Spielwarenmesse: The future of play

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Zukunft des Spielens


The future of play

from Richard Gottlieb

In an age in which everything, and I mean everything, changes so fast the future shows up a lot sooner than it used to. It is therefore more important than ever to think about what is coming so we are minimally not surprised and maximally have some plans in place.

I write the “Toy and Play Futurist Letter” which I distribute to a restricted number of recipients.  In it, I take a look one to five years out and extrapolate on developments now taking place in the world around us. No, not toy trends per se but societal, cultural and technological phenomena that will have an impact on the business of play. Here are just some areas that we are studying:

1. Self-driving cars

self driving car with turning seat

We believe that the rise in self-driving cars is going to have an impact on how families relate while in transit. That will in turn have an impact on the toys and games we create.

There is currently an ongoing move towards self-driving cars. Google, Mercedes Benz, Intel, Audi, Tesla, GM and Volkswagen are all betting that driverless cars will be a commonplace by 2020.

Because there will be no driver per-se, the car will no longer have a “captain” who is unapproachable because he or she is steering a course. Rather, the driver will now become another passenger and by being able to turn the seat towards others, engage everyone in play, storytelling, games and other forms of entertainment.

By parents becoming more interactive with their children, the car will become an extension of the family room. The resulting need for games and toys that can easily be ported between home and car will call for new design elements.

Here is what I predicted in the “Toy and Play Futurist Letter” on the subject”:


We predict that this is going to be a net plus for family room play. That means table top games like Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Monopoly, Checkers and Chess; oversized digital tablets designed for families to engage in digital games; crafts; jigsaw puzzles; card games; STEAM play formats like flash cards and workbooks and soft toys like Nerf products.

Smart toy and play companies will insert themselves into the car interior creative process in order to help them develop modular toys and storage options so that play can smoothly move from home to car and back. Even smarter play companies will seek out exclusive relationships with car companies and co-branding.

2. The coming collapse in time to market

Drone delivers package

Remember the “New York Minute”? This New York phenomenon of doing or getting something instantly has been globalized. In fact some commentators are making the case that getting it there the quickest is replacing getting it there the cheapest as a major value to consumers.

As a result, we are predicting that manufacturers are going to face a collapse in the time that retailers will allow for goods to reach their destinations. We already can see that consumers who purchase online now expect to receive products in one day. In fact, some companies are planning to get that time down to minutes. Amazon is currently working on a delivery system that will, through the use of drones get you your order in 30 minutes. Uber is working on a system that will utilize their drivers to get you a food order in less than ten minutes.

As I wrote in the “Toy and Play Futurist Letter”:


This is not the first time in history we have experienced a rise in speed to market expectations. In the age of steamships, passengers were prepared to take a week or two to cross the Atlantic. You may have noticed that air travel, promising hours rather than days to Europe, has supplanted passenger ship travel.

Similarly, McDonalds, which introduced “fast food” in the 1950’s, created an entire industry by changing the time expectation. Just watch people twitch, look around, and glance ahead while waiting in line for their order. They are impatient if they don’t get their food in minutes.

3. Act global, produce local

Also in the area of the production of goods we can assume that companies will rethink:

  • Chinese toy and play companies, much like Japanese automobile companies did with cars, will open assembly centers in North America and Europe.
  • In fact, some Chinese companies may choose to move the production of products that lend themselves to automated plants to their customers’ home countries.
  • Manufacturers are going to make  some hard calculations on how gross profit can be impacted by the length of time and the uncertainties that come with overly long supply chains.

Richard Gottlieb is a globally recognized consultant and commentator on the business of toys and play. He is the founder of Global Toy Experts; the Publisher of Global Toy News and the author of the Toys & Play Futurist Letter. He is a voting member of the Toy Hall of Fame and the author of the book, “Ambassador to the Kingdom of Wal-Mart”. If you would like to let him know what you think about his ideas of the future of play, please feel free to contact him directly at Richard@globaltoyexperts.com.


Author of this article:

Richard Gottlieb, Global Toy Experts

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