be mostly confined to the professional market, toy makers are increasingly introducing new drones capable of taking high definition video due to interest amongst children in creating their own videos to share with friends and online. Various companies previously primarily involved in helicopter or plane toys have taken note of this demand for drones and have added the product to their portfolio to great effect, such as Air Hogs, which saw its value sales grow by 25% over 2009-2014 globally within radio/remote control toys.
However, these products may face some regulatory challenges as numerous governments have grown concerned that they may be a safety issue. Drones have been blamed for causing incidences, such as disturbing an aircraft by flying too close to it, as well as hampering firefighting efforts. The US Federal Aviation Administration is considering introducing regulations that would force operators of drones or unmanned aircraft systems to register their devices. This registration may have a more limited effect on toy drones, as drones under 250g would be excluded. In addition, Europe has had numerous countries create their own rules prohibiting drone flights and requiring registration, and the European Commission is considering instituting regulations on drones for the entire European Union.
Drones are not the only products that have been changing the dynamics of the radio/remote control toy category, as robotic products have started to become much more popular. Products like Zoomer Dino and WowWee are receiving increased interest each year due to the higher level of interactivity that these products provide. Robotic toys are also now seeing a boost due to Star Wars licensing. After "Force Friday", an event which took place on 4 September 2015, where toys for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were revealed, one of the most popular toys was the BB-8 remote control toy, which rapidly sold out. These toys not only have ever increasing levels of sensor sophistication that allow them to interact with their environment, but they have also started to become controllable with smartphone apps, which is the case with the BB-8 by Sphero.
The technological outlook
Radio/remote control toys are expected to do much better than the global forecast for all traditional toys and games, and the category looks set to see retail value sales increase at a 4% CAGR between 2014 and 2019, in no small part due to drones and robotic products. The sophistication of radio/remote control toys is only going to continue in future, as much like the consumer electronics industry as a whole, the cost of making high-end sensors and higher-strength batteries will likely go down with time and lead manufacturers to create even better and more capable robots and drones. In addition, new products will likely enter the market that will further divert radio/remote control toys from its car-centric roots. Playmation, which was released by Disney in partnership with Hasbro in October 2015, is a toy that uses Bluetooth and other sensors to allow children to interact and play with a toy that features numerous Disney characters from the Marvel and Star Wars universe.
One of the local Chicago stations has been running an ad about their exclusive look at the PIRG's 2015 "Trouble In Toyland" report. PIRG is an NGO that annually posts a list of "dangerous" toys. The ad was obviously designed to scare viewers by announcing that the station would reveal the use of dangerous chemicals in toys.
It made me angry but not surprised. This is the time of year when PIRG and other NGO's raise money for their organizations by frightening consumers about toy safety. I only wish that station would have asked PIRG why, if they discovered these "problems" last April,were they just exposing them now? Isn't withholding that kind of information a bit reckless?
I have written in the past that the toy industry needs to challenge organizations like PIRG to provide detail on their testing and tester qualifications. In other words, expect from them what they expect from us. Fortunately, The Toy Industry Association sees it the same way and did all of us a service by analyzing last year's Trouble In Toyland report. The TIA response was a powerful one. Here is a graphic that was used:
PIRG was obviously stung by the TIA's analysis so they fired back. Their response was written by Dev Gowda, the Public Health Advocate for PIRG. I found Mr. Gowda's response, "Industry Tries to Toy with Our Toy Report," to be disingenuous and deceptive.
To illustrate my point, here are a list of the Toy Industry report's charges and Mr. Gowda's responses as laid out in his article. My comments follow (All italicized words are quoted from Mr. Gowda's article)::
1. Toy Industry Association charge: "Nearly 85% of the products named in PIRG's report were tested at a lab that is not accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to do that testing, seriously calling into question the validity of their methods and results."
U.S. PIRG response: We used a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)-accredited lab, STAT Corporation, for 100% of the toys that were tested for toxic chemicals
I visited the STAT Corporation website and discovered that they do not claim CPSC accreditation. Here is a link to their accreditation page. In addition, I could not find anything on their website that indicates that they test toys. The reason for this is that the STAT Corporation only does two tests that apply to toys. Bottom line, Why doesn't PIRG use an actual toy testing lab?
2. Toy Industry Association charge: "Many 'dangerous' toys named by PIRG...aren't even toys. Including non-toy items - like backpacks, headbands, and towels - in a toy report is disingenuous and creates confusion about the safety of compliant toys."
