In my last posting, I wrote about a New York Times article that was featured on the front page of its Sunday edition: “Race in Toyland: A Nonwhite Doll Crosses Over.” The article considers the racial and gender crossover appeal of Doc McStuffins, the extremely popular, African American cartoon character from Disney Jr. who tends to the medical needs of her toys.
The article correctly looks at things like changes in demographics and the election of an African-American president as leading to the acceptance of a minority based character. I see some other elements:
Pretending to be a doctor along with pretending to be a Mommy and Daddy are early childhood play patterns familiar throughout the world. For that reason Doctor and Nurse kits used to be a part of virtually all toy departments. Perhaps in order to make way for licensed products, these toys kits lost their position. So, one could surmise that part of Doc McStuffins popularity is a return to an old play pattern; it just needed a license to come back.
But when you really think about it, the popularity of Doc McStuffins can be traced as a straight line going back to Bill Cosby’s lovable Doctor Huxtable. And let’s not forget the pioneering work of the first non-stereotypical television show for an African American, “Julia”. The show, which debuted in 1968, starred Diahann Carroll who played a nurse (it is difficult to look back now and remember that there were very few female doctors at that time).
Still, it is Bill Cosby who picked up the stethoscope in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and with his warm and lovable Dr. Huxtable established a comfort level among Caucasian viewers in the perception of an African-American in an authority position.
Those children who grew up watching Dr. Huxtable are now the parents and grandparents of those children who love Doc McStuffins. The crossover appeal of Doc McStuffins may therefore be as much about the parents and grandparents as the children.
When you really think about it, Bill Cosby has made a huge impact on modern American culture. With shows like “I Spy,” “A Different World” and even “Fat Albert”, he brought a different type of hero into American homes. So, as your child sits their watching Doc McStuffins give a nod to Bill Cosby. He did a lot to make it happen.
It's not just anyone who makes the cover of The New York Times but the play industry's own Doc McStuffins did it. There she was, on the front page of the Sunday New York Times sharing space with Jimmy Carter’s grandson, the Ukraine and the Taliban; pretty good for a little girl.
The article, by Elizabeth Harris and Tanzina Vega and entitled “Race in Toyland: A Nonwhite Doll Crosses Over” focuses on the Disney Junior's Doc McStuffins, a little girl who, when she dresses up as a doctor, is able to communicate with her stuffed animals and heal her toys. It’s a great story concept and in having an African-American hero, follows in the successful footsteps of Dora the Explorer, an Hispanic character, in appealing to what constitutes mainstream America.
The article does a nice job of contemplating how Doc McStuffins is able to appeal not only to African American girls but also to children of both genders in all races. The article correctly notes the rise of a minority majority child population in the U.S. as having an impact with Caucasian ending its run as the default race in America. It also points to the election of an African American President as breaking down the white skin template for what constitutes someone in authority.
But I think there is more going on, a lot more; that in my next posting.
(New York, NY) July 22, 2014-- As the robotics industry continues to impact society on all levels, the World Congress of Play 2014 addresses the significance of Artificial Intelligence for play and education. Expert speakers at the conference will explore the use of robots and intelligent toys in schools and at home, along with the promise that modern technology holds for amusement, engagement and teaching.
“This is a time when experts will discuss the space where physical and digital play meet to provide children with integrated play experiences,” explains conference organizer Charles Albert, CEO of Creativity Inc, which provides audio production, content development, design and engineering for electronic toys, games and learning products.
Among those speaking throughout the conference are:
• Mark Palatucci, Co-Founder and CPO of Anki, a company dedicated to bringing Artificial Intelligence and consumer robotics into everyday life.
• Beth Rogozinski, Founder of Transmedia SF, a digital agency, studio, incubator and salon.
• Michael Carter, PhD of Twin Learning LLC, a consultant specializing in the development of learning solutions based on emerging technology involving games.
• Vikas Gupta, Founder & CEO of Play-i, a company that aims to make programming and coding robots possible for children as young as five years old.
• DJ Sures, Founder of EZ-Robot, which produces a line of educational robot bits that seek to inspire children and adults alike to build robots of their very own.
• Paul Berberian, CEO of Orbotix, the creators of Sphero, an app-controlled robotic ball that is changing the game-system market.
• David Merrill, President of Sifteo, a company focusing on human-computer interaction and bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds.
“Service and play based robots are the fastest growing sector of the $30 billion robotics market,” says
Ms. Rogozinski, who will be moderating a panel on Robotics for Fun and Education, including Mr. Carter, Mr. Gupta and Mr. Sures.
To register to attend the World Congress of Play, visit http://www.worldcongressofplay.com/#!register/cqvr. Registration is $1250. Cost includes all speaking sessions, networking events and meals.
For more information and ongoing updates to the list of speakers and agenda topics, visit http://www.worldcongressofplay.com or follow @WCOP2014 on Twitter.
Freeman Public Relations
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There comes a moment when the future becomes the present. For 3D printing, that may have been last week when Home Depot began selling 3D printers. 3D Printing is potentially a disruptive technolgy for the manufacturing and retail industries that is on a par with the rise of the ebook and music downloads. Because 3D Printing avoids traditional forms of manufacturing it can bypass factories, container ships and trucks. It can also bypass retailing by allowing owners to make products in their family room or bedroom.
Selina Wang, in her Bloomberg article, “Home Depot Starts Selling 3-D Printers in Stores,” writes about that retailer's desire to be ahead of the curve. She quotes a Home Depot spokesman as putting it this way: “Home Depot is selling devices from MakerBot, a 3-D printer maker acquired by Stratasys Ltd. (SSYS:US) last year, in 12 locations as part of a pilot project, the companies said... The effort will include stores in California, Illinois and New York. It’s a pilot for us to test a potential disruptive technology, and to make sure we are on the forefront of a new innovative product…”
This is a big move for Home Depot because they are not just putting out some product and seeing if it sells. They are investing in training so their sales associates are as knowledgable about a 3D Printer as they are about a hacksaw or a drill bit.
