It isn’t news that video games compete fiercely with traditional toys for kids’ attention at playtime. But a new study from industry researcher The NPD Group indicates that the scales have tipped in favor of video games, particularly with boys ages nine to 12. It seems this demo is pushing aside action figures, building sets and vehicles to take up the joystick, threatening these traditional toy category strongholds.
Conducted as an on-line survey of 2,809 parents over 25 with children ages five to 12, the study shows that kids that age spend 4.2 hours a week playing video games. Breaking that number down a bit more specifically, kids ages five to eight log less than three hours a week of game time, while more than 65% of nine- to 12-year-olds spend at least three hours each week playing vidgames. Girls split their time equally between toys and video games, but they also have a number of other leisure pursuits, particularly entertainment products and fashion. But for boys nine to 12, video games appear to be pretty much their only interest outside the toy realm, and they’re putting their thumbs into overdrive, spending an average of 5.7 hours a week gaming.
Action/adventure and racing games are the two most popular genres covered in the study, sharing the primary play pattern of the action figure, building set and vehicle categories that parents say their boys are spending less time with. While the study did not track the impact of video games on toy sales, NPD Funworld consumer panel data for 2003 indicates that action figure, building set and vehicle sales were down 15%, 18% and 11%, respectively, over 2002 numbers. NPD senior analyst Michael Redmond says some of this drop can be attributed to an absence of red-hot licenses, adding that without 2003 movies, the Star Wars, Harry Potter and Spider-Man franchises all experienced a dip in merch sales.
Interestingly, the study did point to licensed toys as a bright spot for toy manufacturers looking to stay strong with boys nine to 12. Redmond says popular properties such as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Spider-Man and Harry Potter landed in the top 15 on both the favorite traditional toy and favorite video game lists for tween boys. He even suggests that toycos should start looking to tap into the licensing potential of hot video game properties such as skateborder Tony Hawk.
So what do toycos think? Along with souping up its action figures with lights, sounds and animatronics in recent years, Bandai has embraced licensed toy deals as a key strategy for addressing the boys market, says senior marketing manager Laura Wiese. But she adds that the company isn’t currently looking to video games for toy line inspiration because most established video game properties skew to an 18-plus demo and wouldn’t be suitable for kids.
Hasbro, on the other hand, through its subsidiary Tiger Electronics, has addressed the issues of age compression and video game competition by juicing up the traditional toy aisle with a series of portable, affordable electronics designed specifically for tweens. In 1999, it launched Hit Clips – a line of portable music players that spin small disks containing 1.5-minute segments of hit songs. Sharon John, senior VP of marketing, says the toyco has sold 25 million music chips to date.
And 2003 sales figures show the company is onto something with its latest tween offering, Video Now, a portable video player designed to play TV show clips up to 30 minutes in length. From Video Now’s launch in July 2003 to December 2003, more than one million units of the US$50 player moved at retail, and Hasbro research shows that 85% of that business came from kids over the age of seven.
At its launch, Hasbro used Hilary Duff as the player’s spokesperson, skewing Video Now use slightly towards girls. But this fall, the toyco will be offering exclusive, boy-focused content featuring sports celebs such as BMX biker Jamie Bestwick, surfer Taj Burrow and skateborder Tony Hawk. Hey, doesn’t he have a hot video game right now?