Boundaries Blur Between Toys, Video Games and Phone Applications

The lines between traditional toys, video games and game applications (apps) for the iPad, iPhone, and other smartphones are becoming increasingly blurred, as many popular brands cross over. Hasbro, a major US toy manufacturer, has a licensing relationship with Electronic Arts to produce board games as video game software and downloadable phone apps. Spin Master’s Liv and Mattel’s American Girl doll brands have associated online websites in which children can create or have a doll to play with in cyberspace. These video game, online access or phone apps are used as another way to maintain consumer focus on the brand.

Is it a plush toy or a video game?

Microsoft released a motion detection system called Kinect for its Xbox 360 console in late 2010. Kinect represented a novel concept as it allowed users to use their bodies as a remote control for various games. One of the games developed for launch alongside Kinect was Kinectimals. This video game allowed consumers to train various animals using body movement. Additionally, if a consumer purchased a Kinectimal plush doll they could load their plush animal into the game with a special code and unlock further functions. This ties the consumer’s plush doll directly to the game, and leaves them with a physical item to play with in real life, as well as extending the play time of the plush toy in the virtual world.

Traditional toys manufacturers fight back

Video and computer games have long been considered a bane to toy sales as children tended to switch away from traditional toys at a younger age. However, toy manufacturers began to develop methods to help reinforce traditional toy sales. A major reason Hasbro has cited sales in some of its physical board game brands were the ubiquity of Scrabble and Monopoly through video games and phone apps. These products re-instilled interest in the games, and physical board games saw growth as a result. The interest in these board game brands has also led to the development of new line extensions, such as Scrabble Flash and Scrabble Slam.

One of the most famous apps is Angry Birds. Rovio’s game has grown steadily since its launch in December 2009 and won a cult-like status becoming number one in the App Store. Angry Birds is the first major brand to make the transition from a phone application into the traditional toy market. The movement has typically been from popular toys and video games into phone applications. In March 2011, Commonwealth launched a line of plush toys featuring characters from the Angry Birds game, and Mattel recently released a board game called Angry Birds Knock on Wood. There have also been talks to create “webisodes” featuring the Angry Birds cast, to push the brand on to yet another platform. The Angry Birds plush toys and board games will have wide appeal as a large following already exists.

What is next?

The blend of traditional toys, video games and phone apps is likely to continue especially in developed markets. The success of Angry Birds in the traditional toy domain will influence other companies who may want to invest in transitioning other popular phone applications. These apps will then be mined for ideas to spawn new products in toys or even video game software ideas.


The continual blurring of the realms of play increases the potential for a toy, video game or phone app brand to experience symbiotic growth across all platforms. However, all manufacturers need to be wary and remain vigilant, as a poor product in one domain may negatively impact the success of the other.

Future toys, video game and phone app brands may be conceived with the thought of crossing over on to other modes of play. The relationship between Hasbro and Electronic Arts may also develop into something more long-term if the potential for growing brands across categories continue to rise.

An adaptation of the toys and games industry would be developments of long-term partnerships or mergers between toy, software and phone app manufacturers. This would potentially allow intellectual materials to be used across all modes of play and eliminate the difficulties of licensing contracts.

Interested in learning more about our Toys and Games research? Register for our free webinar on Tuesday, October 25, “Toys and Games: Trends, Developments and Prospects.” Click here to learn more.