According to the article, retail sales of 3D printers are anticipated to increase from $80 million in 2013 to $600 million by 2017. That’s nice but not overwhelming.
Earlier in the year we learned that Archie was going to be murdered (See “Archie Dies”). What we did not know at that time was why and by whom. Now, in a Washington Post article by Alyssa Rosenberg, we learn why? Archie Andrews, according to Rosenberg, Archie is “… fatally shot by an assassin targeting his friend, an openly gay senator campaigning for gun control.”
With one fell swoop, Archie Comics managed to hit two hot button issues. It is of course hard to know all the motivations behind the decision. What I do believe we can surmise is that the folks at Archie Comics are betting that this story line is going to appeal to a younger generation that is comfortable with openly gay people and who go to school in a time when schools are on the front line of increasing gun violence. In short, it reflects the world in which today's teens, tweens and young adults live.
Like much of today’s “Young Adult” fiction, Archie is focusing on presenting characters and events that are marginalized if existing at all in most comics (Archie introduced a handicapped character and Archie married and had a child with Valerie, the Black Pussy Cat in Josie and the Pussy Cats).
I am going to be attending Tocati, the 12th annual Interational Festival of Street Games in Vernona, Italy which will take place from September 18-21. I strongly recommend you also consider attending this unique event that honors outdoor play. This year, the festival is honoring Mexico and many of its street games will be featured.
Though Mexico is the center of attention, there will be games played all over Verona in its many squares and streets. Traffic will be blocked so participants can play with abandon.
Last year's festival drew 250,000 people. That is quite a testimony to the joy and freedom of playing outdoors in our urban environments. Those who can remember playing Hopscotch, Rock School, Stick Ball and other games can find out how urban play took place in other countries...and have fun doing it.
The games will be accompanied by great music and food (would you expect less from Italy?). To learn more, visit the Festival website by clicking here.
In my last article, “Finland Makes the Case for Play,” I wrote about that country’s world leading educational system and its use of 15 minutes of recess every hour of the school day; not every day…every hour.
The World Congress of Play will be advocating for a return to more non-adult supervised play time for children. That may be one reason I was so struck by the absence of adult oversight when children in Finnish schools get their 15 minutes.
The article that sparked my interest in the Finnish style of education was written by Tim Walker and published in The Atlantic. Entitled “How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play,” it puts the use of non-supervised play this way: “During a typical break, students head outside to play and socialize with friends while teachers disappear to the lounge to chat over coffee.”
He goes on to provide the resultsof research done by Anthony Pellegrini—author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development. Walker summarizes Dr. Pellegrini’s findings this way:
What’s most important is not where kids take breaks but how much freedom we give them from their structured work. When break times are teacher-directed, Pellegrini found, the recess loses its value. It’s free-play that gives students the opportunity to develop social competence. During these times, they not only rest and recharge—they also learn to cooperate, communicate, and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well as in life.
Frequent, non-adult supervised play is important for children’s emotional, social and educational well being. Let’s make the case for play to our friends, neighbors, teachers and school boards.
An important issue that the World Congress of Play will be confronting is the war on play that is currently being fought in our homes and schools. Actually, it’s not a war; that would imply that people were fighting back. It’s a rout with play being seen as wasteful in a time when the only way to get ahead in life is for children to stay chained to their desks. If you think I am exaggerating, check in with your school system and find out how much time your children get for recess each day.
Recess is down to 15 minutes a day in many American schools. In fact, those of you who grew up in the 1970’s may be surprised to learn that today’s kids get 50% less free play time than you did as a child.
That is why I strongly recommend that you read a great article in The Atlantic by Tim Walker: “How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play.” It seems that in Finland, children get 15 minutes of recess, not each day but every hour. Is that why Finland’s educational system is considered the best in the world?
Walker writes about the work of Anthony Pellegrini—author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development. Dr. Pellegrini, an emeritus professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, is a long time advocate for play as educationally beneficial.
According to Walker, Pellegrini’s research shows that: “In every one of the experiments, students were more attentive after a break than before a break. They also found that the children were less attentive when the timing of the break was delayed—or in other words, when the lesson dragged on.”
There was, however, something even, at least for me, more striking that the positive impact of more frequent play breaks. It was that the research also shows that “It was not just the frequency of play but also the freedom of play” that was important. I will write about that in my next post.
I have, for several years now, been encouraging the toy industry to take the Hispanic market more seriously. The demographics say it all: According to childstates.gov almost 25% of children under 17 come from Hispanic households. In other words, do your marketing plans take into consideration that 1 in 4 of your potential end users are Hispanic?
If you need more convincing, you may want to read a great New York Times article by Jonathan Mahler: “Biggest Scorer in World Cup? Maybe Univision.” Here is how Mahler evokes the startling growth of Univision and its viewers:
The World Cup has been a record-breaking event for Univision, which has dominated its TV rivals in several of America’s largest cities — Los Angeles, Miami and Houston. It even won the New York market for some games. With the finals still to come on Sunday — featuring a Latin American team for the first time in 12 years — Univision has already drawn roughly 80 million viewers, or about 60 percent more than it logged for the 2010 tournament.
Of particular interest to those who work in the toy, children’s media and other play industries is that the prime investor in Univision is none other then Hiam Saban, the man who brought us the Power Rangers. Haim Saban has proven to be a very savvy businessman so his moves are something to watch and watch closely.
The World Congress of Play continues to get more and more exciting with great sponsors and speakers from all forms of play. Here is an update on what is shaping up as a must attend event for anyone passionate about play and the business of play:
The World Congress of Play returns this September to San Francisco featuring an impressive list of speakers representing a large cross-section of the most successful and forward-thinking companies in the "play industry." The second annual conference, a sell-out a year ago, brings together global manufacturers and retailers of traditional toys and games, video games, music, entertainment and digital play, as well as theme parks, industry associations, analysts and trade media. The World Congress of Play takes place at the Parc 55 Wyndham San Francisco – Union Square on September 8-10, 2014.
Among the speakers who will share the challenges and opportunities in the 'play' marketplace are:
David Zlotnik, Director, Global Marketing, McDonald's Corp.
