In 1972 Nolan Bushnell placed the first PONG machine in Andy Capp’s Tavern in California. PONG was the first commercially successful video game, it was the start of a completely new industry, the video game industry. Back then and many years after video games were considered to be toys, there were different because they used technology that was new for the toy industry, but other than that they were just thought of as toys.
Fast forward 40 years to 2012, a small Finnish company called Supercell launched a mobile game called “Clash of Clans”. In 2015, “Clash of Clans” was the top grossing app on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store making the company $5 million a day.
Today a video game like “Clash of Clans” is so different from toys like Play-Doh, Barbie or Lego, that we don’t even think of them as belonging to the same category of entertainment. Play-Doh, Barbie & Lego are all physical products that are manufactured, shipped and bought in stores, while video games like “Clash of Clans” are not physical products and are mostly downloaded to mobile devices or game consoles and are completely free, monetizing only from selling virtual goods.
One major difference between toys and video games is the lifecycle for different versions of the product. While toys are usually refreshed once a year, video games release new versions with much greater frequency. From the first launch of “Clash of Clans” until the end of 2015, Supercell has released 40 versions of the game, each with small improvements, additions, new content, new features and modes. Can you imagine having 40 version of the same toy in just over 3 years?
You may ask yourself why this is important. I don’t know of many physical toys that are able to engage tens of millions on a daily basis for years. In order to keep your customers engaged you need to evolve and you need to do it before they lose interest.
What makes this possible is not only the fact that it is relatively easy to publish a new version of a video game, but the fact that Supercell, like many other Video game companies collect massive amounts of data on their players’ behavior, analyze it, and use it in order to improve the game. Because the amount of data is so huge this type of data is called “Big Data” and is usually analyzed using different methodology than “Small Data”. Supercell saves information on any user that downloads “Clash of Clans”, it knows exactly how many seconds a user spent in each stage, where exactly was the consumer before he decided to stop playing, how many times does a user try each challenge etc.. Video game developers learn about their players day and night, learn their habits, their likes and dislikes, they are in constant interaction with their players with one goal in mind: How to improve their game even more?
So what does all this have to do with toys? Can toys in the future have new release cycles monthly like mobile games? Is it even possible to close this gap?
Even though some of us don’t see it yet, we have already started to close this gap. It is being closed on two major fronts. The first is by improving our prototyping and manufacturing means and the second is by developing new ways to learn about how customers use our products.
It is no secret that 3D printing and rapid prototyping boards and controllers (like Arduino and Raspberry Pi) are being used in the toy industry for prototyping. Just 5 years ago it took months to convert sketches in to real products. But today, with completely affordable desktop equipment, prototyping is being done in minutes. In the past 10 years flexible manufacturing lines have also been developed allowing for quick change manufacturing. Take for example a company like Tesla that built its entire production line using programmable machines allowing them to make changes in the production line in a relatively short time, without replacing their workforce or their machines. It’s only a matter of time until most production lines will become more flexible.
Internet of things (IOT) and Connected Toys are also buzzwords circling the toy industry lately. Anything that is connected to the internet produces valuable data and this data can be used to learn about consumer behaviors and further insights into how kids are playing with toys. Just some of the data one can collect on a connected toy, includes, the amount of time consumers spend with the toy, original uses kids develop using the product and if there are technical issues using the product. Now if you have a lot of customers the resulting data pool will be considered “Big Data” and eventually it will need Big Data processing tools to analyze the information. Connected toys also don’t have to be only geeky STEM toys. I’m sure that Play-Doh, Barbie or Lego would love to know how children are really using their toys, and as soon as IOT components are cheap enough, every toy can transmit “play data“ to their toy manufacturers allowing them to improve the next version of their toy.
This change won’t occur over night, but we are on the right track on improving our customer experience, expanding the play value and increasing the engagement of the product experience. We will soon stop to base our product design on hunches on small focus groups and will eventually base it on real data.
Written by Dudi Peles,
CEO of Makeree
Makeree is an After Sale Support System for toy manufactures that turns your mundane instruction into a form of communication & insight, adding value to your product.