Spielwarenmesse: The future of play: why digital toys are going to rebound

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Tech2Play Spielwarenmesse 2017


The future of play: why digital toys are going to rebound

from Richard Gottlieb

In his first part of the series “The future of play”, Richard Gottlieb looked far into the toy future and discussed how new developments will influence the way we play and buy toys. This time he takes a closer look on how digital and technological toys will survive a growing fondness of buying traditional toys.

There has been much talk this year about parents pushing back against technology, a return to playing outdoors and a resurgence in traditional toy sales. Supporting this notion is the NPD’s report that “Outdoor & Sports Toys” were the second biggest growth category in 2016.  NPD also reported that other old school categories like games and puzzles as well as dolls were up strongly. Digital play enjoyed modest growth.

That’s good news but I don’t think we should be fooled into thinking that the embrace of the non-digital is a harbinger of the return of old school play. Growth in technology is inevitable. In fact, exponential growth is what is inevitable. Toys will not be immune.

Why are toys not immune to the digital development?

A special focus on technological toys at the Spielwarenmesse<sup>®</sup> 2017 activity area Tech2Play.

My friend, Scott Traylor, is a widely recognized leader in digital consumer products. Scott is the author of “Moore’s Echo”.

You are probably more familiar with Moore’s law. That was the 1965 prediction (which came true and is still coming true) that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would continue to double. “Moore’s Echo” predicts that whatever is cutting edge technology will become a toy in three years. In essence, toys follow technology very closely because as quantity goes up prices go down, making the price right for a plaything.

Why will technology continue to grow exponentially?  

I recently chanced upon the term “Accelerating Change”. It is the idea that technological change has historically been accelerating. Just take a look at what has changed in your lifetime as compared to your parents.

In researching “Accelerating Change” I came upon renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil. His many predictions have been uncannily accurate. He is also an inventor and Forbes Magazine has called him “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison”. Kurzweil is in part known for his 2001 essay, “The Law of Accelerating Returns, in which he stated:

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential… So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress…

To illustrate his point, Kurzweil turns to the story of the Emperor and the Chess Board. He wrote:

I am fond of telling the tale of the inventor of chess and his patron, the emperor of China. In response to the emperor’s offer of a reward for his new beloved game, the inventor asked for a single grain of rice on the first square, two on the second square, four on the third, and so on. The Emperor quickly granted this seemingly benign and humble request. One version of the story has the emperor going bankrupt as the 63 doublings ultimately totaled 18 million trillion grains of rice.

It should be pointed out that as the emperor and the inventor went through the first half of the chessboard, things were fairly uneventful. The inventor was given spoonfuls of rice, then bowls of rice, then barrels. By the end of the first half of the chessboard, the inventor had accumulated one large field’s worth (4 billion grains), and the emperor did start to take notice. It was as they progressed through the second half of the chessboard that the situation quickly deteriorated.

I think our take away from this is that the notion of technology in play is just beginning. We are experiencing a resting period as people take a time out to take a breath. It will, however, continue to accelerate at an ever-faster pace.

Therefore, the toy industry shouldn’t bet against technology in toys. Yes, there will certainly always be purely physical play but smart companies will balance their portfolios. There is more growth to come and it’s going to get wild and different than anything you may expect. As Kurzweil puts it: “When you talk to a human in 2035, you'll be talking to someone that's a combination of biological and non-biological intelligence.“ How do you make a toy for that kid?

Richard Gottlieb is a world-renowned consultant and commentator on toys and games and the founder of consulting firm Global Toy Experts. He publishes Global Toy News and writes the Toys & Play Futurist Letter.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.


Author of this article:

Richard Gottlieb, Global Toy Experts

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