When I started in this business we were still creating stand-alone toys and games. After a while, the toy ideas became brand-focused and eventually the games followed suit. Many companies wanted to leverage the popularity of their existing products to entice their fan base to purchase new, related SKUs. It’s not a unique idea to the toy/game industry by any means – many of us are very brand loyal to a myriad of things like laundry detergent, mayonnaise, clothing, cars, etc. and take brands into consideration when making a purchase.
As gamers, I think I can say that almost all of us enjoy at least a few classic games – maybe Monopoly, Risk, UNO or Scattergories. These brands have been around for YEARS – but does that mean they’ll continue to flourish as they have for the last couple decades? I think most of us assumed that we could say “yes” to that, but sadly that may not be the case for all of them.
Now, I’m definitely not saying that they’re all going away, but the landscape of the gaming world is changing yet again. We’re starting to see the rise of unbranded, stand-alone games, but we also have apps, video and computer games to contend with. These alternative forms of gaming, while different, will have (and already have had) an impact on these core classics within our industry. Recently, I read an article about a school making a giant Scrabble game for their kids to play, and there was one line that really caught my eye:
“Many had played the electronic game, “Words with Friends” but didn’t realize how similar it is to Scrabble!” from an article entitled, “Students Unfamiliar with Scrabble until N-O-W” at WKRG.com LINK
As I think about it now, I really shouldn’t have been that surprised, but at the time my mouth was agape in disbelief. Words with Friends was released in 2009 and before that we had Scrabulous, which was launched in 2005 (and removed due to copyright infringement in 2008). Both games saw a great deal of success on Facebook and as apps, and currently Words with Friends is still huge. The game is enjoyed by people who consider themselves “gamers” – but more importantly, people who don’t consider themselves to be gamers. The social aspect of the game has drawn in a new set of users who may have never thought to download a Scrabble app or ever play a physical game of Scrabble.
Obviously, the hotness of Words with Friends caught the eye of Hasbro and they made a deal with Zynga to manufacture Words with Friends tabletop games in addition Scrabble here in the US. Circling back to the quote I included above, consider this: Scrabble has been around since the late 1930s and has enjoyed tremendous brand awareness. The wooden tiles are iconic and references can be found on clothing, home décor, food items, greeting cards, etc. Words with Friends has been around for less than a decade and already many of the younger generation missed latching onto Scrabble – but most are aware of Words with Friends, and I find that interesting.
Will there be a few instances besides Scrabble where we will see the classic brand find serious competition with a new electronic version of the game? Are Boggle and Scramble with Friends on the same path? As New York Toy Fair gets closer and closer, I’m very curious to see what new products the major companies have to bolster these iconic brands. Will they remind us why the classic has been a brand leader for so many generations? Will they find a way to entice players who spend so much time in the digital world to enjoy a tabletop experience? Will they draw in new “non-gamers” who regularly use apps like Words with Friends? I hope so. As much as I love technology, I’ve got a soft spot for the classic brands I grew up with and I don’t want to see them fade away.