Article by Markup on 01/04/2001.
Is the end really here for the toy industry?
Of Video Games and Crashing Stock Prices.
After Hasbro (the world's second largest toy maker) had one of its best years in 1999, it made a startling announcement right before Christmas 2000: it was losing money. Hemorrhaging it, in fact - early estimates are that the toy maker will lose between 8 and 12 cents a share. And those thinking that the losses are limited to Hasbro are kidding themselves; shares of Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, are currently selling at $8.94 - Down from a 52 week high of $15.12.
The news didn't surprise many analysts, though. For years, studies have indicated that children are not playing with toys as often as they used to. More importantly, the age at which children "give up" toys for other pursuits seems to have significantly decreased. Some researches have speculated that this is because of video games; that devices like the Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation are sucking up kid's money and time like G.I. Joe and Barbie used to. And though that may be true to a small extent, those of us labeled "too old" to be playing with toys know it is not true. The truth is a far uglier thing: modern toys suck. It is as simple as that.
Probably the most common problem right now is unoriginality. Since 1999 was such a great year, every single toy designer of the "big" companies seems to have gotten the year off. Hey, they deserve it - thinking up new Pokemon names is hard work, and trying to figure out what outfits should be stolen from fashion magazines and put on Barbie is a real pain. Sadly, the loss of those designers has lead to such original creations as...
Transformers: Beast Machines T-Wrecks/T-Rex! Look familiar? He should...
..because you saw him in the earlier "Battle of the Megatrons" article. That's right! T-Wrecks is just a repainted Beast Wars Megatron, who in turn was a cheap knock-off of Grimlock. They couldn't even be bothered to figure out a way for THIS version to have HANDS!!! And people wonder why kids are no longer playing with toys.
Another example of unoriginality comes from next brilliant idea to hit toy makers: Re-issues! If kids aren't buying modern toys, certainly they'll buy the old favorites. Case in point...
..the re-issued G.I. Joes..
..the He-Man commemoratives..
..and the old-style Barbies.
Don't get me wrong, I REALLY like having a second chance to own some of my favorite old toys (especially in the case of the re-issued G.I Joe Dragonfly helicopter now called "Locust," though the old name was better). The problem is, TOYS NEED TO MOVE FORWARD IN ORDER TO BE POPULAR. Barbie is the only one of the above that is anything BUT a complete re-issue.. even though she has been doing the same basic thing for decades. Don't mind me, I'm just bitter that the 3 3/4" G.I. Joes couldn't go as long as she did without getting canceled.
The mother of all un-original toys, though, is Pokemon. Oh, sure, the IDEA was original, but..
..how many ways can you pose a yellow rodent a year? I counted over a dozen Pikachu releases this year, all using 1 of about 2 similar designs - plush or plastic. THE REASON POKEMON AREN'T SELLING IS BECAUSE EVERYONE ALREADY HAS THE SAME TOY. I haven't seen this much overproduction since Bart Simpson had his face slapped on everything from T-shirts to pillows to ecstasy. Which reminds me...
A brand new line of Simpson toys has been released. Yeah, things are looking UP for the toy industry, because you know that EVERY little kid wants a Bart Simpson doll.
Junky and Pointless Toys Are Cheap to Design.
Remember how we said all of the toy designers were on vacation? Well, we need to amend that statement slight - all of the GOOD toy designers were on vacation. Their assistants got to run things when they were gone, and they came up with such great ideas like..
..Action Man! His gimmick is that he does a lot of things that require ACTION! Maybe he does a lot of quick, random movements as well - the cartoon show was just too painful to watch, so I'll never know. Apparently, he shops at K-Mart for equipment, because this motorized skateboard is about as "cutting edge" and "hip" as a Pogoball. I can picture it now: a bunch of evil drug lords have kidnapped the President's daughter and are escaping in a BMW limo. Who can stop them? ACTION MAN ON HIS MOTORIZED, ECO-FRIENDLY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND SKATEBOARD! They'll never make it across town in one of those pollutant-spewing vehicles because there's too much traffic! Action Man, on the other hand, can easily weave through pedestrians on the sidewalk and save the President's daughter, all without harming a single plant in Mother Nature's good green Earth! Now THAT'S A HERO!
Here are some other great shots of action man. Try not to laugh to hard when you think about how the Uzi-packing mobsters would react to seeing Action Man trying to take them out on Rollerblades. Wanker.
Not to be outdone, Star Wars decided to release EVERYTHING that was in the movie as an action figure or toy. And I do mean everything - rumor has it that the only reason they did the "senate" scene from Episode 1 in which hundreds of different alien races were shown was so that they could release hundreds of different action figures and say they were from the movie. The only "Senate Race" I can't recall being released was E.T., but that's just because there were legal problems with doing such a figure.
Of course, just making a million different "bit" characters as action figures would count as unoriginal, NOT junky. junky is what happened AFTER they got done with releasing all of the action figures and found that they still wanted MORE. Hence, we got crap vehicles, really dumb flashlights, non-working voice changers, and a million other gimmicks that toy executives THOUGHT would sell YEARS after the movie was released but, in the end just ended up costing companies millions in non-sellable goods. My favorite, though, is this gem:
The Jar Jar Binks Monster Mouth Tongue Candy! Here's how it works: You put a lollipop on the end of Jar Jar's tongue, then you french-kiss him in order to eat it. YEAH! I'm curious as to how someone came up with the idea of giving kids their first french kiss NOT ONLY with a plastic toy but ALSO with an alien monster! Give that man a raise, and send him to the vibrator division.
For those of you that REALLY want to read about the pain these Jar Jar toys can cause, [CLICK HERE]. This is the story of how one of these Jar Jar pops actually sent someone to the hospital. It is pretty darn funny, and no one has any permanent damage. :)
Finally, a toy that people tell me actually sold moderately well: HITCLIPS. What is a HitClip, you ask?
HitClips are actually an idea we've seen before - miniature music players that run about 8 bucks and "song" Micro Music Clips that run about $3.99. In the 80's, they were done on mini-cassettes. In the 90's, mini-disks. Today? Digital music cartridges. I STILL think this idea is dumb, even though people say these things are hard to find. Why? Because the $3.99 digital music clip only holds PART OF ONE SONG. That's right - the clips tend to be edited versions of the originals. For $3.99, I could go to a music store and BUY the ENTIRE SINGLE. For the cost of three HitClip cartridges, I could buy an entire CD after it has been out for a month. I know kids most kids are stupid, but why try to so blatantly rip them off?
Conclusion: Sucky Toys Lead to Sucky Sales.
It shouldn't even take a person WITHOUT a high school diploma more than a minute to figure out that, if you don't give people what they want, THEY WON'T BUY YOUR PRODUCT. The toy industry is dying NOT because video games are killing it, but because their toys suck. HARD. That's the nicest way I can put it. Maybe, just maybe, if we all start putting it like that, someone will listen.
BONUS! [CLICK HERE] to see some of the toys that DIDN'T suck.