Following another year of intense competition for retail shelf space and consumer dollars, the children’s software business wore a new face at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), held in June in Atlanta, Georgia.
Titles tied in to licensed properties or well-known brands dominate the upcoming product releases, instead of occupying the minority position as they did last year. This reflects software publishers’ conviction that, increasingly, parents are looking not only for solid content, but for brands that they recognize and trust when it comes to buying premium-priced products. The drive toward more licensed products on software shelves is also fueled by the software arms of studios and toy companies, including Disney Interactive, DreamWorks Interactive, Hasbro Interactive and Mattel Media.
At the lower end of the price scale, companies are trying to tap the mass-market retail audience, which has largely been ignored by software publishers. Along with Fox Interactive’s newly launched FoxToons line of four edutainment titles, each available at US$14.98, The Learning Company created a buzz on the floor by offering Reader Rabbit’s Toddler, Reader Rabbit’s Preschool and Reader Rabbit’s Kindergarten for US$9.99 each after a mail-in consumer rebate.
Also a hot topic at this year’s E3 was the girls software market. Girls software sales have exploded in the last year, with Mattel Media’s Barbie Fashion Designer credited for drawing attention to the category thanks to its long-standing doll franchise and a large promotional push that included television advertising. New girls software publisher Purple Moon debuted at E3 with products aimed at girls age eight to 12. Companies such as IBM are also bringing out single titles aimed at girls.
As well as tying into properties, software publishers are trying to make it easy for retailers to sell products by repackaging titles as bundles, such as Humongous Entertainment’s newly launched Humongous Classics Collection and Junior Field Trips Collection, or by more clearly defining the titles’ audience, such as Creative Wonders’ new series of Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock and Madeline titles, geared to kids in specific school grades.
Retailers can expect a flood of new titles to fill their shelves in the lead-up to the holiday season. In total, the Interactive Digital Software Association announced that 1,500 software titles for home computers and video game systems launched at this year’s E3. Most new products are slated to hit shelves between the back-to-school period and the holiday season.
Among the many products likely to catch the eye of retailers and consumers this fall is Talk With Me Barbie from Mattel Media. This CD-ROM and doll kit introduces a Barbie doll that not only talks with girls, but speaks to them about their interests and dislikes. First, girls sit Barbie at her own computer desk attached to their computers. Then, they type in information about themselves and several topics that are included on the CD-ROM. Once the doll has received information about the girls, she can then talk to them based on the information the girls provided.
Mindscape and Bandai Digital Entertainment are following up on consumers’ virtual pet craze by releasing virtual pet CD-ROMs. Mindscape is bringing out products for kids as well as adults, while Bandai is creating a CD-ROM version of its popular Tamagotchi toy.
Hasbro Interactive is introducing Monopoly lovers to a brand-new interactive version of the board game, Monopoly Star Wars Edition. The 3-D game is developed in partnership with LucasArts, and players move characters from the movies as their pieces. Hasbro is also building multiplayer capabilities into the product.