In the ever-changing kids interactive landscape, one constant fact is increasingly stratifying the industry players: small software hotshops are finding it more and more impossible to compete with multimedia conglomerates like Mattel Media and Hasbro Interactive on the marketing and merchandising playing field. They lack the money to invest in sophisticated retail and promotional tactics, they lack the crucial mass market connections that can make or break today’s titles, and they lack the profit-margin cushion that allows bigger players to take a fall on a couple of games each year (see ‘Cybergiants bear down on indies,’ page 53). But what indies have in spades is unique, mold-breaking digital products that stand out in a sea of Barbie Designs this and that and repurposed `80s arcade games.
In a perfect world, these two factions would feed off one another in a symbiotic relationship resulting in more and better product for the consumer. Edgy indie offerings would challenge megacorp design teams in a never-ending round of one-upmanship, all helping to entrench new platforms in the mainstream.
Unfortunately, in today’s software market, hotshop creativity draws acquisition-hungry sharks. Each new merger bolsters the growing monopolies presence, further squeezing out the indies, and unfortunately, when the picked-up company is integrated into the corporate structure of its new owner, the entrepreneurial creative spirit tends to get smothered by parentco branding agendas. In light of Mattel’s unflagging determination to reposition its aging Barbie brand for tech-savvy girls of the next millennium (see ‘Mattel introduces younger Barbies for older girls,’ page R1), it may be wishful thinking to believe that the focus will be on creating more new CD-ROM shelf space contenders
New media offerings have changed everything in terms of kids play patterns, and offered new avenues for ambitious cybercharacters looking to create an entertainment presence that resonates outside the digital sphere, crossing over to publishing, licensing, toy and even TV circles. Pokémon is a case in point: the pocket monster phenomenon has now risen from auspicious Japanese vid-game beginnings, to be a major factor affecting ad revenues of major U.S. networks. While creating distribution channels and visibility for product was never easy for independents, the tightening loop seems to be closing off audience access for the next Purple Moon wannabe. With the traditional kid product purveyors increasingly acting as gatekeepers for the CD-ROM world, the independent digerati that avoid the dreaded consolidation trend might soon have to find a new new media in which to work.
There’s always the Net…at least for now.