U.S. PIRG response: All the products we tested were found in the children's toy section of the stores.
PIRG certainly knows that just because a store, any store, decides where to put a product says nothing about what the product is. Putting a fish in a zoo does not make the fish an animal. In the same sense,placing a backpack or headband in the toy department does not make it a toy. The government has differing safety standards for backpacks (school supplies), headbands (hair goods) and towels (soft goods). In fact, the government's standards are higher for toys than any of the other categories.
Tuscany. Wood shaves piling up on a workshop floor. The humming of an old woodworker’s voice as his work nears finish. But the creation is no shoe, no table, no chair or bench. Nothing so simple and lifeless. On the counter before the gray-haired Geppetto is a wooden marionette, almost complete, awaiting the adhering of his last piece. The old man’s careful hand slides his knife across the ridge of the piece, pauses for a moment, and mumbles his satisfaction. A little glue, a careful placing, and Pinocchio has his nose. Geppetto pauses again. Perhaps… Perhaps that wasn’t the last piece after all. Out the window and in the sky, Geppetto’s eyes settle upon a star. He makes his impossible wish.
The story is Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, or rather, Walt Disney’s 1940 animated adaptation of that book. But, to those who have known him even briefly, the tale might just have been that of Richard J. Maddocks, toymaker.
Richard has just been told that he will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Toy & Game Innovation Awards in Chicago. I sit with Richard Maddocks in his office at Hasbro’s Pawtucket, Rhode Island headquarters, listen to a few of his many stories, and try to better understand the mind and heart of this snowy-haired, wizard-like toymaker. He has surrounded himself with his creations, his innovations, and his characters. Shelves, desk and floor are piled high with Fur Real Friends cats, dogs, parrots, 17 years of Furby models, assorted interactive Yodas and E.T.s, Elmos and Cookie Monsters, and even the four-foot-tall pony, Butterscotch. Some of those toys are retail products, others are test models and prototypes, and still others are intriguing fur-less plastic skeletons. His table is strewn with gears, foam, fabrics and a few servos. He is a warm, charming, and unassuming man with a childlike sparkle in his eye, whose small stature casts a remarkable and enduring creative shadow over the modern toy industry. He speaks humbly of his toyography, 500+ toys including Matchbox, Mattel, Tiger Electronics, and Hasbro. He is a working legend, a pathological tinkerer, and a fount of knowledge and experience pivotal to making the greatest animatronic products become far more than just toys. He’s also more than happy to avoid the spotlight and continually insists that everything is “a team effort.”
It is rare that those who make toys get to play with those who consume them. The Chicago Toy and Game Fair (ChiTAG) is a major opportunity for that to happen. The event, taking place this weekend at Navy Pier, was surprisingly busy yesterday. I say, "surprisingly", because those who attended had to make their way from the Chicago suburbs through a surprisingly heavy snowstorm.
How heavy was it? Well, to give you a sense of that, I am writing this as I unhappily sit in a hotel room near O'Hare Airport, having had my flight home last night cancelled. So, it says a lot about the vigor of Chicago's denizens and the strong appeal of ChiTAG that so many would fight through so many snowflakes.
Dan Klitsner, Founder of KID Group LLC and inventor of "Bop It" was last night's keynote speaker at the Toy and Game Inventor Awards held at Chicago's Navy Pier. I was so impressed by what he had to say that I wanted to share this quote from his speech.
Maybe you read a blog I wrote about four years ago proclaiming (politely, of course) that the puppet belonged in the National Toy Hall of Fame. That year, 2011, the dollhouse and Hot Wheels cars took their places among the classic toys in the hall—which may suggest that my talents at prognostication are somewhat wanting. On November 5, 2015, though, The Strong announced that the puppet, along with the game Twister and the Super Soaker, was inducted into the hall of fame. So, perhaps my abilities at making predictions are not bad, just my timing. As that earlier blog attested, puppets clearly meet the criteria for induction—longevity, iconic status, and fostering discovery, learning, or creativity.
Puppets have been around for centuries. They have been found in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. They have represented gods, heroes, and villains in long-ago tales of Japanese and Chinese cultures. Puppets have shown up in medieval Europe in Christian morality plays and secular theaters, in the Teotihuacan culture of the first millennium in Central Mexico, and in ceremonies and rituals of native peoples prior to European settlement in North America. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, puppets continued to entertain Americans in street performances and theaters.