Some of the most successful toys and games over the years have emerged when a brilliant licence and great playful design come together to create an experience that really taps into – and amplifies – the fantasy of the property.
I’ve been fortunate to try and bring that thrill to life over the years, from Tweenies and In the Night Garden, through to Harry Potter, Star Wars and many more. In all honesty, you could write a book just on this subject… But here are somethings to consider, told through product examples…
The one big advantage of using a licence is that you already have the story pre-sold to the consumer before they pick up the box. The key is to not over complicate the message. You need to build on what the consumer is already bringing to the party.
Poor play execution is when the play experience jars against what the consumer is expecting to see. This often comes from what is known as ‘label slapping’, when you take a product already in the line and retrofit the licence to it. That’s not to say this process cannot work, as it can be a fast, cost effective solution. The common mistake is that often they are not re-imagined. Sometimes very simple changes can make a huge difference. This, of course, equally applies outside of play products.
A recent line of projects we worked on that balanced this was the Race Home and Home Sprint games for Cartamundi and Disney.
We all wanted a premium Disney experience, but not a complicated gameplay to learn for kids aged four and up. We focused on delivering a top-class visual experience across the board and packed it with beautiful triple-shot custom miniatures that really appealed to the child.
We took classic play patterns like Goose and Ludo but elevated them with simple additions, and the figures became play pieces in their own right. Parents appreciated the ‘modern classic’ feeling of the range.
More and more we are selling play experiences to adults, both in toys and games. I loved the LEGO Aston Martin set with its clever mechanisms that was a delight to build and really delivered to my child fantasies of driving one.
Tapping into retro properties is a great way to access the adult market. Some recent fun ones we enjoyed working on were Back to the Future, Knight Rider and E.T… I ended up humming the Knight Rider theme tune whenever no one was around!
Together with Tactic Games, we recently completed a range of MasterChef games launching this year. The insight here was to deliver an evening in a box. Themed around different culinary types, the games come with real recipe cards to prepare the meal.
The game is then a ‘dessert experience’ using mainly cards with some simple props. Players win food-related mini games, collect ingredients based on their success and then present a dish based on hidden brief that is revealed near the end.
With multiplayer experiences, it’s important to remember that not everyone will – in this case – be foodies. Licensed games that require in-depth knowledge of the property to play can be a problem, unless you have a bunch of friends who are also fans.
Many people realise that the toys and games of today could be on an episode of Antiques Roadshow in 2060, and those based on popular licences are often the ones people collect. In this respect, packaging is really important and very much part of the total product. This is no longer throwaway… Instead, it’s where you can invest in great packs because they won’t end up in recycling but instead be a key part of a treasured memory.
A great example of this in a sister industry would be to look at how sneaker companies create themed boxes around licensed launches. The recent Hasbro x Reebok collaboration around Candy Land comes in sneaker boxes that unfold out into a game board!
Licences also often let you push the envelope and a good example of this is the recent $700 self-transforming Optimus Prime. This is CES-worthy, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is – a childhood fantasy brought to life for adults with the spare cash to put a huge smile on their faces.
It lets them become an eight-year-old again while the worries of the world take a back seat. For me, that is just totally fine.
Richard Heayes is the founder of invention studio PlayLenz and design consultancy Heayes Design. He can be contacted at Richard@heayesdesign.com.
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