There are no children allowed at the World Toy Fair.
It feels like a cruel joke, when you notice the absence of children running and laughing and playing among the booths set up at New York’s Javits Center. After all, this trade show is filled with hundreds of businesses hawking thousands of toys—and yet their demographic is nowhere in sight. Instead the floor is lined with towering teddy bears, brightly colored displays, and toys of every make and model piled up in every corner and, adding insult to injury to the absent children, bowls of candy at every booth.
Yet instead of children, the hall is filled with buyers armed with clipboards and tote bags looking to line their shelves with the next in-demand, must-have toy that will have children pulling on their parents’ arms begging (or perhaps assiduously saving their allowance) for the Tickle Me Elmo, the next Frozen, the new Lego.
One of the biggest categories at World Toy Fair was technology as toy companies try to figure out how to appeal to net native children reared on on-demand and interactive technology.
One of the winners was Ozobot, a tiny robot that can recognize color coding and optical coding that uses special colored markers to “program” the adorable little droid. Changing color or pattern tells the robot to speed up, slow down, reverse or dance. The lil bot’s functionality expands with an app. At only $99 it’s a pretty amazing device.
Another exciting product was an update of an old favorite: View-Master has gone next generation. The old-school stereoscopic photo viewing company has partnered with Google Cardboard to transform the 3-D viewing toy into a virtual reality tool. It’s like Oculus Rift for kids, but with more dinosaurs. The updated View-Master replaces cardboard reels with a smartphone slot where kids (and, most likely, adults) can slip their phones into the viewer and watch reels with more options available via in-app purchases.
Playmobil is making a push into the digital world with their forthcoming TV show Super 4, which has already been released internationally, but is poised to take the U.S. market by storm soon.
Lego has figured out how to incorporate their real-life miniatures into the world wide web. Lego’s Ultra Agents theme, which has new sets coming out in 2015, allows young builders to bridge the online and IRL worlds via an app that gives players new adventures for their secret agents. The toymaker even invented a special Lego brick that allows kids to place the toys on their iPads without scratching the glass as they play through the six episodes of the interactive comic.
Lego, who started selling its building blocks in Denmark back in 1949, is evolving in other ways, too. It is coming out with a line of niche-filling toys called Lego Juniors targeted at ages 4-7, for kids who are too old for the large-scale blocks of the Duplo line, but not quite ready to tackle a 742-piece Lego Ninjago dragon.
Because of Lego’s market dominance, Toy Fair had several new companies gunning for a cut of the brickmaker’s market. Plus Plus, another Danish company, is working to make in-roads with its line of minimalist plus-shaped building blocks made out of a material that lets the blocks stick firmly together when connected. The simple design of the blocks can lead to complex structures from small hands.
A new entrant to the market is PinBlock, who had a booth at Toy Fair while its Kickstarter is still underway. A simply designed block made out of a flexible plastic with long prongs gives builders new possibilities for creating. While not entirely dispositive of future success, my 7-year old grabbed the sample and immediately built a tower and asked when we could get more blocks.
Imaginative play is everything for Rory’s Story Cubes, who have expanded its simple story-inspiring toy (roll the dice, tell a story incorporating the pictures you see on the dice) to licensed content with forthcoming collections featuring Batman and the lesser-known-in-the-U.S. Moomin. Same goes for the company Creativity for Kids, which actually got its start at the Toy Fair in 1978, when two mothers-turned-founders introduced their new creativity packs. Since then, Creativity for Kids has become the go-to brand for parents looking for imagination-inspiring activities. The company now offers an ever-expanding line of craft projects aimed at kids and tweens, including Pop-Up Cards sets, adorable felt animals to construct, backpack charms, DIY sunglass kits, and ready-to-assemble Creature Planes.
While crafts never go out of style, retro was all the rage at the Toy Fair. There were updated games of Simon, Gremlin toys, Star Trek collectibles, Ghostbusters action figures, and, of course, all the Marvel super heroes toys, products, and licensed goods you can imagine, including an awesome Ant-Man toy from LEGO. As Jurassic Park gets ready for a return to theaters with Jurassic World, Toy Fair was filled with products, including a sneak peek at the super dinosaur that will undoubtedly rampage through the imaginary theme park.
The one blockbuster franchise that didn’t have a presence at Toy Fair 2015? Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There was no trace of Star Wars at Hasbro or Entertainment Earth and the only evidence of the new Star Wars installment’s pending existence was a small sign at Lego that read: “New Lego Star Wars sets will feature iconic scenes from the latest chapter of the epic saga when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters December 18, 2015!”
It was a bold move reportedly made by Disney to prevent spoilers or leaks of concept art. That said, it’s a good thing kids weren’t allowed at the Toy Fair. They may have rioted.