Oh no, the sky is falling! Lego recently announced a 5% revenue decline from the first half 2016. How can that be?
Lego is the darling of the toy industry, and we all thought they could do no wrong. Well, so goes the business of toys. Just when you think you have it figured out, the bottom falls out. Hasbro is not as shiny as it once was and Mattel...well... Some midsize companies are doing ok like MGA and Spin Master, but what we are hearing over and over from the great prognosticators of the future; the analysts, is that the toy industry as we once knew it, is on its last legs. "Blame the digital devices", they keep crowing. "Kids are only playing with screens."
That in part is correct. Kids are playing a lot with digital devices, mostly playing games. But you must ask, why is that? Are they more fun? Are they more entertaining? Or is it just too easy for them to drop into a mindless bliss? I bet if you put a bunch of boys into a room with a digital device and some over the top action figures and vehicles, they probably would run straight away to the screens. But, I would also wager after a bit of time they would glance over to the figures and vehicles calling them and eventually drop the screens and begin to play with those toys. Now, this is just my opinion, but one informed by watching them over the years of developing toy product.
I think the digital argument is just an excuse for the lack of innovative product that incorporates digital play by the traditional toy companies.
Children love the entertainment value of screen toys, but after a while they see those games telling the same story over and over. Rarely, if ever, do those games let the child make up their own story. A child's play is all about story. They use their physical toys as characters in their crazy, often silly, made up narratives. Why do they love vehicles? Well, with a vehicle in hand, not only are you in command, it lets you set the course, racing up the chair, across the pillows , jumping in the air, crashing through your sisters dollhouse furniture, buzzing the cat, and finally landing on the bad guy. Now that's a story and with their own sound effects! That story is so important in their development as a young child. Story creation is a precursor to reading, thinking ahead and trying on new ideas in a "what-if" scenarios. Much better than pushing a button over and over.
Like physical toys, licensed properties in digital toys can only go so far. They tell their story, not the child's. Fun to play for a while, but it gets old pretty quick. Lego helped tell stories over the past, but maybe they offered to much license and not enough storyteller.
So, where does this leave the demise of the traditional toy industry? The overall industry needs to re-imagine itself and how they reach today's children. There's a lot of talk about connected toys, which have been around for a while, with few successes. There needs to be fresh thinking about how to bring the digital world to physical toys. Tall task, yes, but one that need to answer the needs of today's kid who want more than anything, to be a YouTube movie creator. Move creator, hmmm, sounds like a story maker. Where are they going to get that training?