Tim McKDeown, Director, Experience Design, McDonald's Corp.
Harry Chang, EVP of LF Products, subsidiary of Li & Fung Corp.
Darell Hammond, founder of KaBOOM!, leader in play advocacy
Hugo Malan, President, Sporting Goods and Toys, Sears Holding Corp.
Manuel Torres, SVP Global Toys & Publishing, Nickelodeon
John Barbour, CEO, LeapFrog
Greg Ahearn, Chief Marketing Officer, LeapFrog
John Coyne, VP, Consumer Marketing, Activision
"These speakers are an excellent representation of the broad array of experts from the 25 distinct play categories who will attend and share insights at the conference," said Richard Gottlieb, CEO, Global Toy Experts , co-producer of the World Congress of Play with Charles Albert, CEO, Creativity Inc .
Mr. Albert noted that more than 40 speakers in all, ranging from global powerhouses to national media, academics and category specific leaders will address issues impacting stakeholders in the world of play as well as play's place in society.
"Play isn't just fun and games," Mr. Albert said. "It's an integral part of a child's development and an adult's free time, as well as a vital and evolving segment of the world's economy."
Last year's inaugural World Congress of Play featured well-received presentations from the likes of Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts, Richard Barry, EVP of ToysRUs, and speakers from Mattel, Saban, Sesame Workshop and others.
The 2013 WCOP was heralded by attendees and speakers for its "energy," and "engaged, warm, friendly" atmosphere, which made it, according to an editor in attendance, "one of the more interesting events I've ever been to – and I wasn't the only one who felt that way." Chris Heatherly, SVP - Disney Interactive Social Kids at The Walt Disney Company, summed it up. "It was awesome! Some really inspiring stuff."
To register to attend the first World Congress of Play, visithttp://www.worldcongressofplay.com/#!register/cqvr . Registration is $1250, with a $125 discount if registered by July 15th. Cost includes all speaking sessions, networking events and meals. (Discount valid for the first 50 to register for the event)
About Global Toy Experts
Global Toy Experts is a world-renowned consultancy and resource for toy industry insight and information led by well-known industry leader, Richard Gottlieb. Experts provide cutting-edge analysis and strategies to domestic toy manufacturers as well as those international providers who are looking to raise their profile in the United States. The consultancy also provides unique observations and commentary at speaking engagements and conferences globally, furnishing the toy industry with exceptional blueprints for success. Additionally, Global Toy Experts publishes Global Toy News, a Web-based magazine that covers toy industry news and provides resource links. For more information, please visit http://www.GlobalToyExperts.com .
About Creativity, Inc.
Creativity, Inc. was established in 1998 in San Carlos, California. The company's mission is to provide toy, game, learning, and entertainment developers with the very best design, development and engineering services available. Strengths include game design and play pattern development; music composition, sound design, voice casting and recording; digital illustration and animation; software engineering for embedded processors and mobile App platforms including Apple and Android; electro-mechanical engineering; puppeteering and localization. Customers include 9 of the 10 leading toy companies in the world and leading entertainment companies including Disney, Sony, Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop, Bandai, HIT, Discovery Channel, and more. For more information, please visit http://www.CreativityUSA.com .
SOURCE World Congress of Play
Copyright (C) 2014 PR Newswire. All rights reserved
In my last posting, “The Freemium Business Model; Under Fire,” I wrote about concerns from some (including the goverment) that the “Freemium” business model was unfairly hooking children into spending money they did not think they would need to spend in order to fully engage the game. If you are not familiar with "freemiums," the idea is that the initial “purchase” is free but the user has to pay in order to avoid advertisements, speed up the play process and even to secure the elements necessary to win.
I think the "freemium" concept provides access to play for those who do not have the money to afford a console or mobile device. If a consumer is fortunate enough to live in an affluent home with their own gaming console and / or mobile device, then they can afford to purchase a game. They will not have to buy additional access.
If on the other hand the consumer does not have the money to purchase a console or mobile device then a “freemium” model gives them entry to the experience by allowing them to pay in small increments over time. In a way it’s not that different than buying a car or television outright or paying overtime.
Is the “freemium” model fair? Here is what I think, fair or not, it is a leveler in which a less advantaged child can play the same game as a more affluent one. Better a world in which we all get to play than one in which some have to sit and watch as a minority get to have all the fun.
In my last posting, “Who Is Generation Z and Why Should We Be Worried?” I wrote about “Generation Z” and the disruptive impact it is anticipated to have on consumer products companies and retailers. I learned about Generation Z in a Business Insider article by Hayley Peterson entitled “Generation Z Is A Complete Nightmare for Retailers.”
As the title of her article implies, Peterson thinks Generation Z is going to turn retailing upside down. Here is why:
Actually, I don’t find this information worrying as much as intriguing. They have money to spend; love great product no matter who makes it and feel no need to go cluster in groups and scare the mall walkers.
If you have been struggling with how to understand the “Millennial” generation you may want to sit down for this; Generation Z has arrived. That according to a fascinating article, “Generation Z Is A Complete Nightmare for Retailers,” brought to my attention by Carter Keithly, President of the Toy Industry Association. Carter thought it was important and I do too.
The article, written by Hayley Peterson and published by Business Insider, makes the point that this is the first generation in modern time to not have brand loyalty. That is a fascinating point but before considering it, let’s take a minute to consider just who this generation is.
Deciding when generations start and stop is not an exact science so there is some over-lapping based upon whom you read. So, here is where the previous generation fit according to CNN:
That’s why the article by Business Insider article is a bit confusing because it pegs Generation Z as anyone born after 1990. I found this date in several other articles and they all seem to be emanating from the ad agency, Sparks & Honey.
It feels a bit like the Millennials are being rushed off the stage by Sparks & Honey; that their time as influencers is already over. After all, in their slide share, the agency starts by stating: “Forget everything you learned about the Millennials.”
Those who manufacture, sell and engage in play can find it easy to forget the logistics that goes into getting a product from “there” to “here.” It all seems kind of simple, pack the product into a container, put the container on a ship, off load it and send it to wherever it is finally destined.
