ToyNews June 2018

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June 2018



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Welcome W No. 195 | June 2018

The jet-setting issue

Editor Robert Hutchins


Sales Manager Jodie Holdway

Production Executive James Marinos

Designer Mandie Johnson

Managing Director Mark Burton

Follow us @toynews online

t's been a whirlwind of a month here at ToyNews, with our feet hardly touching the ground. Vegas, Harrogate, Birmingham - yep, we've been visiting it all. Fresh from the Las Vegas Licensing Expo, we are here to report that licensing is going as strong as it ever was, and character and entertainment licensing in the children's space is doing even better. In fact, the NPD recently reported that a quarter of kids products sold in the US during the last quarter of 2017, bore a license. Couple this with the emerging new entertainment platform found in esports and the growing links being forged to the toy industry here, and the future for the licensed toys market looks very bright indeed. From Birmingham's NEC, meanwhile, we bring the latest from the UK's board and hobby gaming scene, fresh from our extensive, headfirst dive into the wonderful world and many realms that make up the UK Games Expo. We get hands on with some interesting and daring new titles as well as take a closer look at some of the biggest points of discussion circling the UK gaming scene today. Not one to shy away from the facts, we also take a closer look at the rise of Amazon and the company thriving on the ecommerce platform, MMP Living as we discover just why brick and mortar retailers need to be collaborating with the onliners. Read on to discover it all. Robert Hutchins, Editor

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Contents June 2018 Features


BIG INTERVIEW: BRIAN MARIOTTI Funko's CEO talks to ToyNews about becoming the global nexus of pop culture.


UK GAMES EXPO: THE RUNDOWN We dive head first in this extensive look at the UK's biggest board and hobby game show.


A NEW SPORTSMANSHIP A look at the growing alliance between the world of esports and the toy industry.


EXPLORING THE AMAZON We talk to Amazon specialist MMP Living.

Regulars Opinion 06 Oliver Morrison 07 Billy Langsworthy 08 Valerie Vacante

Market Data 26 Generation Media 27 C ampaign of the Month Product Guide 38 STEM Toys 46 Dolls 52 Back to School Back pages 56 I ndustry Moves 57 Team of the Month 58 Final word

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Hot data: What’s the key to choosing your next brand ambassador? By Oliver Morrison

If you’ve identified millennials as a key audience of your product, then you've probably considered working with celebrities or public figures who are likely inclined towards what you do and are influencers on the same social platforms as your customers. But social influence is a slippery thing to pin down – especially when trying to assess the likely impact an influencer could have on your brand. However, once you start to dig into what it really means, two elements emerge; how many people are listening and how likely they are to be swayed. Crucially, a large following across multiple social platforms doesn’t always translate into the power to influence. At Sportstar Influencer, we were intrigued by this problem and, driven by our interest in football, we started gathering data and doing things with it. There’s no shortage of information available if you know where to look – social platforms are keen to share data about their reach and scale and, in most cases, those numbers can be sliced and diced to reveal who is listening to who, and what they are talking about. However, recent developments in big data and artificial intelligence have meant that ideas such as sentiment analysis (the process of computationally

identifying and categorising public opinions),, can now be applied to the decision-making process. This is a crucial new addition to a brand owner’s armoury – just because a personality has a lot of followers it doesn’t automatically mean they’re suitable to engage with. Perhaps more importantly, the sentiment held by the public towards the personality can change at any time – we have all heard stories about influencers doing or saying things they shouldn’t. Likewise, scoring the winning goal in the World Cup Final will potentially have a hugely positive impact on sentiment. Being able to track and measure these ups and downs in public perception in real time is therefore hugely important. Bringing all this data together, combining it with more traditional measures of individual and team performance and using it to measure and compare the relative social influence, just felt like a natural thing to do. Over the last year or so, we have been refining and revising our algorithms until we were sure that we were on to a good thing and earlier this year, we launched our Premier League Influencer Index. We weren’t prepared for the level of interest that the launch generated. We have created a great tool for identifying individuals who are in a great position to champion the right brand to the right audience. We will be sharing a real-time updated ranking of World Cup players and teams based on their influencer score during the tournament.

" Social following doesn't always mean power to influence." Oliver Morrison is the CEO of Sportstar Influencer, a social index devised to help you make the right decisions when it comes to selecting your brand ambassadors.

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Creative conversations: It’s time the world recognised the talent behind toy design By Billy Langsworthy

Back in March, the Government announced the Creative Industries sector deal designed to ‘unlock growth for creative businesses.’ The deal will invest more than £150 million across the lifecycle of creative businesses, with a focus on tech and a mantra to help develop the creative skills of the future. It sounds good, but leaves just one question. Who would benefit? The creative industries cited included film, TV, music, fashion and design, arts, architecture, publishing, advertising, video games and crafts. Toys and board games are nowhere to be seen, and this sector deal isn’t the only place where play seems to be absent from creativity conversations. If you apply to join the Creative Industries Federation, the national organisation for all of the UK’s creative industries, cultural education and arts, there is no ‘toy’ or ‘game’ option when specifying the industry you work within. This is something Mojo Nation is hoping to change now that we have achieved membership (we were told to select the ‘Architecture & Design’ option). Maybe it’s down to the fact that for decades, toy design was taught as part of an industrial design degree.

You’d design light bulbs one month, action figures the next and shin-pads after that. These days, toy design is found as part of product design degrees. While the former was about functionality, the latter is far more consumer goods focused. Either way, this September, Mojo Nation is hoping to showcase just how creative this space is via our Play Creators Festival – a three day celebration of the toy and game design community. The first day plays host to the Toy and Game Design Conference, boasting speakers including Hasbro’s senior director of global product acquisition, Rich Mazel, PAW Patrol creator Keith Chapman and Tech Will Save Us CEO, Bethany Koby, each talking about their own design processes and approaches to creativity. Day two hosts the Mojo Pitch, during which designers will be pitching new toy and game concepts to a whole host of firms including Hasbro, TOMY, Spin Master, Alpha and Character Options, while the final day is centred on ushering new blood into the toy and game design space via our Student Conference. We are hoping that the Play Creators Festival goes some way to ensure the UK toy sector gets recognised as the creative powerhouse that it is, and that designers begin to get included in the same conversations as their counterparts in film, TV, music and video games.

"Time was, you'd design light bulbs one month, toys the next." Billy Langsworthy is the co-founder of Mojo-Nation, and industry body created to champion the efforts of toy and game designers in the UK and worldwide.

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Connected play

STATES OF PLAY Exploring the Connected Play Landscape with Collabsco


hile your iPhone may seem like an extension of your own genetic code, your bionic left arm for argument’s sake, the truth is we have only been living with smart phone technology for just under a decade. It’s an insignificant blip on the timeline of human evolution, of course, but a major leap in the on going journey of commerce, product and tech development, all the same. In just under ten years, we have seen a new generation of children grow up among smart phone technology, meaning that today’s kids have been swiping, pinching and snapping at screens for most of their lives. Technology and the consumer’s engagement with it has forced the hand of many an industry, from retail where expectations now lie within entertainment such as VR and AR to hold a shopper’s shortening interest, all the way through to the toy industry, where more and more the onus is being placed on ‘connectivity’ and that ever-present sentiment of connected play. It’s a phrase that, in essence, means multi-faceted entertainment. We are no longer dealing with just toys, but all of the technology that a generation of ‘pluggedin’ youngsters expect to surround play.

Be it technology in education (or EdTech), voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa platform or VR and AR experiences, together it has created a new field of play that - if Juniper Research projections are to be believed – will hit a market value of $18 billion by 2023. “It is why toy, game and technology designers of today are doing more than just ‘pushing plastic’, they are creating the same level of wonderment that we felt as kids for a new generation,” Valerie Vacante, founder and managing partner of Collabsco tells ToyNews. “Today, they are creating positive memories for kids and making an imprint on culture, creativity and learning in our ever-connected world.” But what exactly is connected play and why should we all be ready to embrace it? If you haven’t heard of terms such as the Internet of Things or Near Field Communication by now, then we can only hope you enjoyed your extended holiday under that rock. But while the majority of us have heard these phrases, bandied around by the bespectacled beards and haircuts of today’s tech scene, there remains a number of us unsure of just where they all fit within the expanding toy space.

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Connected play

The truth is, you are not alone and every day leaders in the tech development space are discovering new avenues and paths to explore and continue to bring the worlds of tech, AR, VR, the Internet of Things and toys together in what it has dubbed Connected Play. “A connected play experience is one that allows people to interact, play or learn in the physical and digital world,” continues Vacante. “It goes beyond toys or a single technology; it encompasses gaming, education and emerging technologies such as robotics, wearables, voice assistants and more. “The impact of all of this tech is already surrounding us, just look at the way kids play today.” Juniper Research, the team that predicts the 200 per cent market growth in the connected play landscape over the course of the next five years, defines connected play as ‘one that must have embedded communications onboard that enables it to interface with a mobile device or console, while Internet connectivity may be used for the purposes of communications to the cloud.’ As new technologies have evolved, so too have the way in which kids play, learn and explore their physical and digital world. It’s part of the reason why, as the toy industry continues to forge its place within the connected play arena, we find more and more companies tapping into that cross-platform approach of delivering more than a simple product, but the experience of fleshed-out entertainment. Immediate examples of toy companies operating proficiently in this space include the likes of LEGO and Hasbro, who, according to Vacante, lead the way in building their connected play portfolio across multiple technologies and experiences. “LEGO has brought to market the most well-rounded connected play portfolio extending across IoT, robotics, AR, EdTech, social and voice,” she explains. “Whereas Hasbro has launched the most connected play experiences across IoT, AR, Near Field Communication and voice with experiences extending across their intellectual properties.” Meanwhile, Spin Master is expanding its connected play portfolio across AI, robotics and AR while Mattel focuses on IoT, AR and EdTech. However, it is perhaps in the start-up space that we begin to see the biggest strive for innovation in delivering connected play experiences emerging from the likes of Anki, Pai Technology and Ubtech, while

Sensible Object ‘continues to be fiercely focused on building rich products and experiences,’ take its AR infused Beasts of Balance or its Amazon Alexa-compatible When In Rome board games for example. “Top growth markets include North America, Western Europe and the Far East and China,” continues Vacante. “Global companies and startups will continue to capitalise on growth by understanding consumers needs and wants across continents and cultures, creating new ways to play with new technologies in the physical and digital world.” This growth and projected potential for the connected play space is the reason behind Collabsco’s latest creation, the Connected Play Landscape, a graphic that provides a single view of over 100 connected play companies and experiences segmented by emerging technologies. “The Connected Play Landscape outlines emerging technologies, companies and collaborators creating the future of play,” says Vacante. “But while we can pick it apart and analyse the Connected Play Landscape, kids themselves are oblivious to its intricacies. When kids play, they do not differentiate between ‘physical play’ or ‘digital play,’ it is all simply ‘play’ in one world and it’s how they want and expect to play today. “Companies both big and small see big opportunities in connected play and merging the physical and digital worlds for the way kids live.” Take a look at the way in which the contemporary licensing industry operates for a clearer example of this shift in audience demand and expectation. No longer is it enough to simply launch a toy line off the back of a popular children’s animated series. More and more, studios and licensors recognise the importance of delivering the brand to the digital space, be it through digital gaming apps or YouTube shorts or even live experiential events. Level 5 Abby, famed for its Yo-Kai Watch series, has even developed the model one step further, bringing in the emerging entertainment field, esports, into the fold. It’s just yet another example of the constant evolution of consumer and audience engagement with emerging tech and entertainment trends. “We have been living with smart phones for nearly a decade,” says Vacante. “With the continued increase in AI, robots, VR, EdTech, wearable social and more, connected play is here to stay,” she concludes.

