Spielwarenmesse: Commentary by Richard Gottlieb: children keep playing with toys

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Commentary by Richard Gottlieb: children keep playing with toys

from Richard Gottlieb

A little over a year ago, a major television network was interviewing me about Lego. Lego had just had a bad quarter and the interviewer wanted to know what was wrong. He leaned forward in his chair and through pursed lips and beneath a furrowed brow he half-whispered: “Do you think they’ll make it?”

I thought to myself, “Are you crazy?” But, I didn’t say that. What I did say was that Lego had just pulled off thirteen consecutive years (52 quarters) in a row of increases. I told him that thirteen years in a row was possibly a record in the toy or any consumer products industry. That there is a law of economic gravity and nothing goes up forever. He then leaned forward again and said: “How long will they be around?” “The 27th century”, I replied.

As I left the studio, I thought about the other members of the press who, when interviewing me, expressed concern about the fate of the toy industry. I also thought about the concerned parents who would take me aside and ask me, the concern noticeable in their voices, how we as an industry were doing.

What all of these people, press and citizen, had in common was a worry that children were spending so much time playing on screens that they weren’t playing with traditional toys. I assured them that the toy industry is doing fine, that we have had several years of increases and that children still love to hold, hug, manipulate, throw, kick, point, pet and embrace their toys.

These parents and the press (and let’s not forget that the members of the press are parents as well) are worried about the toy industry because they are concerned about their own children. Their kids are not engaging them, but rather are slumped in a chair, studying a screen and half-heartedly (and half-mindedly) engaging them in conversation. The parents think that if kids are playing digitally then they must not be playing physically.

They need not worry about the toy industry. The reality is that children, no matter how much time they are spending online, are still playing with toys. History tells us that the toy industry is healthy.

We have, although struggling in 2018 with the loss of Toys R Us, experienced consecutive years of sales increases. In fact, according to Euromonitor, the global toy industry has been up each year for the last 16; the average annual increase being 6.43%.

Another reason not to worry is that, and this is a bit surprising, digital native parents actively encourage their sons and daughters to play with physical toys. That is one of the reasons that we have seen an increase in the sale of outdoor toys over the last few years and why family board game nights have become so popular.

But what sticks in my mind is what I heard Will Wright, the creator of the Sim City video games, say about the importance of traditional physical play. Wright said: Watch a small child attempt to build a tower out of wooden blocks. She will build it to a certain height and then it will fall down. Each time the child builds it a little higher. Finally it stays up. Anyone watching the child will think she is playing. What she is really doing is learning the laws of physics.

Will Wright is correct. Children learn how the world works and how to work the world through playing with toys. Digital play is fun, but it lacks that tactile connection with the world around us.

Toys are here to stay. Relax and enjoy it.


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