Why Animation Is Killing The Toy Industry

The returns for Hasbro and Mattel, two of the world’s biggest toymakers, are in… and they’re not pretty. Both are seeing profits decline and aren’t sure what do next. Why? The industry seems to believe video games are why… but the truth is that it might be the cartoons doing them in.

The New Yorker has a fascinating, if limited, breakdown of the toy industry and the troubled major toy companies out today. A big part of the problem, according to the New Yorker, are those damn video games:

In 2013, U.S. toy sales fell by about one per cent, according to the market-research firm NPD, helped along by a six-per-cent drop in sales of action figures. Youth electronics, a category that includes everything from kid-friendly tablets to robotic dogs, climbed eighteen per cent.

More recently, physical toys have ceded market share to video-game consoles like Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’s Wii. Most video games can be enjoyed by a single player, a quality that creates opportunities for play not afforded by, say, a chess board. Video games also tend to tell a story, which is key to holding the attention of today’s children.

The New Yorker goes on to note that Nintendo is struggling as well, which isn’t really entirely accurate, but is fascinating in that Nintendo has always seen themselves as a toy company. It raises a few questions, not the least of which is…why?

The answer, as any nerd knows, is simple: Toy companies just won’t get with the times and accept they’ve got wider audiences to sell to. We’ve seen again and again that the animation industry is frustratingly backwards in its treatment of adult fanbases. Cartoon Network demands shows with “random humor” for boys, despite the fact that the two examples they use are really anything but. Yeah, we’re sure an eight-year-old can really relate to Mordecai’s struggles with dating or Marcy’s heartbreak over the Ice King’s dementia.

The simple fact of the matter is that the current model is broken. The toy industry leans to heavily on animation, which in turn is struggling with the fact that its greatest successes have “peripheral” audiences that dwarf their child audiences. Oddly, they seem to have no problem with licensing their properties to comics; IDW and Boom! have Hasbro and Cartoon Network licenses, and often put out more mature fare with them.

It’s true there are pitfalls; we’ve all seen the tasteless fan art on 4Chan. But it’s not the ’80s anymore, and toy companies need to start looking at more than just kids.

(Image courtesy of P.O. Arnäs on Flickr.)