That won’t change but how cargo is going to get to its destination; how long its going to take and what it is going to cost will. That is according to a New York Times article by Dionne Searcey, “Making Everything Shipshape.”
Consider these variables:
In my last post I reported the hopeful news that, according to a Washington Post article, the Millennial generation, hard hit by the recession, is finally moving out of their parents homes and starting their own families.
Loaded down with big college debt and no job prospects upon graduation, Millennials had to put their family formation on hold. Now, according to a Harvard study, they are starting to get jobs and as a result we are going to see a slow but steady resurgence in housing construction.
Why is this good news for the Play Industries? A demand for new housing will create jobs to build those houses. As a result more and more people will have the income to create new families and thereby create a virtuous cycle of increasing family units.
We in the Play Industries love family formation because it drives the sale of toys, video games, trips to Disney World and on and on. We can look forward, hopefully, to a steady but slow growth in our child population.
Good News! Millennials are moving out of their parent’s houses. A generation that was hit with a recession, massive college debt and no jobs waiting for them after graduation had to postpone getting married and starting families. As a result they moved back home gaining the unwelcome moniker “boomerang generation” and without meaning to, causing pain for countless maternity, baby and toy companies.
That news comes from Dina Elboghady and Emily Badger writing for the Washington Post in an article with the hopeful headline: “Millennials may be about to move out.” Here is how they put it:
Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies projects that the Millennials — the largest and most diverse generation in history — will make up 24 million new households between 2015 and 2025… The leading edge of this closely watched generation will soon reach their 30s, the age range in which household formation ramps up… As a result, the number of households in that age group will rise by 2.7 million in the next decade, according to the study.
Many of us (okay, some of us) like to remind others about how we made our own toys when we were kids. Using anything from roller skate wheels, to used up ink cartridges, spools of thread and of course matches, we made toys that were not only fun with which to play but were, to varying degrees, dangerous.
It seems that this new generation of kids may be making their own, less dangerous (at least for now) but potentially more exciting playthings thanks to Raspberry Pi. What is Raspberry Pi; why it’s a computer that is about the size of a credit card and it can be purchased for $35.
Yes, that is more expensive than an empty ink cartridge, but with it, a child is able to build an incredible universe of toys. Developed by the University of Cambridge for incoming students, it has turned into a quiet phenomenon with three million sold.
I have recently had the opportunity to speak with professionals from other forms of play about their perceptions of the traditional toy industry. Many of them express the same notion: “The toy industry is out of touch with those who play and how they play.”
You may or may not agree with this perception but it is interesting to listen to how someone else sees us. Its always a bit unsettling when someone tells us that our longtime hairstyle or clothing choices with which we are so comfortable make us look dated.
One area in which I think our retail toy community is lacking is in its failure to see “play” as a family enterprise rather than something just for children. Toy stores and departments should not be just a child’s destination but a place for adults, teens and tweens to be comfortable visiting and to be delighted in what they find.
It was with this in mind that I came upon an article on Flipbook entitled “Men’s Many Toys.” We know that 21st century grownups now like to play as much or more than children so what is it that they want to play with? Here are some of the items the article listed:
What if Toys “R” Us were to fully embrace the adult play enthusiast? What if they were to create a toy department for men that contained what men thought were cool? Think about how many adults, kids in tow, that it would bring to the store. Do they need to carry the Harley Davidson Livewire Electric Motorcycle? Why not have one on display and take orders for a nearby Harley shop and split the profit. There are any number of ways to think differently about the business of play.
It’s time for our retail partners to rethink the very essence of who plays and how they play. It might just revive a declining industry.
Perhaps you or someone you know is afraid of clowns. Fear of clowns is apparently common enough that it has its own term, “Coulrophobia” (I made “Clownaphobia” up because it’s funnier…at least to me). In fact, it’s common enough that clowns now have their own dating site appropriately named “Clown Dating.” As the website puts it: “Clowns are unique entertainers loved by some yet fear [sic] and hated by others…Clown Dating offers a community for single entertainers to chat have fun and arrange dates.”
I would guess that there are far more amateur and semi-professional clowns than there are those who ply their trade full time. I once stood next to an amateur clown at a pro-am golf tournament. No, he was not wearing a clown outfit, but was in civilian dress watching as some local celebrities duffed their shots. I asked him how he would do in such a situation and he responded that, if he was in costume, he would probably hit a great shot. Why, because he was a clown and hence had no need to look good in front of a crowd. He was expected to fall on his face.
I think that this may be the great complexity of clowns. In one sense they are grown up children, with no self-esteem issues, playing without an ego. They are allowed to look silly, awkward and even have an eternal bad hair day…all because they are clowns. In another sense, there is something frightening about someone who chooses to hide from society behind a mask of greasepaint. Are they really grown up children (think Bozo) or sinister adults (think KISS)?
That wasn’t me that blacked those words out. That was Las Vegas because “what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.” Okay, okay, I will fight the power and give you the sentence without the blacked out words:
I always enjoy this show because the environment in the exhibition hall is soft (on the feet and the ear) and the crowd seems mellow and easy to be with.
It is difficult estimate attendance at this show because there is so much business being done in what I call the “shadow show.” Las Vegas with its hotels, coffee shops and restaurants under the same roof as the exhibition hall makes it easy for some companies to bypass show fees by arranging meetings in those locations. As a result, attendees are pulled off the floor which drops the appearance of activity.
Whether the show was up or down in attendance, it was exciting to be part of that flood of humanity approaching the show at its opening. People by themselves and then in larger and larger groups converged on the entrance like so many rivulets into a raging stream.
Bottom line, booths (particularly the larger ones) were packed and those I spoke with had full schedules. I think most vendors left feeling that it was a good show.
In my last posting, I wrote about a study* that compared playing with Mrs. Potato Head to playing with Barbie. The study found that girls exposed to Barbie for a brief amount of time were less likely to aspire to professional careers than girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head.
