Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Real Toy Story

I've been reading The Real Toy Story by Eric Clark, a fascinating book about the toy industry. It looks at the history of the American toy industry, the role of inventors and how the business has changed over time.

One of the big changes that the American toy industry has experienced is that many of its companies have been gobbled up by two big players - Hasbro and Mattel. Companies like Playskool, Corgi Toys, Fisher-Price, Parker Brothers, Tonka, Kenner, Milton Bradley, Tiger Electronics and J.W. Spears are now just brand names or subsidiaries.

The other big change is that large retail chains like Wal-mart and Toys 'R Us have a lot of power in affecting what toys are available, even down to influencing the package design and price.

What surprised me was how difficult it is for a toy inventor to get their idea to market. As a game developer who can create a casual title and get it out to the masses, I was amazed that most inventors have to use an agent to even speak with Mattel or Hasbro - and that agents can take a cut of between 50% and 60% of the inventors earnings! And to top it off, a lot of companies are reducing their risk taking, preferring to badge old games with licensed IP (Simpsons Monopoly, anyone?), so the chances of getting something new out is pretty small.

I know a lot of games publishers are risk averse, but at least the barriers to entry are so much smaller - especially in the casual games market. There's something very cool about being able to make a small game like Desktop Tower Defense and have millions of people play it - and actually earn a decent chunk of change at the same time!

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