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Big interview

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Big interview

Having seen sales increase 38.5 per cent to $137.2 million in its first quarter earnings, Funko is riding the explosive wave of today’s demand for all things pop culture. Robert Hutchins talks to the company’s CEO, Brian Mariotti about the pop culture scene and Funko’s plans within it How has business been at Funko over the last 12 months? What sort of growth are you projecting for 2018 and beyond? The past year was an incredible one for Funko and our financial results for 2017 are a testament to the diversity, flexibility and strength of our business. In 2017, we increased net sales by 21 per cent to $516 million and sold across a record number of properties. With the upsurge and globalisation of content, and as big as the global demand for licensed products continues to grow, we believe we are well positioned to benefit as the worldwide market for licensed products continues to develop. We see strong growth opportunities for this year and beyond. How has the pop-culture scene grown and evolved over the last few years? How much credit can Funko take for bridging the gap between underground culture and mainstream success? At Funko, we have a rare opportunity to position ourselves at the nexus of

pop-culture. Content providers value us for our broad network of retail partners, retailers value us for our broad portfolio of licensed pop culture products and pop culture insights, and consumers value us for our distinct, stylised products. In the past few years, content has started to appear everywhere and is resonating globally in real time, Video games, movies, television shows, music and sports are more popular than ever and fans are spending more time interacting with the content. We believe we have actually helped to define today’s pop culture products category. You have such a heritage in the pop-culture space and a lot of measured success, but has Funko ever miss-stepped and how have you overcome that? Of course, as the fast fashion of pop culture products, there have been product lines that have not resonated and that’s OK. We can take a product from concept to shelf at a rate that is uniquely ours and have built a solid foundation off our distinct and whimsical designs. We are proud to give new licenses a try and give our artists the opportunity to express each character in a June 2018 | toy news | 11

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Big interview

fearless and bold way. Sometimes by going against the grain it’s a miss, but often we end up with a line that surprises our fans, in a good way, and is a success because we took the risk. You guys have recently made the move into short form content creation following the recent successes with the likes of Marvel. Is longer form content on the radar for you guys? As the leading pop culture company, we are constantly paying attention to the industry and understand well that the continued creation of content allows us to better engage with our fans and provides us with natural growth opportunities. For the last four years, we have been producing animated product videos with A Large Evil Corporation and we were excited to move that in-house last year. Video is becoming an increasingly important medium that allows us to better create content to support and promote our brand and our products globally. In terms of longer form content, we actually just won Best Documentary Feature Film by the San Diego Film Awards for Making Fun – The Story of Funko, a documentary we worked on with Eddie Grace Arts and Film which is now available exclusively on Netflix.

"Our focus right now is offering fans the stylised designs that they love with unique products at affordable prices." Brian Mariotti, Funko Alongside that, have you ideas floating to look at video games? Is there space to do something similar to the LEGO Dimensions platform? Our focus right now is offering fans the stylised designs that they love with unique products at affordable prices. However, we are always looking for new ways to grow in the pop culture market, whether that is video games, animated movies or an entirely new product line. We have had the opportunity to grow our business with consumers, licensors and retailers and we are leveraging our success into an expanding assortment of products and distribution footprint. What are the challenges with working with such a vast array of licenses? What are the biggest franchises for you?

We really do strive to license every pop culture property. We have built a strong rapport with content providers who trust us to create unique, stylised extensions of their intellectual property, helping to maximise the lifetime value of their content. In recent years, content providers have begun consolidating their relationships to do more business with fewer licensees and we believe that we have benefited from this recent trend. We work with a diversified mix of licenses, some of our established relationships include Disney, HBO, LucasFilm, Marvel, the National Football League and Warner Bros. In terms of surprising franchises, our Bob Ross and Golden Girls collections were surprisingly both hugely popular and their launches were a true cultural phenomenon that introduced the Funko brand to an even wider audience. The breadth of the portfolio means you have some very niche licenses as well as the biggest blockbusters. How do you divide attention and interest? How do you deal with pressures from the big studios? We never feel dictated to by big studios to push specific properties, although we have licenses for all of the 15 highest grossing movie franchises in history.

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Big interview We divide our licensed properties into four main categories which include classic evergreen, movie release, current TV and current video game. Additionally, we license properties that don’t fit in those categories, like those that are related to limited-duration pop culture phenomena, which we are able to capitalise on due to our speed to market and low cost of production. Because of the strength of our in-house creative team, we can move from product design to pre-selling a new product in as few as 24 hours. Our team is constantly following the latest trends, listening and engaging with our dedicated fans. We pride ourselves on always working to license and create products that we believe are relevant and exciting to our fans. What has reception been like to the diversification of the Funko product portfolio? Are the new lines as popular as the Funko Pop! Vinyls? The reception has been very positive and we have expanded beyond figures and infused our distinct designs and aesthetic sensibility over a wide variety of product categories including accessories, apparel and homewares. How do the US operations compare to those you have here in the UK and Europe? It’s a bigger scale but do you see UK demand mirroring that in the States? We acquired Underground Toys in 2017 which was an important strategic transaction for Funko that provided us with the initial foundation for a direct distribution model in Europe, from which we continue to invest and build. We are continuing to build out our global sales, our operation teams and further integrate the Funko UK systems, as well as set up a new third-party logistics in mainland Europe to scale our international business. What company growth are you now looking at? Have you got any further acquisition or expansion plans in the pipeline?

Funko had another strong year in 2017, where we truly laid the foundation for long-term growth in market penetration worldwide. We sold across a record number of properties and made three strategic acquisitions. We also expanded our product portfolio and enhanced our digital capabilities so this year and beyond, we are continuing on the path toward long-term growth. We have a number of new product lines that we are excited about and we will continue to enhance our core capabilities and continue to proceed with strategic investments to drive future growth. With the proliferation and globalisation of content, we believe we are well positioned to benefit as the worldwide market for licensed products continues to develop, and we could not be more excited about our future and our fans. June 2018 | toy news | 13

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UK Games Expo

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UK Games Expo


EXPO: INSIDE THE UK'S BIGGEST GAMING SHOW Strap yourself in, because things are about to get extensive in this, a round-up of the biggest board, tabletop and hobby gaming show to hit the UK. With new titles, genres and burning issues to discuss, Robert Hutchins dives into the world that is the UK Games Expo


ot everything happens in London. Some 127 miles North West of the UK capital, in Birmingham’s NEC, the country’s largest board, tabletop and hobby gaming convention is about to get underway. If projections are to be believed and predictions are to come to fruition, over the next three days, the halls of this great exhibition centre will feed, water, entertain and in some cases even clothe, more than 32,000 gaming nerds, enthusiasts and fanatics over the course of what the show’s organisers have billed “the biggest UK Games Expo to date.” Each year for the past 12 years, Birmingham has opened its doors to literal throngs

of the ‘great unwashed’ in numbers – nay, droves – that have incrementally risen in each passing. This year, it’s a real surge. A 25 per cent increase in visitor numbers on 2017’s turnout. It’s a real result for the UK Games Expo as it continues its mission to become the largest of its kind in Europe, soon to be rivalling Germany’s Essen, but more so, it’s a staggering result for the UK’s board gaming scene. What these numbers point to, in fact, are two very concrete realities. Firstly, the UK’s board gaming scene is still on its strong upward surge in popularity within and without the realms of geekdom, and secondly, someone somewhere is going to need a much larger supply of Warhammer t-shits, and quickly. June 2018 | toy news | 15

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UK Games Expo

It’s on the approach to the hall itself that the first signs of the vibrancy and excitement around this annual gathering are made apparent. A grassy knoll plays home to a sea of tents inhabited by an army of Viking warriors. An invasion of this magnitude would surely have made the national headlines at some point, so it is with a degree of certainty that one can deduce that – far from being another Nordic conquest immediately underway – this is a meeting of the show’s regular gathering of cosplayers that has, over the years, become part and parcel of Games Expo celebrations. With drinking horns at the ready and all manner of sword-crossing undoubtedly on the evening’s agenda, there’s no denying that board gaming – at this level – still holds fast onto its core audience of deeply engaged fans. Predominantly, these fans are male, and from the outside there’s a musk of exclusivity about this community of fancy-dress fanciers, charged with testosterone-fuelled sword waving and spear measuring.

“This year is our biggest ever family gaming zone to date. It’s a great chance for youngsters and young families to come along and play all manner of games." Richard Denning, UK Games Expo However, in essence, this is only a small faction of the UK Games Expo audience, and, over the years the show, its organiser and director Richard Denning and the board gaming scene in general has made concerted efforts to increase the accessibility for all genders, ages and interests. “Our family gaming zone has grown at the same rate as the show each year,” says Denning as the director and brains behind the growing publisher, Medusa Games,

takes ToyNews on an exclusive guided tour of the show floor. “This year is our biggest ever family gaming zone to date. It’s a great chance for youngsters and young families to come along and play all manner of games. It’s such a popular facet to the show that often, we will have families come along and spend the entire show in this section. It’s become a day out for them.” This year, the Family Gaming Zone is sponsored by Haba who, as such, boasts a huge presence throughout the show with its eclectic mix of family-friendly game titles. Meanwhile, returning to the zone for yet another year is its staple must-visit company, Imagination Gaming. Run by Nigel Scarfe and its team of gaming brainiacs, much of the recent uptake in the popularity of board gaming within the mainstream audience can in some way be accredited to the efforts of this outfit. Imagination Gaming, after all, is a company that continues to promote and champion the ethos of the board gaming

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UK Games Expo

world up and down the country; visiting schools, hospitals and even young offenders institutions to help foster a passion for the pastime among kids and families in the hope to perpetuate the hobby among younger generations. “We are absolutely delighted to have Haba on board with us this year as well,” explains Denning. “We have been stalking them for a decade purely because of what their games bring to board gaming, with their cool, colourful titles that really tap into a diversity of audience that we, as an industry and hobby, are looking to bring to the forefront.” The Issues Of the many topics of discussion surrounding the UK’s board gaming community today, it is this subject of inclusivity, diversity and representation that currently sits at the top of the agenda. It's a feeling felt by many in the space today and as Denning

succinctly puts it himself, ‘as the audience for gaming grows, so do the expectations surrounding it.’ Historically, board gaming has been a heavily male dominated arena and as such, the stories told through many of the most popular titles are done so from the male perspective. Of the estimated 89,000 board game titles out there, it’s understood that the majority with a story-telling aspect do so via a male protagonist.