The study "exposed" 37 girls between the ages of 4 to 7 years old to either a Mrs. Potato Head or Barbie. Teh girls were all from the Pacific Northwest. The "exposure" lasted for five minutes.
I would have found the study to be humorous in its use of Barbie, a doll the authors describe as sexualized with many professional aspirations and Mrs. Potato Head who appears, to my knowledge, to not have any articulated any career aspirations. Unfortunately, the article has been picked up by the press and touted as proof that Barbie has a negative impact on girls’ aspirations.
As those of you who read me know, I have been a long time champion of gender neutral packaging and merchandising. In fact, I have run conferences on the question: “Do the toys that girls play with as children have an impact on their adult professional and academic choices?” I take the subject seriously but I don’t like this kind of research and here is why:
The study involved 37 girls, all from the Pacific Northwest and all between the ages of 4 to 7. The girls were "exposed" to either a Barbie or a Mrs. Potato Head for 5 minutes and then ask to indicate career choices.
This years Congress which will take place from September 8-10 in San Francisco offers an amazing mix of backgrounds. We haven't announced all of them yet (we have some surprises coming) but you can find a current list of speakers at the
World Congress of Play website by clicking here.
Here is a list of 25 play topics to be covered by our experts:
Some day there will be a name for this time in history where everyday seems to bring us a new way to play. A new form I just discovered is called “Escape Room” and it is the subject of an article by Chris Suellentrop writing for NDTV. The article, entitled “Gaming Culture Seeps into Escape Rooms,” describes a video game or puzzle brought to life by locking groups of audience members in a room and having them solve a problem.
Here is the author describes it:
In these live-action games - the creators insist that they are games first, rather than immersive theater - there are no Houdini-style bindings for the friends or strangers who agree to be trapped together, just puzzles to solve and codes to crack. And the door is opened after an hour even if the players are stumped.
Cool! It started in Japan, moved to the American west coast and has just arrived in New York. There are several now appearing, all with similar names: “Escape the Room NYC,” “The Real Escape Game,” and “Trapped NYC.”
The games were, according to the article, inspired by video games so they have puzzle solving elements. As he puts it about one play: “…you're apt to find yourself racing the clock…, trying to decipher clues to reveal the combination of a lock that opens a chest that hides photographs that contain hints on how to read a map that leads to another mystery within another mystery within another mystery.”
I recently heard an expert on South America express how impressive Mexico’s free market was becoming. He compared it to BRICS nation, Brazil, and predicted it would soon pass that country as an economic engine. Apparently, he is not the only one who thinks so.
New York Times writer, Damien Cave, puts it this way in his article: “As Ties With China Unravel, U.S. Companies Head to Mexico:”
American trade with Mexico has grown by nearly 30 percent since 2010,...and foreign direct investment in Mexico last year hit a record $35 billion. Over the past few years, manufactured goods from Mexico have claimed a larger share of the American import market, reaching a high of about 14 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund, while China’s share has declined.
Due to the rise in the cost of manufacturing in China over the last few years, the landed price of Mexican goods has become competitive. That plus shorter shipping times should drive more countries towards moving production to Mexico. Well, it is happening but not to the degree you would think.
One of the reasons given is long waits at the border due to heavy security Another is a lack of trained workers. It appears that where you manufacture in Mexico is very important as some areas have trained labor while much of the country does not. Inconsistent quality is the resulting problem.
In addition, Mr. Cave’s article points out: “…many Mexican business owners were unwilling to take on a surge of new business, either because they could not line up suppliers or credit, or because they feared demands for money from government inspectors or gangs.”
The article features toy company, Flambeau, as a major success story in Mexico. Flambeau owner and University of Chicago trained, Jason Sauey, appears to have done a great job of managing a complex process. There are Mexican manufacturers like Fabricas Selectas who have also been successful and have taken a position in the US market.
What other toy and play companies are manufacturing in Mexico with success or without it? Let us know who you are and what your experience has been.
“There were really no children in 19th-century America, travelers often claimed, only “small stuck-up caricatures of men and women.”
Jon Grinspan, New York Times
I know I am old fashioned but I always cringe when I see a child on a tricycle wearing a helmet. I mean it’s just not that far to the ground.
When I was a child, any kid who wore a helmet other than one for football would have been laughed off the block. And that is what is so strange to me. Why did our parents let us row around the creek; go out into the woods alone, catch snakes and shoot real arrows at each other? How did we get from my under-protected to today’s over-protected childhood?
I have found an intriguing answer in an article by New York Times writer, Jon Grinspan. Entitled, “The Wild Children of Yesteryear,” he describes 19th century kids this way:
American children of the 19th century had a reputation. Returning British visitors reported on American kids who showed no respect, who swore and fought, who appeared — at age 10 — “calling for liquor at the bar, or puffing a cigar in the streets,” as one wrote. There were really no children in 19th-century America, travelers often claimed, only “small stuck-up caricatures of men and women.”
Grinspan wonders what happened to our child rearing over the last 150 years and he does propose an answer: Things got safer. According to Grinspan, “[b]y 1900 American women had half as many children as they did in 1800, and those children were twice as likely to live through infancy as they were in 1850.” As he puts it: “Ironically, as their children faced fewer dangers, parents worried more about their protection.”
A COMPLETE EDUCATION
Most of you are by now fully familiar with STEM, the acronym that refers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It is both an interdisciplinary teaching approach as well as a cheerleading squad for the hard sciences. There are numerous conferences and even a Hall of Fame. Those I spoke to who attended the massive STEM event, the USA Science & Engineering Festival (325,000 visitors in 4 days), were highly excited by the educational and economic opportunities for those in the play industries.
The STEAM movement has arisen as a reaction to the success of STEM and the recognition that the arts are underserved in our schools. STEAM (the A stands for Arts) seeks to secure funding and focus on the arts as part of creating fully integrated, well educated adults of the future.
So, with the goal of creating, truly healthy and fully educated children, I would like to propose STEAM-E (the E stands for Exercise). If you think the arts are underfunded, simple recreation has almost disappeared from children’s lives.
