Toy firms to roll the dice again?

Giants – and fierce rivals – Hasbro and Mattel had just established Interactive divisions in order to take their key brands to the exciting new ‘multimedia’ PC CD-ROM format. And we revealed that Lego, Vtech and Tiger Electronics were considering similar moves.

They were exciting times. The market was looking ahead impatiently to the arrival of PlayStation, Saturn and N64, while the opportunities afforded by PC CD-ROM were encouraging many non-traditional businesses to take a look at games and ‘multimedia’ for the first time. The music and movie giants – including Warner Bros, BMG, Viacom, Telstar and Fox – were already dipping their toes into the market.

The toy companies followed, bringing with them book publishing giants such as Dorling Kindersley and Random House. But it wasn’t too long before the majority of these companies quit the market – to sniggers from the traditional video games publishers. With the notable exception of Hasbro.

Hasbro Interactive blazed an aggressive acquisition trail across the market, acquiring Atari and all its intellectual property, MicroProse and UK educational software publisher Europress over a period of two years. The company scored hits of varying degrees with the likes of Risk, Monopoly, plus movie licence Small Soldiers and Rollercoaster Tycoon.

In Europe it attracted senior executives including Barry Jafrato (now VP of global marketing at Codemasters) and Scott Dodkins (currently Eidos’ European MD) and within three years the company had become the number three PC publisher.

However, the company reportedly never achieved profitability and in January 2001 Hasbro Interactive was sold to Infogrames.

Six years later, Hasbro has taken back the digital rights to its key brands. A move into casual games – particularly with its key board game brands – must look attractive. And it’s not inconceivable that Hasbro is also looking at DS, given the Nintendo handheld’s popularity within the tween market of eight to 12 year-olds – Hasbro’s traditional target demographic.

But however it enters the market Hasbro surely won’t be playing such a game of Risk this time…

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