“It’s time to see changes and it is time to be embracing the vibrancy and diversity that this industry and hobby should be welcoming.” Michael Fox, Hub Games

Swashbuckling adventure games have rarely deviated from this path, appealing to a largely male audience over years gone by. But audiences are certainly shifting. This year’s expo is expected to see a ratio of 65:35 in favour of male participants. Yes, it’s certainly still skewed towards those with the extra Y chromosome, but, and in a point that Denning will readily second, there’s a growing audience of female gamers that in many regards, feel underrepresented in the titles they play. Z-Man Games’ Pandemic – distributed by Asmodee UK – has been championed for its female representation, introducing the character of the female doctor as the game packaging’s focal point. Meanwhile, more and more, publishers are moving away from the imagery that in yesteryear would underpin this community of ‘Dungeons and Dragoners’, steering away from the chainmail bikini clad characters in favour of strong female leads.

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UK Games Expo

Michael Fox, game designer and community manager at Hub Games and one half of the duo behind the much hyped Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is, in his own words, ‘quite frankly sick of the underrepresentation of not just women but diversity overall in the board gaming space.’ “I am tired of being in a space where all we see being represented are white men with beards,” he tells ToyNews. “There is a lack of strong female characters at the moment, there is a lack of diversity and ethnicities and the problem goes beyond that still." He is, of course, referring to the case of game reviewer, Katie Aidley, an avid wargamer and victim of trolling.

“There is a board game reviewer called Katie Aidley, who on posting a review was hit with a barrage of hate from idiots insisting that ‘women don’t game’. “Quite frankly, fuck that.” This, you will glad to hear, is an attitude not tolerated by UK Games Expo, either, who has taken an increasingly hard line with games it believes to not be serving the growing community’s audience. “Over a game we were playing the other night, we came across a deck of cards that had female characters displayed in increasingly fewer clothes. It was easy from there to conclude that such a title had no place at UK Games Expo,” explains Denning.

Among the majority of the UK board gaming scene, the frustration at this level of misrepresentation is palpable, and certainly, wherein years gone by may have seen a level of ignorance shroud the awareness of exactly what was being represented, the topic is starting to be acknowledged. “For my next game, I am going to be addressing all of these points of representation,” continues Hub Games’ Fox. “It’s time to see changes and it is time to be embracing the vibrancy and diversity that this industry and hobby should be welcoming.” But why is it now that the issues surrounding representation are beginning to be picked up, discussed and acted upon?

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UK Games Expo The answer to the complex question is pretty simple. “It’s The Big Bang Theory,” says Denning. “It’s shows like Stranger Things that brought Dungeons and Dragons to the mainstream. It’s the inclusion of the board gaming community in popular, mainstream entertainment that has brought about a new level of awareness and enjoyment of gaming as a means of entertainment.” In return, this has brought in new audiences, audiences who – quite rightly – want to see themselves represented within the games they play. “Succinctly put, it’s accessibility,” says Andrew Harman, founder of YAY Games and creator of the popular Ominoes gaming series. “We are all about keeping this new found audience engaged through accessibility. People want to play good, deeply engaging games, but do they really want to be embarking on a two hour long venture every time? “It’s why we keep our story simple yet engaging and gameplay at a maximum of 40 minutes.” It’s this very same argument that appears be shaping a new future of storytelling in

“The Expo itself is an integral part of driving the creativity of the space and through that we will continue all we can to fuel this passion for board gaming, whatever level of engagement you have in it.” Richard Denning, UK Games Expo the games being played. New genres are surfacing through these key ‘accessible’ or ‘gateway’ games at a rapid pace. No longer are we simply faced with battalions of goblin kings and hoards of crazed warlocks. The days of reciting incantations or placing hexes on the player to your left in order to sup from the goblet of eternal indigestion are done with. Yes, you can still find these titles and yes, if you draw us up

a nice cauldron of bubbly broth, I will happily sit down and play them with you; but narratives are diversifying far beyond these realms as increasingly publishers cater for the tastes of further spread audiences. The Games “It arguably starts with Jacob Jaskov’s Fog of Love,” says Hub Games’ Michael Fox, mid demo of his own title, Holding On. “That game really kickstarted a new genre of impactful and emotion-driven games in the board gaming space.” Fog of Love is a game for two players in which they are tasked with creating and playing two vivid characters who meet, fall in love and face the challenge of making their unusual relationship work. A roller coaster ride of awkward situations, laughs and difficult compromises ensue as players journey through a relationship together. A modern day Dream Phone? “It’s certainly a romantic comedy in game form,” continues Fox. “But it has opened up a new mode of playing and creating stories based around emotion. This War of Mine is another example, these are games that rely on emotionally charged decisions.”

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UK Games Expo

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UK Games Expo

The blurb for the game itself reads like a Spielberg movie. ‘You will enter this experience as a group of civilians trapped in a besieged and conflict-ridden city, enduring many hardships that often test the essence of humanity.’ A deviation from the laughter of Fog of Love, yes, but impactful all the same. Where Fox sits alongside all of this, by the way, is in the nature of his latest release, Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr. It’s actually the result of a collaboration between Fox and Rory O’Connor, the Belfast native behind the wildly popular Rory’s Story Cubes. With some stunning artwork by Bryn Jones, the title is a co-operative game in which players work as nursing staff tasked with providing care for Billy Kerr, a man who having suffered a heart attack on a flight from Sydney to London, is rushed to hospital. When the game begins, all players know is his name, that he is 60 years old and he has been given days to live. OK, it’s not quite got the levity of Operation, and as the game unfolds players must take action to keep Billy alive, all while piecing together memories from his past in order to find out who Billy Kerr really is. Is it hard-hitting? Absolutely, and undoubtedly not the game to wheel out on Christmas Eve, but it is also representative of a changing dynamic in the UK board gaming space that is now, more than ever, asking for a deeper level of emotional engagement in the stories they tell. Conversely, Anna Peipina, marketing and communications manager of the Latvian gaming outfit, Brain Games is of the belief that not all games need such a definitive outcome for them to be enjoyed. Many contemporary games – particularly those within the party game scene – actively place importance on ‘finding the winner’ at the bottom of the list in exchange for delivering a mode of play that’s all in it for the laughs. “Doodle Rush is a hilarious game,” she insists upon me. “Players select an object to draw and then must draw it as fast as they can for others to guess. “Look at this,” she says pointing to a crudely drawn picture of a triangle with eyes and slippers on, “this is penguin.” It’s not a penguin. It’s a triangle with eyes and slippers, I tell her. If I could have done so June 2018 | toy news | 23

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UK Games Expo

in Latvian we might even have both enjoyed the joke. Frivolities aside, Brain Games is just one of a fast growing number of companies tapping into the quick-paced party game audience. What started with titles like Cards Against Humanity quickly grew outwards as more and more, fans and millennials started to bring gaming into their recreational and social activities. It’s one of the reasons behind the stark uptick in the number of Board Game Cafes found to be popping up across the UK, and

why, increasingly, retailers are diversifying beyond their traditional fodder in to the world of gaming. Of them, Waterstones has been earmarked as a leader in the field of bringing hobby board gaming into the mainstream. YAY Games’ Andrew Harman has recently found success with the retail chain, while Asmodee continues to partner with the high street brand on its hugely diverse portfolio of titles. In fact, when it comes to bringing games to the mainstream, few have mirrored the

success of Asmodee who, charged with the likes of Dobble, Ticket To Ride and Pandemic, as well as its recent sweep of acquisitions in the space that includes bringing the Coiledspring Games offering into its gamut, is even beginning to find shelf space among the grocers. “When you hit Target, that’s when you know you have a mainstream audience,” a representative of Asmodee North America, tells ToyNews. “And we have now seen a number of our games picked up by them in the US.”

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UK Games Expo

Ben Hogg, marketing manager for Asmodee UK adds that the new launch Ticket To Ride New York edition is a real step towards targeting the mainstream audience. "With a price tag of £20, he says, we are hoping this will be accessible to board gamers through UK supermarkets, as well as hobby retailers.” And when it comes to bringing board gaming to the masses, it again falls on Asmodee to be leading the charge. As you read this, the UK ensemble is busy finalising a new studio concept in its

London offices. The studio will take Asmodee on to YouTube through a slate of video content in which personalities and celebrities are brought in to partake in the board gaming hobby. While for those immersed in the gaming scene, yes, it feeds off a concept that has long been implemented in the US through platforms such as Star Trek actor Will Wheaton’s Geek and Sundry, it’s a real first for the UK and a very credible one, too. The move itself is a neatly packaged tie-in to the very sentiments of UK Games

Expo’s Richard Denning. The UK audience for board gaming is only on the rise and it is one that is discovering new and varied modes of tapping into and providing newly charged platforms for fan engagement. “We don’t see this popularity dropping off at any point, either,” says Denning. “The UK Games Expo itself is an integral part of driving the creativity of the space and through that we will continue to do all we can to fuel this passion for board gaming, whatever level of engagement you have in it.” June 2018 | toy news | 25