Don’t confuse playtime at school with organized sport. Football and other major sports are typically well funded in schools. Simple play or exercise or whatever you want to call it is underfunded not in terms of dollars (running around outside does not call for fancy equipment; just an open field) but in terms of time. Schools are unwilling to invest the time in children exercising, doing somersaults, playing tag, tossing a ball and doing whatever fun and silly thing they want to do. Recess, if available, is down to 15 minutes a day.
Children need the sciences; children need the arts and children need to move, to play and to simply run around. STEAM-E seeks to integrate play and movement as essential components for creating well educated, happy children who will turn into healthy adults.
Let’s get STEAM-E.
To those in the toy and play industries, Amazon’s battle with its publisher suppliers may seem like a distant war. I think it bears close watching by everyone in the consumer products business. I will explain why I think so but first consider this quote from an editorial by Bob Kohn in the May 30 New York Times:
When Macmillan, the fifth largest book publisher, displeased Amazon in 2010 by proposing certain changes in business terms, Amazon exercised what has been described as its “nuclear option”: It promptly deleted the “buy” buttons in the Amazon online store for all of Macmillan’s books. In an instant, Macmillan’s entire business was in jeopardy.
MacMillan quickly gave in and now it is publisher Hachett’s turn. Again, here is quote from Kohn:
[Amazon is]…refusing to accept presale orders on books to be released by the publisher Hachette and by understocking Hachette’s titles. These punitive maneuvers, which follow a dispute between Amazon and Hachette about e-book contracts, have led to significant delays in shipments of Hachette’s books to Amazon’s customers.
These very one-sided battles, in which Amazon has by far the upper hand, may well be a prelude to similar scenes between toy and play suppliers and Amazon in coming years. Think about it, Amazon went online selling books in 1995. Amazon has had almost 20 years to build its powerful position with the publishing industry. It began selling toys and games roughly ten years later. That means it has been selling books for all most twice as long as it has been selling toys and games. For that reasons, its book business has had more time to mature, giving it the muscle it now has.
Are you familiar with “ShopToyFair365.com”, the Toy Industry Association’s B2B ecommerce network? If not, you should as I think it has the potential to have an oversized impact on how business is done in the toy industry.
Marian Bossard, Vice President of Meetings and Events for the Toy Industry Association and Kim Carcone, Senior Director, Trade Show and Event Marketing at Toy Industry Association, invited to the TIA offices to hear about the program in depth from its creators, Peter Koch and Jonathan Breiter of Balluun.
What I learned is that “ShopToyFair365.com” is a system that allows retailers to purchase directly from suppliers by visiting virtual showrooms. By becoming a “real world” Toy Fair exhibitor, a company qualifies for “ShopToyFair365.com”. The website is colorful and certainly supplies a compelling way to source and purchase products. It allows buyers to see and purchase products on their own time schedule (and its available 365 days a year). Importantly, they have taken all constituencies into consideration and the industry‘s independent sales reps have been integrated into the program.
Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon announced that the company is considering using 3D Printers to print out supplies. Not only that, he also announced that the company was considering acquiring a 3D Printer company. Wow, now that will take your breath away.
The notion of Wal-Mart printing out supplies may sound relatively innocuous but the notion of a massive company like Wal-Mart beginning to do its own on-site production bears watching and watching closely. As Kyle Maxey put it in his Engineering.com article, “Walmart CEO Says Retail Giant May Buy 3D Printer Company:”
If Walmart were to consider an acquisition it would likely be looking to acquire a company that builds printers capable of producing end use auto, or home repair parts. Having such machines at their disposal could reduce the need for costly shipments and give consumers the ability to order their parts and pick them up moments after they’ve been finished.
One of the earliest play platforms was the jump rope. It along with the ball were and are the basis for an almost endless number of games. No one knows exactly where or when jump roping came about but you can bet it dates back to the earliest rope making communities. That means it’s been around for thousands of years.
As a result, jump roping, through its use of chants that have been passed down orally, is a purveyor of culture and politics and a powerful connection between the generations. Unfortunately, due to the loss of street culture for kids, children are no longer passing on the rhymes and as a result we are losing that special communion children have with their forebears.
I found a very nice repository of rhymes at the Buyjumpropes web site. I went through them as well as other random sites and found that in general jump rope rhymes or chants provide some fascinating insights on children and how they viewed the world around them. What mostly struck me was that children had a far more precocious view of the world then adults want to acknowledge. Consider this one:
If you think that the convergence of play and entertainment is restricted to the toy industry; think again. Even baseball, as conservative a sport as you will find, is no longer immune. Robert Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, is being considered for Commissioner of Baseball.
Why is Iger being considered for the job? According to New York Times write, Michael S. Schmidt, it’s because: “… Iger is exactly the type of media-savvy businessman who could tackle what they believe is the game’s biggest challenge: increasing its appeal to younger Americans and international audiences.”
Iger is a long shot for the position but the fact that the league is considering someone who is “media-savvy” rather than a lawyer says a great deal about the current state of sport and entertainment. The position of Commissioner came as a result of the 1919 Black Sox scandal in which some of the White Sox players threw the game in return for a payoff.
Major League Baseball knew that it needed a high judge and executioner so it created the position and hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to fill it. According to MLB.com, the Commissioner
… was broadly empowered to "investigate, either upon complaint or upon his own initiative, an act, transaction or practice, charged, alleged or suspected to be detrimental to the best interest of the national game of baseball, (and to determine and take) any remedial, preventive or punitive action (he deemed appropriate)." The Agreement also expressly provided that the Commissioner's decisions would be final and could not be challenged by the clubs in court.”
Since Landis there have been eight Commissioners who have banned players, overseen racial integration and dealt with player and umpire strikes; the main concern has always been their ability to keep the owners in line while making sure to protect the MLB from any actions that were detrimental to its image. If you think that notion of what a Commissioner should do, just take a look at the Donald Sterling fiasco that the National Basketball Association is currently enduring.
That according to a very interesting article by Kate Murphy writing for The New York Times in a piece entitled: “Psst. Look Over Here.” It appears that the cereal industry has figured out that eyes, depicted on the package, are a key element in securing consumer interest. Here is how she puts it:
In a study published last month in the journal Environment and Behavior, researchers at Cornell University manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adult subjects were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away.
