Almost all toy segments, from dolls and vehicles through to tabletop games, are now being brought into the digital world. Increasingly, they are being combined with electronic components and functions that make them more realistic, feature-rich, exciting or simply contemporary. The gaming sector, focused exclusively on the virtual/electronic realm, has detached itself from digital toys. Turnover from gaming has actually long since overtaken that of toys, both nationally and globally, and the sector is being further expanded and promoted.
There is still no clear answer to the question of the extent to which digital and analogue play complement or compete with each other. Leaving gaming out of the equation, however, puts a different slant on things: the core target group for toys does not think in terms of different “worlds”. For them, the digital world is an integral part of the life they live, in which consuming media across various devices is just as routine as learning new things and engaging in different kinds of play, with analogue and digital sources.
Blurred lines for Generation Z
Digital natives see no difference between what older generations would divide into “classic” and “digital”. What counts for them is how convincing the content of the game concept is.
And this is where the products on offer often fall down. Digital elements, such as the integration of the Echo device with the Alexa voice assistant or the sequencing of game play (“coding toys”), often do not actually add value to a toy and are therefore more interesting to parents than to children and young people. Frequently included simply for the sake of it, they do not always bring something to the feel or fun of the game.
Therefore, no matter the toy, whether analogue, digital or hybrid, the focus should always be on the play value to ensure that the object is a toy, and not a gadget.
Interactivity and electronics are all part of the equation
It’s obvious that electronics and interactivity belong in modern toys – after all, these are what children are used to in their daily lives. “Electronic toys are important to the industry because they become our gateway to children via which we can get them playing”, confirmed Chris Schulz, VP Kites & Designs USA.
Of course, there are supporters of this development as well as industry participants who are critical of it. And it does not make obvious sense to integrate digital elements within every segment. But even supposedly classic toys cannot escape the spirit of the times: thus, we are seeing wooden railways with interactive elements and electronic control units as well as outdoor equipment with digital features. “I think that electronic toys are the future, regardless of how some people in the industry would like things to go. It’s just what children know. We are seeing a whole lot of apps – so you have to try and go with the trend”, said Chris Schulz.