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Generation Media

WHAT ABOUT DAD?... Lauren Coombs While so much toy and game advertising still targets mothers specifically, Generation Media’s Lauren Coombs asks just what audience brands are missing out on when it comes to the often overlooked dad Source BARB May 2018


e all buy toys and games at some point in our life, whether you are a mum, dad, aunt, uncle, grandparent or once a year gift giver. Yet many advertisers continue to focus on targeting mum as the primary purchaser either through speaking to her direct or through a mutual viewing with her child. However, in modern day society when men are often the housekeeper, we want to know what dad is watching with their children and how we can tap into this audience, too. At this time of year, with the UEFA Champions League seeing Real Madrid steal victory and the World Cup fast approaching, it is no surprise to see sports and entertainment content monopolise pre-school dad’s viewing time (May 1st to 28th 2018). With some shows such as Britain’s Got Talent Live show on ITV pulling in an estimated average of 131,000 men with children under the age of three, alongside Who Wants to be a Millionaire on ITV delivering on average 117,000 impacts for this audience. Family films also prove a popular choice with the likes of Eddie the Eagle on Channel 4 (131,000 impacts) and Jurassic World on ITV2 with 66,000 impacts, both featuring in the top 20 programmes for this audience. However, airing across adults channels is not the only

way to target potential dad consumers. If we focus on the same four weeks of data, we can see that some of the top performing 20 channels against this audience (based on monthly reach) are kids commercial channels (including Milkshake on C5, Nick Jr. and Nick Jr. 2) proving that this content provides advertisers with the opportunity to reach dad more cost effectively. Programmes such as Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom delivered on average 49,000 impacts against dads with pre-school children during this time period. If we also broaden the target group to dads watching with older children aged four to nine years old, channels such as Pop and CITV enter the mix where dads and lads may be watching together. When analysing the categories that advertise on kids’ commercial channels, while predominantly focused to toys and games, we still see many FMCG brands booking up spots. However, there is clearly an avenue, to a certain extent, for parenting brands to reach dad specifically through these channels. This also highlights the potential to hone in specifically to target dads with different age children and particular hobbies and interest through digital online channels. For more information on how to target this audience please contact us on the below details.

ToyNews PlayTime is provided by Generation Media 0207 307 7900 |

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Campaign of the month

FLAIR GETS THE PERFECT TEN With new episodes dropping last month and the season special landing in August, Flair has a wealth of new SKUs in the Ben 10 portfolio and a fully-rounded marketing campaign, to boot


P Flair is rolling out its summer marketing plan for its Ben 10 master toy collection to coincide with the summer launch of key figure waves and the introduction of the new Alien Creation Chamber. So what’s new to look forward to? Well, the summer collection includes the all-new Omni-enhanced action figures along with the highly articulated and detailed Alien Vehicles. The introduction of Ben-to-Alien Transforming Figures will further boost the line in July along with the foil bagged mini figures. Also launching is the Ben 10 Alien Creation Chamber, where fans can create their very own aliens. Load the body parts into the chamber and use the Omni Creation Dial to assemble. These add to the highly successful existing lines like the Ben 10 Rust Bucket play-set and the key role play pieces and Ben’s ultimate transforming device, The Omnitrix. The new SKUs are aligned to the new episodes that launched in May, not to mention a season special scheduled for August, featuring the new Ben to Alien Transforming Figures. What’s more, you can expect new TVCs and a heavyweight schedule being added to the marketing mix. As a major brand in the GP Flair portfolio, Ben 10 is to benefit from a 360-degree marketing campaign that commences in late July. Sybil Baiden, boys product manager at GP Flair, said: “We will be creating not one but two new 20” TVCs; the first one for the Ben to Alien Transforming figures and

another for the Alien Creation Chamber. These will be added to other spots for existing key lines such as the Ben 10 Rust Bucket and the Omni Launch Battle Figures. “These will be used in a heavyweight TV campaign across all children and targeting our core audience of boys’ four to nine channels, while also adding to this with targeted pre-roll and VOD. “TV will always be at the core of our marketing, but we have also been working together with Cartoon Network in creating a full calendar of retailer activity, working

with out retail partners on each element; ensuring it’s tailored to their needs. This activity is essential to ensure that we are top of mind with the consumer once they arrive in store. “And that’s not all. This spring we also created a month of digital activity with Cartoon Network’s online portal, which will be repeated in autumn with new lines. This adds to the huge amount of activity we have arranged with boys’ press. “All in all, the aim has been to ensure our Ben 10 line up is seen by the core audience in as many places as possible.” June 2018 | toy news |27

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Our 2018 features list is available and with it a new chance for you to sign up and get involved in the industry’s leading and most read publication.

Get in touch with anything you’d like to see us cover in ToyNews Contact Rob on and for advertising opportunities get in touch with Jodie Holdway on ToyNewsHouseAd March2018_v1.indd 1

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esports and toys

A NEW SPORTSMANSHIP The licensed toys market continues to grow at a phenomenal rate and within it, new factions of entertainment licensing are taking root. Among the most notable is the esports movement, a new ilk of videogaming that is now finding residence within the toy industry. Robert Hutchins explores the growing market


recent report from the NPD’s License Tracker revealed that a quarter of all kids’ products sold in the US in the final quarter of 2017 featured a character or entertainment licence. To put that into context, in the same period it was reported that licensed sales for kids amounted to around $17 billion in consumer spending. Across all industries, clothing took home the lion’s share of product sales, closely followed by the popular

kids' categories of toys, games and puzzles, party supplies and books. What we are looking at here, then, is that in Q4 2017, US shoppers spent around $4.25 billion on licensed toys and games. So it’s no wonder that even at just a glance around the halls of Las Vegas’ Licensing Expo, you are faced with a cornucopia of character and entertainment brands, each looking to take a piece of this thriving industry’s pie.

Breaking down those numbers further, the same report from the NPD discovered that in that same market, kids aged three to five represented the largest group for licensed sales based on units sold, coming in at 30 per cent. Meanwhile, Star Wars accounted for the largest share of sales among the six to eight year old age bracket; the second largest group with 23 per cent share of the kids’ licensing market. June 2018 | toy news | 29

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esports and toys According to Juli Lennett, senior vice president and toys industry advisor at The NPD Group, its success over that final quarter of last year can be attributed to its fluidity and the increasing change of pace found among the industry's trends. “Change is only growing stronger and faster today, as technology continues to accelerate the pace of trends, and carve out additional ways for consumers to engage,” she explains. “Kids are utilising more platforms than ever before to interact with their favourite licenses. Finding synergies across industries and extending the life of a license where it makes sense are important avenues for licensors and retailers to pursue.” One such avenue that finally appears to be gaining the much-anticipated traction within toy licensing is that of video games. Thanks to the recent big reveal from Activision and its newly forged partnerships with the likes of Hasbro, LEGO and McFarlane Toys across its hit video gaming franchises, Call of Duty and Overwatch, the

stage finally looks set for the alignment fans have been asking for. “We have now seen a big, pretty monumental shift in attitudes from the toy industry towards just how important video games are and what can be done in the toy space,” Tim Kilpin, president and CEO of

"When we launched the Overwatch League late last year, we had ten million people engaged within its first week. This was not only staggering, but it meant that we could demonstrate to the world and the marketplace that this – esports – was and is a viable way to expand on the franchise experience." Tim Kilpin, Activision Blizzard Consumer Products Activision Blizzard Consumer Products, tells ToyNews. “They now see what we see and they now recognise that fans engage at a different level. It is a fanbase that doesn’t fall off or go away; it’s a fanbase that stays engaged across a broader age spectrum than other avenues they might typically have worked with before, and they engage deeply.” To summarise the new partnerships, Hasbro has been brought on board to develop a line of Overwatch action figures, while LEGO is in the process of delivering a collection of construction sets based on the same title. Meanwhile, pop culture specialist, McFarlane Toys is preparing to launch a line of Call of Duty collectable figures. On top of this Hasbro’s NERF brand has signed to develop and launch a range of Overwatch themed NERF blasters. “NERF adds yet another level of engagement because not only is it a great play pattern, but it also feeds into that whole Cosplay scene, and it is very real and actually very exciting to find ourselves now a part of,” continues Kilpin.

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esports and toys

It was at the recent Pax East games convention in Boston that this level of fan engagement really hit home for Kilpin and the Activision team. “We gathered up all of the people there dressed in Overwatch cosplay, and we counted a couple of hundred,” says Kilpin. “It had literally taken over the show in quite an overwhelming way. This is something that is enormously organic, and it is all of these things together, the recognition of this depth of fan engagement with our video gaming franchises that have led our partners to sit up and ask ‘how do we work together to take advantage of this?’” While a large amount of credit can be heaped on the ever-growing ‘kidult’ market, there is one contributing factor to this emerging new global entertainment platform that is truly inescapable and that lies with the esports movement. “Live, experiential engagement in franchises is a pocket of licensing that is seeing real growth, and I can tell you that we as a company are taking advantage of that through esports,” continues Kilpin. “When we launched the Overwatch League late last year, we had ten million people engaged within its first week. This was not only staggering, but it meant that we could demonstrate to the world and the marketplace that this – esports – was and is a viable way to expand on the franchise experience.” If there remain any esports deniers out there, your days of living in the dark may just be numbered. The sport – normally confined to platforms such as Twitch or YouTube, on which mass tournaments are regularly streamed – has made it to the mainstream, finding a home last month on the BBC when it took the opportunity to broadcast ESL One in Birmingham’s major DOTA 2 tournament. It’s an audience and a movement that is only growing stronger. The Overwatch reddit channel for instance boasts over 1.25 million subscribers; that’s fans avid enough to take the trouble to subscribe. It doesn't count those that simply choose other routes of engagement with the brand. “Through esports, we are bringing these things to life through a format that is not only a great way to engage fans who are already into the franchise, but to open that door to people who aren't aware of it."

For all its activity in the space, Activision Blizzard is far from the only games studio tapping into the new entertainment platform, and when it comes to building out a toy portfolio surrounding esports, few are pushing innovation to the heights of Level 5 Abby. Many will remember the name for the degree of bluster with which they entered the UK licensing space three years ago with the launch of Yo Kai Watch – billed at the time as ‘the next Pokémon’. While the IP may have failed to replicate Pokémon’s dominance of the market – pit against the phenomenal success of Pokémon Go, as it was – Level 5 was not disheartened. In fact, the Japanese outfit is making its return and ready to push new boundaries with a franchise that aims to combine gaming, digital, broadcast, toys and esports in one fully-rounded launch. Inazuma Eleven Ares is the 2018 reboot of the Inazuma Eleven IP of eight years ago, this time landing in the UK with a thought out localisation and consumer products programme to envy. Through Inazuma Eleven Ares, Level 5 Abby is pushing the video gaming-toy alignment one step further, beginning with the formation of its own esports league around the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 title.