In a creepy corollary, the researchers found that the eyes of characters on boxes of cereal marketed to kids were directed downward, and can meet the upward gaze of children in grocery store aisles.
It’s a fascinating premise and Murphy supports it by citing the Quaker Oats man; Aunt Jemima; Chef Boyardee; Cap’n Crunch; Uncle Ben and even the Gerber baby. What struck me was that all of these characters were old school (the Quaker Oats man was conceived in 1877) so this is not a new concept.
In my last posting, “Children and the 60 Hour Work Week,” I wrote about what I believe constitutes 21st century child labor: Forcing children to engage in adult supervised or mandated activities 60 hours a week.
I have written a number of articles on this subject but it is one thing to write about it and another to do something about it. I invited you to join us at the World Congress of Play in actively working for solutions to a crisis in play. The conference will take place September 8-10 but whether you attend or not you can certainly be involved by contacting us by clicking here.
In the meantime, here are some ideas about what we can do about it:
The World Congress of Play which will take place September 8-10 in San Francisco has as one of its missions to not just talk about the crisis in play but to actually take action to win back free playtime for children. If you would like to be involved, please contact us directly by clicking here.
Child labor refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.
Maybe it is time that we, as a society, took a step back and reconsider what constitutes child labor. In the above quote from the International Labor Organization it is clear that a core value in a society regarding its children is to provide an education. What if, however, a child’s education becomes so time consuming that it deprives a child of his or her mental, physical, social and moral rights?
That is why the World Congress of Play has chosen as one of its missions to actively fight for a child’s right to free play. We believe that there is a crisis in play in which children are being deprived of the educational, emotional, physical and moral benefits derived from playing freely without adult supervision.
I did a little back of the envelope calculation of how many hours a 21st century an American child spends in some kind of adult supervised or mandated activity.
Here is my calculation:
School 7 hours
Organized afternoon sport or supervised play 2hours
Homework 3 hours
Total 12 hours per day
60 hours per week
That number is of course higher in some countries and there are families who push for even more hours. In addition, this does not include organized, parentally managed activities that take place over the weekend like sports leagues. Disturbingly, there is now a push to extend the school day and the school year. How many more hours will a child have to work a day? When does a child have an opportunity to engage in unsupervised play?
If you work 12 hours a day and if recess is limited in school to 15 minutes, when do children have a chance to just run, hop, scream, twirl around and do what their bodies insist they do which is play mindlessly with no rules and no grownups.
American children, and in fact children many of the world's children have little of the fun that children did just a generation ago. They spend tedious hours, sitting at desks or engaging in structured activities supervised by adults.
How did helicopter parenting which would appear to be the ultimate in care taking turn into a system of prolonged work hours in search of entry into elite schools and jobs. When children are put on waiting lists and given aptitude tests for elite pre-schools when they are less than three we can see that the anxiety, formally in possession of stressed-out middle age adults trying to hold on to a job, has now encompassed elementary school and younger children.
“If you don't have a strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy. ” - Alvin Toffler
I ended my last posting with the words: “Don’t worry; there will always be a toy industry but…"
I wrote wrote those words as a palliative to those who had just attended PlayCon 2014 and heard a fairly steady message of constant, frequent and disruptive change that was and will affect their businesses. I was reminded of Alvin Toffler’s astoundingly prophetic book, written in 1970, on the impact that ever more rapid change was going to have on all our psyches.
So, before I get into the “but” of it let me state clearly that nothing is going to replace the look on a parent and toddlers face when that first soap bubble is blown, glows with rainbow hues, floats, and pops and magically, in the blink of an eye, ceases to exist. That is the shared magic that a simple toy can provide.
So, there will always be a toy industry but how much revenue will it produce? How many companies can it support? How many toy retailers can continue to exist?
So, what should the toy industry be concerned with and what challenges are preventable or can be ameliorated?
Yes, 3D printers are going to allow families to have little factories right there in their bed and family rooms. It is going to begin as a craft activity and evolve into a practical way of making essentials. Forward thinking toy companies are going to want to begin considering what add-ons that form of play will require in terms of paints, accessories, play environments, branding, licenses and more.
The Price Value Relationship
One of the messages I noted during PlayCon was the rise in peak performing price points to the $50 range. More interesting to me was the decline in the low price points like $2.99. It should come as no surprise that free apps were going to replace disposable toys. This is not good news for low cost toy providers and they will need to rethink their business models. But it is good news for those who work in higher price points. The answer, at least to me, is to concentrate on the perceived value of toys and focus on what toys do best, provide a tactile experience that feels a whole lot better and lasts a whole lot longer when the materials communicate quality, durability and scalability. Think legacy instead of landfill.
The best way to avoid obsolescence is not necessarily to suddenly change, although in some cases that may be called for, but to expand the notion how end users can play with your products. Get to know your cousins in the digital, video game, children’s media and other industries. Learn their languages, enter their business cultures and communicate. By doing so you can find allies who may give you a vision and maybe a partner in expanding your brand and its value into places you never thought about.
Today’s children have less time to play and more to play with than any of us did as children. Natural selection is going to weed out those traditional toy, digital, video game and other products that don’t break through. What you can do is make sure that your toys provide a substantial play experience and that merit a slice of ever more valuable time. Also, broaden your visibility by providing access to your brand via other platforms. Like I like to say, I should be able to call Colonel Mustard from my cell phone when I am not at the Clue board and ask him for the skinny on Mrs. White. By allowing me to do that, Hasbro expands my game experience while expanding its bandwidth in my brain.
What business are you in?
The individual Toy, Video Game and App industries are struggling mightily but their aggregate, the “Play Industry” is doing just fine. Step back and ask yourself this question: “If I am in the play industry rather than the toy industry, who are my actual and potential competitors, retail customers, allies and consumers? What opportunities and threats do I see?
