Advice for Toy Inventors – Notes from Toy Fair 2018

I just returned from my favorite conference of the year, Toy Fair. I still enjoy many traditional toys (skip to the end of the post if you want to see my personal favorites), but this year I attended, along with HitPoint’s CEO, Paul Hake, to get feedback on our first connected toy prototype. It was a hoot.

Paul and I walked the three looong convention floors for three days, lugging a big black box filled with a 3D printed play set, wires, lights, etc. All the coolest stuff is pitched behind closed doors; we finally made it into the inner sanctum! We got an earful, about the business in general and about our toy in particular.  Feedback ranged from, “This is the best implementation we’ve ever seen using AR,” to “Connected toys with AR have tanked at retail. We need to understand why yours will succeed when others haven’t.” Two other general rules that wannabe inventors need to be aware of include (1) The “plastic” sold to retail must function successfully as a toy, even if the child never downloads the app or has an AR experience; and (2) Every bit of technology that adds costs to the toy (like bluetooth, approximately $5), must be carefully justified (and otherwise ruthlessly discarded).

Are we discouraged? No way. Folks were very generous with their feedback, and I actually think we landed on an even better concept as a result of our Toy Fair experience. Stay tuned. Plus, I am convinced that 2018 is going to be a great year for AR gaming for kids (thank you Niantic and Harry Potter) as well as for AR connected toys (see below). Like every entrepreneur, I have high hopes that we will find a more receptive audience next year.

One AR enabled toy that I predict will rack up big sales this year is Merge 6DoF Blaster. It plays like laser tag. I tried out the demo at Toy Fair, and loved the fact that I could hide from virtual enemies by ducking behind virtual obstacles. The final peripheral will probably look similar to a Nerf gun, and hopefully less purple than the current version on the website. Of course it all depends on the games that come bundled with the device, but the concept is intuitive and fun.

Another favorite example of AR-driven connected gameplay was Hasbro’s Hero Vision Iron Man AR Experience. Undoubtedly inspired by Lenovo’s successful Star Wars: Jedi Challenges released last year, the Hasbro product is less versatile, but also much less expensive ($50 compared to $200). The mask comes with three AR targets that can be placed around in your environment. Each target triggers 3D buildings to protect and villains to destroy. It is a simple and well-understood gameplay pattern that utilizes the license in a rather brilliant way. It is also highly extensible, with the purchase of physical Infinity Stones for new powers. (Plus it will probably be applied to other superheroes at some point in the future. Wonder Woman anyone?) I expect Hasbro to do very well with this toy when it comes out later this Spring.

One final note about this year’s Toy Fair: physical toys will never go out of fashion, and some of my favorite companies continue to inspire and delight. (You’ll notice my distinct preference for German companies in the following list, but their quality standards are generally the best, in my obviously idiosyncratic opinion.)

I recommend: Ravensburger for puzzles and games; Playmobil for play sets; Crocodile Creek for puzzles; Mary Meyer for plushes; Melissa and Doug for anything, Lego for building, Crayola for creativity, and Haba for infant and toddler toys.

Enjoy and keep playing!