“Level 5 is a video game centric company,” the firm’s CEO, Yukari Hayakawa tells ToyNews. “We are trying to coordinate everything at the same time. Inazuma Eleven has always been in esports in a way, you are already a spectator while people are playing, but we are looking to strengthen that feature in the video game that is coming out next year.” With a master toy partner in Tomy Takara, Level 5 is launching a line of kids’ ‘fitbits,’ specially designed watches with which children can track the daily schedules of their favourite Inazuma Eleven esports players. As well as this, the ‘watch’ tracks their own daily exercise that, through the use of NFC chips, interacts with the video game and levels-up characters according the amount of points they accrue through physical activity. “Now is the right time to be launching into esports in this way because the audience is there,” continues Hayakawa. “We never really thought about the possibilities of being involved in something that can be enjoyed by non-players, but that phenomenon was probably always there. There has always been an audience of ‘videogame watchers,’ but no one really named it. Now there is a name for it, we are going for it,” she concludes. June 2018 | toy news | 31

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MMP Living



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Having just been named the eCommerce Retailer of the Year at Ireland’s Business All Stars awards this year, Amazon specialist, MMP Living is enjoying a year of strong growth in the toy industry. Robert Hutchins talks to the firm’s head of business development, John Ramonski about inhabiting the Amazon


MP Living is one of the largest and most successful third party toy retailers operating on the Amazon marketplace in the world. As such, it has been called ‘the death of the brick and mortar’ by many of the traditionalists. However, the firm’s head of business development, John Ramonski remains a progressive innovator among today’s retail scene. He talks to ToyNews about eradicating the ‘race to the bottom,’ the universal need for margins and a desire for less finger pointing and more cohesion between the physical and online toy retailers. Can you talk us through the MMP Living eCommerce platform? How do you guys help bring toy brands to the Amazon platform? MMP Living is a leading 3P FBA, which means we sell third party to consumers via the Amazon marketplace, that traditionally specialises in toys and games on the online retail platform. We started our business with our home in Denver, Colorado and brought the model to Europe about five years ago, homing ourselves in Dublin. We build lasting partnerships and relationships with brands to the best of our ability to help get product to the marketplace without them having to fully invest directly with Amazon and all of the work that entails.

solid return in the UK as well as all of the Amazon European markets. To have recognition here in Ireland as the eCommerce Business of the year when our model is not traditional is a really very exciting result for us. What kind of growth have you seen over the last 12 months? What new markets are you/have you seen expansion in? When we first came into the market, we were looking for as many products to promote and sell as possible. We are in a really good position now to grow by subtraction. We have downsized the overall number of different products we offer and can fully concentrate on the successful items and work with our key suppliers on looking at new product for the platform. This is where we really see our growth as an organisation heading.

What are the reasons behind the recent international expansion for you guys? How strong is the toy market for you and how integral is it to your continued growth? Historically, the toy market has always been a key driver for MMP Living and its success. While the buying partners are different in other international markets and recent downfalls in the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ models mean they are not thriving as much as they were in the past, toys can be easily translatable and the Amazon platform gives us the best route to the most buyers in the quickest fashion. And what growth have you seen in the toy market? How big a part of the business is it for you guys? Our growth in the toy market has been a key marker to our success. We understand that there are suppliers and brands that

You recently won eCommerce business of the year, how has the last year been for MMP Living? We have really built a great team over the last year or so that has been able to solidify our growth. In a still unsettled market, we really have found quality product and we fully utilise the Amazon marketplace to see June 2018 | toy news | 33

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MMP Living

are happy out dealing direct with Amazon and may not be so brand or price conscious with their product. Those items rarely work for us. We tend to really stand out with SME size partners that are willing to support our efforts getting their product into the marketplace while not joining the ‘race to the bottom’ that Amazon has historically associated itself with. We also find that being here in Ireland has opened us up to some fantastic relationships here. The agents and distribution partners here are really willing to understand the business model we have and see opportunity to work with us and share in our success.

We have traditionally been looked at as the death of physical retail, but the facts are people still need outlets to touch and feel items live. They may begin and end their shopping experience online but full understanding of the item comes down to physically shopping.

Do toy firms recognise the importance of working with someone like MMP Living on Amazon? How well are brands using Amazon currently, and how do you ensure

John Ramonski, MMP Living

they can get the best out of it? Toy firms totally understand the need to be selling on Amazon and some are really understanding of their relationship with Amazon which means they are doing amazing things dealing with Amazon directly. I do, however, think that some may not understand the full concentration needed to protect the brands and utilise the Amazon Marketing tools to the best of their ability. Amazon has a bit of a floating representation system depending on the size of the company and it can be tough for direct, one on one conversations to sort any issues that sometimes come up on a basically open platform. We specialise in Amazon. Our Amazon relationship to the marketplace itself is fantastic and we understand the marketing tools as well. Our account managers spend as much time working on small firm product as large. It can be a full ‘Wild West’ mentality on Amazon and we understand

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MMP Living outlook to form new relationships between the physical and online communities for us all to grow. Good product will always sell and great marketing will sell good product more. Using new eCommerce marketing opportunities in conjunction with traditional ones can help the marriage of both communities as long as we can work to protect each other for margins. At the end of the day, we are all here for margins.

the importance of everything from page creation to the analytics of proper bullet point descriptions to great lifestyle photos. While many firms themselves do a great job working through the Amazon vendor platform, this can be a full on, daunting task that we are fully equipped to take over with them. We also understand that firms are the product specialists, we are the channel partner. This means we need to keep full communication with our suppliers to understand what they are seeing in the market and what innovations are coming behind and working through. How does toy retail through Amazon compare with other online platforms? How does online compare to physical retail today? As to other online marketplaces, while we concentrate on Amazon pretty much fully right now, we always work with other mar-

kets to be ready for the next opportunity were it to arise. We have traditionally been looked at as the death of physical retail, but the facts are people still need outlets to touch and feel items live. They may begin and end their shopping experience online but full understanding of the item comes down to physically shopping. We need toy shops to exist and thrive. While that race to the bottom still goes on at Amazon, and it has hurt the physical brick and mortar retailer, we also cannot survive on those items and feel that we need to work with brick and mortars on a more strategic level in order to continue to protect brands moving forward. So what do you think the future holds for physical toy retailing? Will we see more and more move online? Truth is, it’s not looking fantastic for the retail space at the moment, but there is an amazing opportunity for a new strategic

Why is now the right time for toy brands to be working with MMP Living in getting seen on Amazon? MMP Living is the relationship alternative to getting product to market on the biggest eCommerce site by far. We still value old school conversation and understanding and take that to the faceless online buying community. We understand the value of full analytics but also can emphasise with our supplier relationship and the end user relationship. We have the best customer service record going and that is hard in a world of click and collect and overnight delivery. The award win has created a lot of new opportunity for us as well as rekindled old relationships that now understand the full value we can bring to the Amazon market. The unfortunate situation that retailers like Toys R Us or Mothercare find themselves in now will undoubtedly bring a lot more product and business to Amazon and we need to make sure that suppliers understand the marketplace can hurt brands strategically and that we cannot panic to get to the goal. The best athletes in the world have an uncanny ability to slow time down in their minds to see the opportunity and we all need to take this on board to be successful. What’s next for MMP Living for the rest of 2018 moving into next year? We have some really exciting opportunities for the coming year and are looking to offer our suppliers with even more variety to their Amazon plans. We are investing in our analytics and marketing to further understand buying habits and we are also developing some plans that will help to give more variety for routes to market. We are excited to be able to grow our business from where we are now and well into the future. June 2018 | toy news | 35

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According to Euromonitor’s latest report, the combination of an interactive smart toy with tools for educational improvement may soon become the norm. Matthew Hudek talks us through the rise of the robots and how toys are bridging the gap between playing, learning and holding interest among children


nteractive toys, which are electric toys that can directly play with a child, either via movement or speaking to them, such as WowWee robots, have become more commonplace among toy makers as demand for these products has once again risen. While many of these products are largely aimed purely at entertainment, new introductions suggest that there could be a new direction for these products emerging. 2016 introductions like Mattel’s Fisher-Price Think & Learn Codea-pillar and Spin Master’s Meccano MaccaNoid G15, as well as LEGO’s

recent CES introduction of the Boost building set, all encourage children to develop code for a toy that plays with them. The combination of an interactive smart toy with tools for educational improvement may soon become the norm, as they may finally be able to bridge the gap between keeping children interested in both playing with and learning from their toys. Feeding the demand for smart Toys-to-life products were first introduced in 2011 with Skylanders and blended physical toys and video games to create a new interactive toy experience. Many other companies soon joined in and the industry

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ROBOTS time; in 2020, it looks set to see the highest growth of any category globally, with five per cent constant value sales growth on the previous year.

grew by over 400 per cent between 2011 and 2015, reaching $1.4 billion. However, in 2016, Disney Infinity, one of the largest toys-to-life brands, left the market and it now seems the toys-to-life category will begin to stagnate. Despite this, while toys-to-life products are beginning to fade, demand for interactive toys remains; this likely means that there will be more room for other areas of traditional toys to fill this demand, in particular, remote control toys. Remote control toys is expected to be one of the few traditional toy categories to see year-on-year growth accelerate over

STEAMing into technology Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) toys has been a high growth area for some time now, as parents want to take a more active role in their children’s education and give them a leg up in important areas of learning. Technology is, however, becoming increasingly important for parents, especially in developed markets. In particular, computing coding has become very important as parents see that skill set as a happy path towards the high-quality career they have planned for their children. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of graduates in science programmes grew by 15 per cent in developed markets, which was the fastest of any programme and was due in part to an increase in computer science degrees. This is only expected to grow more over time, and parents will likely increasingly see computer programming as an essential skill for their children, which

Global STEAM vs Remote control Toy Sales Growth: 2016-2020 6

% y-o-y growth

5 4 3 2 1 0 2016






Remote Control Toys

Source: Euromonitor International Note: STEAM sales include games and puzzles, construction, arts and crafts, scientific, educational and select pre school brands

will help maintain high yearly growth for STEAM toys. At the same time, however, growth momentum is expected to fall slightly for STEAM toys and the addition of interactive elements similar to what is found in remote control toys may help put a year-on-year growth back toward an upward trajectory. Blurring the lines LEGO Boost attempts to bridge children’s desire for highly interactive toys with the parental desire for educational playtime. This could point to a new way for interactive products, including robots and smart toys, to differentiate themselves from other non-education-focused interactive toys. Coding will likely be the primary area of focus for interactive smart toys, as this will continue to be a focus for parents, but other areas of STEAM could be explored. Mathematics would be an ideal candidate, as highly sophisticated robot toys, like Anki Cozmo, already come with a variety of simple games to play with the robot, and adding math elements would be simple. Should this hybrid of interactive and STEAM toys prove successful, it is likely that, just like toys-to-life, many more will enter the market. To avoid toys-to-life’s current path of stagnation, toy makers in this space will need to work to keep children and parents engaged, offering new ways to both play and learn. June 2018 | toy news | 37

