Games Grown-Ups Play


From Monopoly to Star Wars, the adult market is surging for toy makers, and they're targeting new offerings straight to that group

If you think toys and games are all about children, you're mistaken. Some of the fastest-growing games in the toy industry are driven by adults.

In 2006, Hasbro's classic board games—such as Monopoly, Clue, The Game of Life, and Battleship—had a great year. "Sales of our top performer, Monopoly, were up 35%," says Hasbro (HAS) Chief Executive Officer Alfred Verrecchia.

Rival Mattel (MAT) saw a similar story after it bought Radica in July for $230 million. Radica, whose games such as 20Q and Cube World are popular among young adults, saw its best quarter in its history, with a 62% increase in sales in the fourth quarter. Mattel CEO Robert Eckert points out that these are some of the fastes-growing areas in the industry. "We're excited about the opportunity and expanding the scope of Radica," says Eckert.

In the toy industry, games for adults are where the action is. Overall toy sales increased a mere 0.34% last year, according to market researcher NPD Group. While aggregate data for adult games aren't available, the two top toymakers, Hasbro and Mattel, both say they're seeing dramatic growth in the category.

Games to Go

The trend was evident at Toy Fair 2007, which just wrapped up in New York. Toymakers are aggressively studying the habits of adults and coming up with new games targeted at grown-ups, whether it's to feed their collecting and online-gaming habits, or to help them better manage their time. "Toymakers are realizing that people of all ages like to play," says Jim Silver, toy industry guru who is co-publisher of trade publication Toy Wishes (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/9/07, "Happier Times in Toyland").

Marketing consultancy Yankelovich first identified the trend of "hiving,"—the increasingly popular practice of adults entertaining friends and families in the comfort of their homes. That has led directly to the increase in sales of games.

In addition, toymakers have modified their games to fit into people's lives, even when they're busy. Research at Hasbro showed that many adults are constrained for time to play many of these games. "Many parents find the prospect of spending over an hour playing these games quite daunting," says Brian Goldner, chief operating officer at Hasbro. So the toymaker came up with "Express" game versions of Monopoly, Sorry, and Scrabble, where folks can play for 20 minutes at a time.

Mental Workout

Of course, more and more research is being conducted on how to keep the brain active to ward off diseases. New Scientist magazine reported recently that people have noticed a decline in their mental abilities around the age of 40. At least a couple of new handheld games coming out later this year should help jog the memory and exercise the brain.

Mattel took the advice of Gary Small, author of The Memory Bible, for its new brain teaser. Called Brain Games, it will ask questions about words as well as addition and subtraction. "You can do brain aerobics while waiting in line for tickets to a game or movie," says Tim Kilpin, a general manager at Mattel. Hasbro has a similar handheld electronic game called My Q, which has rapid-fire questions that challenge memory and concentration.

A trading-card game played by adults as well as kids called Magic: The Gathering was a big seller last year, with sales up 7%. It involves taking on the roles of avatars who battle others for glory, knowledge, and conquest. This year, the game is being launched online so that folks can play opponents from around the world. Of course, online players don't get real cards, only digital versions.

For the Hoarders

The influence of YouTube has also taken a hold over the toy industry. So to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, Hasbro is launching a Force Action Lightsaber, which people can film themselves using, then post the videos on YouTube for a competition. The winner snags a trip for four to the Star Wars Celebration convention in Los Angeles in May.

Another trend that has been particularly common among adults has been collectibles. "The desire for people to collect things is deep-seated and something that transcends time and place," says Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing. No wonder collectibles is one of the largest categories on eBay (EBAY). Of course the Star Wars collectibles were a huge hit for Hasbro. However, COO Goldner notes that Spider-Man has many more fans because of the legions of adults who grew up reading Marvel Comics. This March, Hasbro hopes to see similar demand for its 28 action figures that are tied to the launch of the movie Spider-Man 3.

Click here to see a slide show of some of the latest toys and games that are hits with grown-ups.

Gogoi is a contributing writer for BusinessWeek.com.

Hollywood Goes YouTube
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