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” - Alvin Toffler
As I sat at this year’s PlayCon; my mind kept returning to Alvin Toffler’s landmark book, Future Shock. Written in 1970, it has turned out to be astonishingly prophetic about the impact of increasingly rapid change on people and their world.
It was odd to be having this notion in such a beautiful and serene setting. Bob Wann and the PlayCon committees once again put on a beautiful event. It was a warm bath of the sensuous with beautiful vistas and delicious food and drink (the single malt scotch bar was quite an event not to mention those men and women who enjoyed smoking hand wrapped cigars).
The messages from the podium were not, however, serene as speaker after speaker spoke of disruptive change that was not just coming but was happening right then to this industry born in caldron of the 19th century industrial age. What were my fellow industry members thinking, I thought, as they sat in the audience attempting to take in a flurry of facts, figures and dystopian visions of a toy industry buffered by the forces of technology, declining birthrates, precipitous drops in playtime and the sense of “oh my God, what is coming next?”
Those on the podium and some who attended comforted each other with the words: “Don’t worry; there will always be a toy industry." And I agree; there will always be a toy industry but…
It’s that “but” that bears discussing which I will do in my next posting.
Is there a war against children? That thought went through my mind while reading the book “Living with a Wild God” by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Ehrenreich is a noted scientist and writer. The book is a fascinating autobiographical account of her attempt to come to grips with the universe. She writes well and provides a great deal to chew on and some moments of powerful connection. One occurred for me when I read these words:
Miss Sabatini, my third-grade teacher in Queens, made us sit with our hands crossed on our desks and our feet flat on the floor, all the time insisting that we “must learn self-control.” Although clearly if we had any real measure of control over ourselves and our lives we would be out in the playground, running and screaming. In this war against children we all enter on the losing side and carry our wounds along to the next generation.
I think anyone who can remember their school years can remember the anguish of sitting still when every nerve and muscle in our bodies wanted to do jumping jacks or even jump out the window. How challenging must it be for today’s kids who have had their recess cut down to as little as 15 minutes and who have to continue to control themselves in millions of backseats as they make their way to adult managed sports or play dates.
How did this happen? Do we suffer some form of amnesia after the age of 12 that prevents our remembering how desperately we wanted to play? How did we manage to turn our kids into office workers who slave away at a desk and don’t even get to go out and have a drink after work. No, they have to keep working…on music…on sports…on homework.
There is a crisis in play and we intend to explore it and provide some answers in this magazine and during the World Congress of Play in September. Do you think there is a crisis in play?
There is little that I can add to the conversation about Donald Sterling’s racism. He is so repugnant that he has become radioactive. What I do have an opinion on, however, is Donald Sterling’s statement “Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?"
When I speak to play industry audiences, I like to remind everyone, including myself, that if toys or video games or even apps for that matter, did not exist, people would still play. Toys are tools of play and the companies that provide them make up a play economy. If the play economy did not exist, however, people would still find ways to play, just as their ancestors did.
It is easy to confuse the economy of play with play itself so it was with that in mind that I want to address the hubris that saturates Mr. Sterling’s quote. Donald Sterling does not "make" the game. Even the great Michael Jordan does not "make" the game. No one and everyone “makes” the game.
If the NBA ceased to exist tomorrow and the quasi professional NCAA too, people would still play basketball. If Nike stopped making shoes and Spalding stopped making balls, there would still be barefoot kids shooting ball into a wire ring.
We as a society are seeing an ever increasing attack on play as irrelevant to becoming a successful adult. Schools are extending their days; homework in mounting and recess is evaporating; all because of a misguided notion that the more formal education you receive, the smarter and more successful you will become.
As I have stated before, I see play time, and particularly free play time, as an educational, social and economic good. I believe that we build a smarter, more creative; more dynamic and vibrant society when that society is inhabited by adults who learned the important lessons that play has to offer.
In support of this notion, I would strongly recommend you read all of a brilliant article by bio-psychologist, Peter Gray. Writing for the British newspaper, The Independent, Gray supplies an overly long title that tells you all you want to know about his position: “Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less.”
Gray sets the table with this opening sentence: “I’m a research bio-psychologist with a PhD, so I’ve done lots of school. I’m a pretty good problem-solver, in my work and in the rest of my life, but that has little to do with the schooling I’ve had.” He goes on to say that the everyday skills he has needed for life, fixing a toilet to grieving the death of his spouse, has come from play. Then he makes this powerful statement:
Are you a next generation play innovator? If you are, the World Congress of Play is now accepting select products to feature as examples of next generation play innovations. The Showcase Exhibitor program affords an opportunity is to display and demonstrate your innovative products and ideas in front of key players in the expanded play industry. You will have the opportunity to meet, share your concepts and sip cocktails with the leaders of the world’s play industries.
When creating a new line of play products, do play companies think in terms of keeping your consumers as enthusiasts for the rest of their lives? It’s unlikely that most companies think that expansively but maybe they should. That was my take away after reading an interesting piece in The New York Times entitled “They Hook You When Your Young.”
Written by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, the article provides the results of a statistical analysis of why adults embrace a particular baseball team. According to the study, winning a World Series markedly increased the chances of a child becoming a life-long fan if that championship occurred when the child was between the ages of 8 and 12 with the boys 8 being the most easily influenced. (The same study found that females were not similarly impacted which should be fodder for another study).
Here is how the article puts it:
The most important year in a boy’s baseball life is indeed age 8. If a team wins a World Series when a boy is 8, it increases the probability that he will support the team as an adult by about 8 percent. Remember, this is independent of how good the team was every other year of this guy’s life. Things start falling off pretty fast after the age of about 14. … The data shows that there seems to be something really special about winning championships.
Does this have implications in other arenas? The author thinks so and puts it this way:
The explosion of big data sets should lead to the rapid development of precise insights into how events at every year of our childhood affect how we think as adults. We can learn a lot about the formation of tastes and preferences, both trivial and fundamental. Do you like Coke or Pepsi as an adult? Cheerios or Raisin Bran?...All these answers can now be compared to things that happened to us as children. Already, some scholars have found fascinating long-term effects of events that happened while we were young on our political and economic outlooks.