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As technology becomes ever more integral to our day to day lives, toymakers are finding new ways to foster the spirit of creativity and technical skill in our children through their products. Here, Jack Ridsdale takes a look at some of the ways STEM is helping kids develop their skills


ith technology becoming easier to use and more affordable than ever, there’s no stemming the tide of STEM products. Now, with that cringeworthy pun out of the way, let’s talk about the products that are allowing children to develop their skills and understanding of the world. Under the broad umbrella of science, tech, engineering and mathematics; products that develop all manner of skills accumulate, often making it overwhelming for parents to identify which products will be best to get their children learning through play. Amanda Gummer of the Good Toy Guide is more qualified than most to comment on the STEM space, with a vast history of experience testing and evaluating the learning value of toys across all categories. “What is the best fit for a particular child depends all on the age,” begins Amanda Gummer. “We just reviewed Galt’s Junior Ball Run which we liked a lot, and was a great example of a toy that demonstrates cause and effect and gravity.” With debates over gender gaps in STEM-related job fields still very much a hot topic in political spheres, the STEM label has become something of a buzzword in consumer products. Given its broad definition, almost any product can be brought into the STEM fold. However, while educational and goal-driven products are of course no bad thing, Gummer stresses that creative and social play patterns among youngsters are just as important as construction, engineering and coding. “STEM has unfortunately become a bit of a buzzword,” explains Gummer. “STEM products are great but so are products that encourage artistry and imagination. It is important that children learn to problem solve. When you look at the role that tech is playing increasingly, in terms of careers in digital spaces, those kind of skills are

very important. In terms of long-term careers its important to encourage children’s abilities in those areas. "However, in the mainstream the concept of STEM has become fashionable and can be applied to almost anything. To me, the definition of a good STEM toy is simply something that helps children develop.” For brick and mortar retailers, STEM products can provide a way to hook in parents and kids alike, with concepts that lend themselves well to demonstrations. Vicky Brown of Just Williams Toys highlights the importance of STEM products to her instore offering, noting that they offer a positive alternative to digital entertainment. “I think STEM products are more important now than ever as generally nowadays children spend too many hours in front of gadgets playing games and therefore not being creative and having to solve problems as previous generations,” says Brown. “For example when my children were younger they spent hours playing with cardboard boxes, trying to work out how they would configure them and stick them together to make all sorts of things from a castle to a rocket.” STEM values are now being incorporated to other spaces such as video games with the Nintendo Labo. “With creations like this, kids learn basic STEM skills - making them think for themselves and work out the problem at hand. More and more children’s products and kits are very prescriptive and don’t allow the child to explore and use their initiative to work out what or how to do something,” adds Brown. “For example, most LEGO is bought as a kit where a child follows instructions than a box of mixed bricks and they have to work out how to build something and what’s involved in doing so.” Read on to get the lowdown on the products that are about to stimulate the STEM space in 2018. June 2018 | toy news | 39

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Clementoni The science category has always been strong for Clementoni with Robotic and Crystal creation kits being top-sellers throughout 2017. Adding to the range for 2018 is the RoboMaker, an innovative fusion of mechanics and engineering that brings intelligent robots to life and opens up a world of educational robotics. With over 250 interchangeable components, children will be able to build five robots of increasing complexity that can be programmed manually or via the free downloadable app. The infrared sensors allow the robots to identify objects around them and the touch sensor recognises when the robot has been picked up. For younger children, Clementoni is launching the Mind Designer, an ‘innovative and intelligent robot,’ which guides children through the process of learning mathematics, arithmetic and geometry. The robot can be programmed manually or by voice recognition and, through using an exclusive app, children can experiment with coding and play interactive games. Mind Designer is sure to be a ‘must have’ item in 2018. The Mechanical Laboratory range is a great line of modular construction systems with varying levels of difficulty, offering strong play value. Adding to the creative laboratory kits will be the Big Beauty Lab, a fantastic kit to create bath foam, fizzy bombs, lip balm and more. Featured product

Clementoni Mind Designer Manufacturer: Clementoni

Trends UK 01295 768 078 (Trends UK – National Accounts) 01353 724140 (Wind Designs – Independents) Trends UK is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of science toys. For 2018, the popular Science Mad brand will be refreshed with vibrant new unisex packaging and a coherent range with six new kits, making its appeal – according to the firm even cooler to today’s kids. Budding scientists can mix the ingredients to watch real life chemical reactions in the Chemistry Lab, and grow crystals to find out how nature’s building materials work for real in the Crystal Growing Kit. These new kits enable kids to experiment with slime in various, gloriously gloopy states, like in the Science mad Slime Lab, and perform some amazing luminous, glowin-the-dark projects ala the Science Mad After Dark Lab. Each kit retails at £14.99. In addition, there are four single experiment kits at £5.99 each that teaches kids how to make potato clocks, paper cup speakers, a single crystal and even a mini volcano. All kits will be available from autumn/winter this year. Meanwhile, the Discovery toy range from Trends UK is inspired by the Discovery Channel with the aim of making learning fun and interactive while promoting adventure and curiosity about the real world through the Discovery brand. Encouraging children to have fun outside and learn from the natural world. Featured product

Discovery Nightlight Illuminated Globe Manufacturer: Trends UK

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Vivid 01702 200660 Science4You encourages STEM linked learning via educational and fun packed science-based kits for children aged eight years and upwards. The company will be offering a full range of Science4You existing science sets, as well as introducing three new lines which will be TV supported during autumn/winter. With a range of accessible price points from £5 to £35 and introductory sets for kids aged four plus, Science4You is the perfect range to encourage children to discover the wonders of the world around them. Discover the thrill of explosions, rockets, chemical reactions and much more with Explosive Science, containing a range of funny experiments which kids will enjoy while learning all about science. How to pierce a balloon without popping it; how to make a fantastic rocket form a chemical reaction; how to make fizzy bombs; inquisitive minds and hands can discover the answers to tough science based questions. Do you know what water can do? Water Experiements has the answer with water-based experiments for children like making giant soap bubbles. My First Science Kit introduces simple scientific concepts to younger children including how to get the colours of the rainbow with three primary colours. 26 varied and dynamic experiments in the set include how to make fantastic paintings with soap bubbles, grow a flowery garden and write extraordinary crystalline messages. Featured product

Slime Factory Glow in the Dark Manufacturer: Science4You

Flair 02086 430320

The team at GP Flair believes science kits should be much more than just toys, which is where the Wild Science collection comes in, offering a wide range of projects with attitude. Wild Science explores real science through kits that produce tangible and exciting results every time with topics that are popular and relevant with today’s modern young audience. My First Magic Show is an early learning project that uses holograms and optical illusions to put on an amazing show. There are levitating beads, disappearing coins and dancing holograms all of which use scientific principles to create the magical effects. Alternatively, the Cake Soap and Bath Bomb Factories are always popular. Children can learn about creating suspensions and the theory behind solids and liquids when making attractive soap gifts, or why not discover chemical reactions when making fizzy bath bombs. Other fun choices are the Rock Candy Factory which has everything included to make edible geodes, amulets and glitter sweets, while the Lava Lamp and Glitter Tube Lab come complete with all you need to make a bubbling lava lamp and shimmering glitter tube. Geometry comes into its own when you create art with a Spirograph. The Original Spirograph collection achieves proven sales for retailers of all sizes and this year the Original Spirograph Travel Set is added to the existing Spirograph line up which includes the Original Spirograph Design and Deluxe sets. Each set comes with its own assortment of accessories to create fun designs. Featured product

My First Magic Science Show Manufacturer: Wild Science 42 | toy news | June 2018

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at the facts and illustrations, before answering a question based o the correlating number rolled on a die. If the question is answered correctly, the card is kept, and the person with the most cards after five or ten minutes is the winner. BrainBox games help turn players into ‘fonts of all knowledge’ by encouraging an applied learning approach, in a truly fun and creative way. Although BrainBox wasn’t specifically designed as a STEM product, these brilliant memory-based recall games actively support the two key principles of STEM – interdisciplinary learning and application of knowledge to real-world situations. The best part is that BrainBox games retail at a purse-friendly price of £11.99, meaning that schools and households alike can build their own BrainBox collections, supporting learning inside and outside of the classroom, at very little expense. Featured product

Green Board Games 01494 538999

BrainBox games Manufacturer: The Green Board Game Company

Question: What’s Green with a large STEM (based offering)? Answer: The Green Board Game Company, of course. Long before STEM became a buzzword in the UK’s education system, The Green Board Game Company was developing games to educate children in subjects including science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with games from the BrainBox range: My First Maths, Maths, My First Science, Science, Inventions, Transport and Space – to name but a few. As a company, Green Board Games recognises the importance of a diverse education to promote knowledge gathering by fostering imagination and creativity. Evidently, it also understands the need for play, recognising its role in learning. After all, Einstein said ‘Play is the highest form of research’ and ‘imagination is more important than knowledge’. In fact, Green Board Games believes so passionately in this approach to learning that its mantra is ‘Play together, learn together.’ Classic BrainBox games challenge players to take turns in studying a card for ten seconds, looking 44 | toy news | June 2018

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Interplay 01628 488944 Interplay is tackling the STEM category this season with a walk in the wild side through its popular My Living World range of products. Designed by nature experts with guides written by naturalist Nick Baker, the awardwinning My Living World range enables kids to study animals, insects and flora in closeup detail, supporting STEM learning and exploration of the natural world. Interplay will be introducing a unique new Window Bird Feeder into the range for 2018. The product features a unique one-way mirror design that enables kids of all to study elusive and beautiful birds close up without disturbing them. Kids can simply attach the Window Bird Feeder to any window with strong suction cups and the birds will soon come visit to eat. The birds will be visible to users through the mirror, meaning they can be observed having their morning meal. My Living World will be promoted in 2018 with PR and digital activities working with Nick Baker and wild life trusts to increase consumer brand awareness and appeal. A YouTube Channel featuring teacher testimonials, product reviews, unboxing and tutorials is also planned. Featured product

