Walk into any GAME or HMV store and you’ll find an abundance of officially licensed toys and other products positioned at the point of sale. And why not? Lewis Tyler looks at how games brands are branching out...
Everyone knows we’ve reached a watershed in terms of mainstream acceptance of video games, so the time really is now for gaming brands to transcend consoles.
In 2011, toys and merchandise based on game brands were worth £60m in the UK, according to NPD. While this might seem paltry when compared to the overall value of the UK games market, the area is enjoying major growth which publishers say is set to continue.
“The success of Rabbids and Assassin’s Creed has provided us with an ideal opportunity to explore ways we can broaden our reach to the consumer,” says Ubisoft’s commercial manager Chris Marcus.
“There has been a great deal of interest both at home and across Europe to have Rabbids products in a wide range of categories and for many different ages. Last year, we launched designer toys called EeerZ for hardcore fans of Rabbids, or for anyone who like collectibles.”
Sissel Henno, head of licensing at Sega Europe, adds: “In the last year we’ve seen a sharp rise in demand for Sonic merchandise across Europe and the UK in particular.”
Henno, who reveals Sega’s European licensing revenues have grown 700 per cent in the last year, adds: “So many retailers have started seeing rapid growth on video games brands. With the realisation of the increased presence of games in kids’ lives, it is natural that these IPs get more shelf space.”
A big benefit is that licensed products can complement games in-store, and the two can potentially drive each other’s sales.
“We’re looking to implement a lot more of these types of branded cross-merchandise displays going forward,” says Henno. “The gaming shops are of course very important for our video game sales and we’ve started working more closely with them also on branded merchandise.”
A TEST OF CHARACTER
Mario’s licensing programme has mushroomed over the past five years, with growth in all categories, particularly apparel and toys.
Michele Pearce, head of European licensing at Nintendo’s licensing agent, Performance Brands, has noticed “increased appetite from consumers and retail alike”.
She says: “Game licensing is definitely a growing trend. Nintendo has shown how successful a brand extension for an ever-popular gaming character such as Mario can be.”
But it’s not just evergreen mascots like Sonic and Mario having all the fun. Team 17 has put together a comprehensive licensing programme for Worms, which communications manager Nick Clarkson hopes will “introduce the brand to an ever-growing audience over the medium and long term.”
Where previously Worms toys would not have had a chance at big retail, times are changing.
Simon Kay from Worms’ licensing agent AT New Media, says: “I think retailers are beginning to understand that certain brands like Worms may have the longevity they are looking for. Decision makers and buyers are of a generation that has grown up with this evolution and accept the penetration the brands have.”
But it’s one thing for retail to stock the goods and another to sell them. What is it that makes kids and adults want to own these products?
Sega’s Henno offers her take: “One important point of difference with games characters compared to those on TV is the level of engagement. Children spend hours playing games and guiding Sonic through different challenges.”
This interactivity creates a strong bond with the character, which “translates well into demand for licensed toys”, according to Henno.
Although there are indeed other properties out there with multi-generational appeal – cartoons like ThunderCats and My Little Pony certainly hold a nostalgic grip on their grown-up fans – games brands have a more long-lasting power.
As Kerry Lee, head of licensing, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, says: “There are several elements that make games great licensing propositions – from strong characters to great storylines. Essentially a game has everything a great blockbuster has, and more.”
Even games brands aimed at the older age groups are making a successful move into the toy aisles.
Perhaps the most successful example is Microsoft’s flagship FPS series Halo, which has been spun into a range of construction toys by Mega Brands.
“I would argue the vast majority of Halo product isn’t going to kids. It is going to older collectors,” explains Stuart Grant, buying director for The Entertainer, the UK’s largest independent toy chain.
“The great thing for us, and for Mega Brands, is that adults have got a lot more money than kids.”
Mega is looking to repeat the trick with construction toys for World of Warcraft and StarCraft II, tapping into WoW’s 10m worldwide subscribers and SC2 fans.
Even LEGO – famous for only working with triple-A licences like Star Wars – is also looking to capture this market, unveiling its first video game licence LEGO Minecraft last month. Minecraft has over 20m users registered on its website.
These players are all potential customers wishing to own a physical representation of a loved digital product even if just it’s destined to sit on the mantelpiece, rather than be played with.
Lewis Tyler is the staff writer for ToyNews, the leading authority for the UK toy market. ToyNews can be found at www.toynews-online.biz or on Twitter: @ToyNewsOnline.