Window Bird Feeder Manufacturer: My Living World

Bandai 02083 246160 2018 sees Bandai UK bring two new collections to market, each with its own take on STEM, so get ready to experiment with a wide choice from the world of National Geographic and dive head first into the chance to nurture your very own Sea Monkeys. The National Geographic range combines a trusted and well-known brand with fun and exciting experiments, expert learning guides and fascinating subjects. The Crystal Growing Kits provide all you need to grow and inspect an amazing crystal, while other kits include Geodes, Build Your Own Volcano, Ultimate Play Sand and Dig Kits which are perfect for any fossil loving child. Each of the kits include a learning guide and a genuine piece of the natural world, which really sets these kits aside from other products on the market. The Original Sea Monkeys range, meanwhile, returns this spring and brings the combination of science, nature and nurture to a whole new generation of kids. For Bandai UK’s launch, the formulation of the eggs will once again be created in the US to ensure the highest quality of product. The Ocean Zoo set is the entry point to the range while the Ocean Adventure Zoo will be introduced later in the year. Featured product

National Geographic Dino Fossil Dig Kit Manufacturer: Bandai

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When it comes to topics of representation, very few sectors find themselves in the crosshairs quite like dolls. Today, strides are being made in the fight for greater diversity in the toy box 46 | toy news | June 2018

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Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

our years ago, the dolls category – indeed the toy space in general – looked like a very different kettle of fish. The topic of representation has historically been one closely aligned with the dolls’ market, often bearing the brunt of accusations of misrepresentation of modern society, underserving matters of diversity and issues surrounding body image. Over the last decade, the market has faced its share of consumer frustration, yet in equal measure listened and reacted positively. It’s not to say that Mattel’s unveiling of more diverse Barbies is the answer to all matters of representation; but if change comes from the top then it’s a good start. In 2015, journalist Rebecca Atkinson kick started a campaign to ignite discussion and encourage greater disability representation within the toy space through the outfit titled Toy Like Me. The campaign was launched to call on the global toy industry to better represent the 150 million disabled children worldwide within the products and ranges they pushed out. As a direct result of Atkinson’s campaigning and not long after the initiative’s launch, LEGO brought out its first Minifigure with a wheel chair and featured a wheelchair user in its popular video game title LEGO Fantastic Beasts. Dennis the Menace and The Beano soon followed suit with the introduction of a wheelchair using character in its CBBC series and printed comic strip. “We have definitely seen progress,” enthuses Atkinson, “but perhaps really, nowhere more so than in the doll space.” She refers to, of course, Lottie Dolls and its positive step towards the representation of disability within the toy space through the introduction of Lottie Mia, a doll with a cochlear implant. “In the past, people may have felt that disabled toys wouldn’t sell or would be damaging for the brand, but Lottie is a great example of the positive PR a brand

can gain by being more inclusive,” says Atkinson. “I believe there is a growing general awareness culturally of the need for diverse products and content and Toy Like Me has helped to raise this awareness in the toy world. There is still a long way to go, but we are thrilled with the progress we have seen so far. “Consumers have been delighted by the Lottie Mia doll with a cochlear implant and it has helped the brand reach new customers who will seek out this niche product for their deaf children, as well as delight non-disabled parents who have been very pleased to see a brand enable all children to learn about difference.” The benefits of representation in such a way as this, Atkinson explains, are two fold. “As someone who had grown up wearing hearing aids, I remembered firsthand how it felt to be a child who never saw themselves represented in the mainstream and what that can do to a child’s self esteem,” she explains. “Representative toys really can boost the self esteem of disabled children. When I took some of the Lottie dolls with cochlear implants to a school with deaf children, the kids were overjoyed. When asked how it made them feel, one child said to me ‘I don’t feel alone anymore because the doll is like me,’ which you can’t deny is some powerful stuff. “Secondly, there is academic evidence that playing with disabled toys actually increases the positive friendship intentions of non-disabled kids towards disabled children. In other words, after being exposed to disability through play, children are more likely to be friendly and inclusive.” According to Atkinson, the process is slow, but it is taking place. Today, and as the following sector guide will prove, brands and manufacturers celebrate cultural diversity and female empowerment in emboldening ways. Perhaps it won’t be too long before disability representation is championed in the same way? June 2018 | toy news | 47

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IMC Toys 01904 720 908 Toy manufacturer IMC is introducing some exciting new products to its popular and extensive doll portfolio this year. The rapidly growing collection is made up of special feature nurturing dolls, Baby WOW and Cry Babies, as well as bath time friends Bloopies. New for 2018 is Baby Wee, the interactive babies who really do wee (pretend wee) and Cry Babies Magic Tears, a new collectable range inspired by the bestselling interactive doll range. Baby Wow dolls learn and develop in stages, and 2018’s new sibling Megan is no exception. With a little help, Megan learns in three different growing stages – learning to stand, taking her first steps and walking by herself. Help her to walk like a real little girl by holding her hand until she can do it on her own. Megan responds to 15 voice commands; she sits, gets up, crouches, falls, walks and even dances. Shake her rattle and she will get up to play with it. A real baby genius. She can even answer questions and says over 100 phrases, making her the perfect companion for little ones to play with, care for and help to grow. She will be available this coming autumn/winter. Also included in the range are Baby WOW Crawl and Play Charlie and Baby WOW Chatty Emma. These special feature dolls continue to be strong performers in the market. Cry Babies saw huge successes in 2017, with a leading position in the UK feature doll category. Launched in April 2018, a new wave of Cry Babies to further grow the brand and range offering. The new wave introduces Dotty, Nala and Lady to the Cry Babies collection. IMC Toys is also launching a new collectable range, Cry Babies Magic Tears. These mini additions come with six fun accessories: a

bottle, a bib, a bow, a lollipop, a dummy and a chair. Little ones can play with their Cry Baby magic Tears, sit them down in their put, put on their bib, give them water from their bottle and press their tummy to make them cry real tears. For added play, there also will be two special surprise mystery gold accessories to collect with special packs. The launch will be complimented with an interactive play-set, Katie’s House in AW 2018, and plenty of other new products are already in the pipeline. The new launch will be supported by dedicated webisodes content, introducing consumers to the world of Magic Tears babies. Narrative will focus on friendship and teamwork with each episode focusing on a different Magic Tear baby and a new story. IMC is putting its biggest media and digital investment behind the launch, investing in 360-degree marketing strategy including TV and digital media to support webisode content and the product. Bloopies launched with phenomenal sales in 2017, quickly becoming a top selling bath toy. Bath time is fun with the Bloopies and these underwater friends squirt water out of their mouth and snorkel when you press their tummy. There are six different characters to collect. There is also an exciting new addition to Bloopies for AW 2018 with the launch of Bloopies Deluxe Swimming Mimi Doll. Finally, the new brand Baby Wee Max, Nick and Alex complete the IMC Toys line this season. And they really do wee and giggle. This line will be available this autumn/winter. Featured product

Baby Wee Manufacturer: IMC Toys

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Flair 0208 643 0320 Cicciobello, GP Flair’s baby boy doll, occupies a unique place in the large dolls market, offering fun, nurturing play patterns and exciting interaction along with extensive play value. New for autumn 2018 is Cicciobello Love n Kiss, a doll that comes with many sweet features, making large doll play even more realistic. This new Cicciobello doll just wants to be loved and kissed, giving children the opportunity to share one of the sweetest gestures between a parent and new baby – cuddles. When not looking for cuddles, this little boy needs to be fed, just like a real baby. He will gulp hungrily from his bottle and likes to be comforted for his dummy. He’s also an energetic little chap and loves to play the aeroplane game. But when all that’s done, Cicciobello will go peacefully to sleep, closing his eyes and softly snoring. Cicciobello Love n Kiss comes with 20 phrases and sounds and will be TV advertised this autumn. For more information, call Flair on 0208 643 0320 or email Featured product

Cicciobello Love n Kiss Manufacturer: GP Flair

Spin Master 01628 535 000 Luvabella has successfully claimed its stake in the baby doll category, and the toy industry has certainly taken notice. Respected toy testing organisations and retailers have acknowledged Luvabella’s excellence in technology and performance awarding the product Doll of the Year at the Toy Industry Awards 2018. She also enjoyed celebrating the recent birth of Royal baby Prince Louis with Hamleys, along with the huge crowds of Royal supporters that lined the streets. There are so many real baby surprises with the most lifelike and lovable baby doll on the market. Only Luvabella shows affection with heart-warming expressions and exciting modes. From Luvabella’s first word to Luvabella’s joyful giggles, every child will be mesmerised by all the moments to discover. Luvabella has been supported this spring by extensive advertising and PR programmes including direct to consumer sampling and influencer marketing initiatives. Featured product

Luvabella Manufacturer: Spin Master

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Vivid 01702 200 660 As global Master Toy partner on the Nickelodeon property Nella the Princess Knight, Vivid is introducing a cross-category range of plush, role play items and play-sets based on the popular animated show. Hero product Transforming Princess Knight Nella Doll has a magical feature that, with the press of a button, changes her from Princess to Knight. Hear her talk and sing by pressing her tiara with accompanying brush accessory. Vivid has secured a new license with Tiana and her Toys andMe YouTube channel, which currently has more than eight million subscribers and over 1.7 billion views. The globally recognised ten year old ‘professional’ unboxer and toy reviewer features across a range of micro toys, gifts and fashion accessories, with design input from Tiana herself. Arriving this summer, BFF’s encapsulate all the elements of a girls’ collectable concept, incorporating cute mini dolls and pets, unique blind bag storage designs and individual character personalities within each wave introduction. With their own unique personalities, interests and attitude, each of the 60 BFFs in the #BFFSquad is one of a kind. The six core BFFs lead a collection of colourful collectable characters including Furry, Jelly, Fluffy Tails and Metallics, all looking for a Bestie and their forever home. Featured product

Transforming Princess Knight Nella Doll Manufacturer: Vivid

Casdon Famous for its trusted brands and role play toys, Casdon offers not just pretend applicances but also has a successful range of dolls accessories in its Baby Huggles portfolio. The Baby Huggles range is a proven seller and offers a one-stop shop for all dolls up to 46cm. Keeping on trend, 2018 has seen a refresh to the design bringing a contemporary and up-to-date feel to the collection. This new colour scheme has been applied to such items as the car booster seat that features a three-point harness and can be fixed inside a car to take doily on the go. For when it’s time to change the dolls, little ones can use the Baby Changing Mat Set, the perfect set to pretend change baby. This stylish looking mat and accessories including a re-usable nappy, comb, dolly wipes container and more, are all that tots need to keep a doll clean and dry. Ensuring the Casdon brands are seen by the firm’s core consumer – parents and grandparents – a year round social media strategy is in place. Included in this will be reviews of the new Baby Huggles range with the UK’s top parenting influencers. Featured product

Baby Huggles and Car Booster Seat Manufacturer: Casdon

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Back To School

CLASS ACTS It’s back to school season and you know what that means: spitwads, paper aeroplanes and swirlies. Wait, this isn’t the Beano this is the 21st Century, so let’s find out what back to school really does mean today

Trends UK 01295 768078 (Trends UK) 01353 724140 (Wind Designs – Independents) The multi award-winning Paint Sticks range developed by Little Brian has just been given the fantastic thumbs up by The Good Toy Guide. Securing a rare five out of five in all three assessment criteria, the Paint Sticks 24 pack is recommended by the site which evaluates items and gives consumers product evaluations and play suggestions. Already immensely popular with pre-schoolers, parents and teachers, Paint Sticks offer mess-free painting on multiple surfaces with the unique twist up format and the paint dries in 90 seconds. Distributed to retailers by Trends UK and Wind Designs, the Paint Sticks range is being expanded in spring 2018 with exciting new products. A jumbo pack with 24 Paint Sticks in the original chunky size contains a selection of classic, metallic and dayglow colours and is available for £14.99. The new Mini Paint Sticks are great for finer detail and with 24 or 12 vibrant colours in classic, metallic and fluorescent colours, kids can create wonderful masterpieces with a range of techniques including painting, scraping, stamping and dotting. Kids can create lovely chalky, but dust free, pictures with the new creamy smooth Chalk Sticks in a wide variety of 20 colours and with the new Fabric Paint Sticks they can decorate their own stylish clothing in suitable materials. Paint the fabric item, seal with an iron and it can be washed up to 40˚C. Featured product

Paint Sticks Manufacturer: Little Brian

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Back To School

BINCA Games 01494 372130 Binca Games is getting into the brain gaming market this year as the board game enthusiasts lift the lid on its fast-paced word game Fletter, aimed at kids aged eight and upwards. Designed for all the family, Fletter is the word game that is sure to test even the quickest of thinkers. Being pocket-sized, Fletter can easily be played on the go with a minimum of two players. Bright, fun and quick to play, Fletter is a must have for any family road trip, weekend break or catch up with friends. It ticks the box for a perfect present for kids aged eight and over and also makes a great impulse purchase. The game is simple to pick up and play right out of the box and will soon be the perfect addition to every household. Fletter can also be used in a teaching environment to assist younger children when learning to read and spell words. One of the most effective ways to encourage learning with children is by making

the experience enjoyable through educational games. Fletter can be used as a teaching tool to help children learn spelling and words in a fun, low-pressure way to assist in the development of key skills. Fletter has received a glowing review by Fundamentally Children in its Good Toy Guide. Fundamentally Children is a leading source of expert and independent advice on play and child development. Fletter received four stars for fun and ease of use and five stars for skills development. According to the review, Fletter promotes concentration and memory skills, encourages children to think under pressure and develop spelling skills. The promotion of vocabulary building and communication makes Fletter a great game for the whole family. Featured product

Fletter Manufacturer: Binca Games June 2018 | toy news | 53

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Back to School

Character Options 0161 633 9800 When you think of back to school it’s usually back packs that spring to mind. Well this autumn and for this back to school season, the ever trusty school holdall is in for a treat thanks to the Little Live brand’s new launch, Wrapples. The Little Live brand has gone from strength to strength in 2018 and will soon be added to with the cute, interactive furry pets that kids can connect with at school and at home. Wrapples are the ‘take anywhere’ buddies that have a special snap on feature that is perfect for wearing on the wrist or school backpacks and make the ultimate style statement. Each soft and unique character is totally interactive with light-up eyes and mouth movements, plus interactive giggle or purring sounds. They will be there as a friend in the playground, but when class time begins you can turn them upside down and they will snooze through the lesson. Available from October, Wrapples will benefit from the Little Live year-round marketing strategy, featuring a high impact TV campaign, digital activation, Popjam posts and kids’ press from the point of launch. Featured product

Wrapples Manufacturer: Little Live

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Back To School

Bandai UK 0208 324 6160 If you’re looking to offer kids a new friend for the school playground then look no further than Bandai as the firm introduces its new range of Pomsies, the interactive pet that will not only wrap themselves around a bag but the heartstings, too. Billed as the perfect back to school companion, Pomsies are the interactive collectable Pom-Pom pets that feature soft, cuddly fur faces and tails that be wrapped around a wrist, hair, backpack, clothing and more. Much more than an adornment, Pomsies are highly interactive too and will tell you when they are happy, sleepy or hungry by the way they react, the sounds they make or as their eyes light up in different colours. Launching this summer, Pomsies received a tremendous reaction from retailers and will be a must have accessory for girls this summer. Featured product

Pomsies Manufacturer: Bandai

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Fabric ks int Stic Mini Pa now! le availab

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Industry moves The Toy Retailers Association has welcomed BTHA veteran Natasha Crookes to the fold as industry figurehead Derek Markie retires, Canal Toys eyes UK expansion with a new CEO and Mattel names a new head of European consumer products

Toy Retailers Association BTHA stalwart NATASHA CROOKES has taken up a secretariat position among the industry’s retailer association, replacing DEREK MARKIE who will retire from his role at the end of the month. Markie has worked for the TRA for the past 14 years, representing the interests of members in discussions with stakeholders, running the TRA secretariat, fielding media questions and organising Dream Toys. Crookes will continue her part time role with the BTHA while taking on an administrative role at the TRA where she will be responsible for the organisation of Dream toys and the toy retail judging of the industry awards. “I am delighted to be able to take over the work of the TRA from the excellent job Derek Markie has done over the years,” she said.

Canal Toys Continuing its plans for UK expansion, the toy firm has expanded its senior team with the appointment of ANTHONY GRIMAUD as its UK CEO. Working with PAUL CLARK, head of Canal Toys UK, the senior team will use its combined passion for toys to build its key brands in the UK market. Grimaud brings with him over 20 years’ experience in the toy industry and boasts a background that has seen him work with Tiger Electronics, Hasbro, Spin Master and most recently as global VP at HTI. CEO PATRICK KRIEF has welcomed Grimaud to the team. Fundamentally Children The outfit has bolstered is research and consultancy capabilities with the double hire of MORWENNA ELLIS as head of research and FIONA PEARCE as research assistant. In her new role, Ellis will lead the research team and provide clients with insights from their core users and purchasers. Her role will see her continuing the company’s service of providing expert knowledge and access to consumers to support Fundamentally Children clients. Meanwhile, Pearce will build on the company’s research offering, having

recently completed an MSc in psychology from the University of Hatfield. Vivid The toy maker has appointed a new international sales director in the form of CARL RAVEN who moves in to replace veteran JONATHAN BUSHER. Busher has stepped down from his position to launch his own consulting business within the trade, handing the reins over to Raven. Arriving with a wealth of international toy industry experience from Hasbro, TOMY and as sales director EMEA for Summer Infant, Raven served most recently as head of international sales at K’NEX. TONY HICKS, CO of Vivid Toy Group has welcomed Raven to the team. Infantino The company has bolstered its UK team with a double appointment across sales and marketing. JEROME LOMER has been named the new senior national account manager and NIVI BHIDE has been named marketing director. Bhide boasts more than a decade’s experience working with toy brands Mattel and Fisher-Price, while Lomer joins Infantino to head up UK sales after over 13 years working in the industry.

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Team of the month

VIVID Home of Squeezamals, Shimeez, Tiana Toys&Me and Nella the Princess Knight, Vivid is one busy team. With such a slate of activity for the year ahead, it took all the energy we had to get five minutes with the team to get to know them a bit better

Who’s in the team? The Vivid Toy Group marketing team is made up of the Toy and Drumond Park games division, headed up by Darrell Jones, and the Crayola division headed up by Leon Jarmolowicz. The total team is eleven strong, all good and true.

What are you most looking forward to in 2018? For the toy team we have many great new products being launched including Squeezamals, Shimmeez, as well as toys featuring YouTube sensation Tiana and her channel Toys&Me. Nella the Princess Knight has also launched and has got off to a great start. We have four fantastic games for autumn/winter with Foxy Pants proving to be very popular and the Crayola

division is readying itself for the important ‘back to school’ season with some exciting new innovations including the Washimals Pets range.

What were the biggest successes of 2017 for you? Our range of Sky Viper Drones performed particularly well last year and we also had another fantastic year with our outdoor products Phlat Ball and Super Wubble.

What’s the best part of working in the toy industry? Who wouldn’t want to work in this industry? When people ask what I do, I say: ‘Have you seen the film Big with Tom Hanks? I do that.’ It always produces an amount of jealousy.

What are the biggest challenges? Making sure our toys stay fun and engaging and trying to predict the next big thing. We have to be moving forward constantly.

Who would survive if you were stuck on a desert island? I think the entire team – we are all very resourceful. However, there may be some fun ‘discussions’ along the way.

Who would be the first to couple off? I’m not even going there!

Who would be the lone survivor? Leon – he’d eat us all first before himself.

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Final word

BOARD GAME CLUB IN FOR A CENTURY Party games old, new and not yet released help the nomadic adult games night, Board Game Club, move home.


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mind-boggling game in which players drop geometric shapes into a frame became a runaway hit when the nomadic adult games night, Board Game Club moved to a new home late last month. Drop It – a new release from Thames and Kosmos – launched in May and already looks set to become a firm favourite with the Club’s attendees, be they regulars or flights of fancy. “It was in demand all evening,” said Board Game Club co-founder, Lesley Singleton, “and not just because it’s new…Watching the chaos when you drop your pieces in the frame is addictive,” she added, scratching away. Other games on the Board Game Club menu at Century Club Soho included the evergreen Rummikub, while modern classics Telestrations and Dobble proved popular with visitors old and new. A few curious new plays also drew crowds, including That’s a Question – from the creator of Codenames – as well as The Mind, Decrypto and

the Spiel des Jahres-nominated Azul. “We made some great friends on our first night at the venue,” added co-founder Peter Jenkinson. “A number of Century Club members popped their heads round the door just to see what the fuss was about, then stayed for hours.” Board Game Club continues to be a must-do date in the calendars of games enthusiasts, as well as those working in the toy and games industry. With a hand-picked blend of card, dice, party, board and novelty games, the popular evening lets people meet, mingle and discover games in a relaxing, informal way. All helped along with the obligatory skin full, of course. The next Board Game Club takes place on Wednesday, June 20 at Century Club, Soho. “We will be shining a spotlight on FReNeTiC, the new word game from the design-duo behind Accentuate,” Singleton added, “and look forward to sharing whatever gems we find at UK Games Expo next week.”

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