Toytown has the technology

The toy market has grown rapidly in the past five years, thanks largely to computer games bought by adults. But traditional toys are still selling well

Computer and console games have recently been the driving force behind the UK toys and games market. Toy and game sales have increased by 38.2 per cent over the past five years, to £3.4bn in 2000. A recent study by Euromonitor shows that sophisticated tastes among young consumers, and the increasing number of adults purchasing consoles and computer games for their own use, have fuelled this growth.

People in the UK are subject to the longest average working week in Europe. In an attempt to alleviate their guilt about the lack of attention they can give to their offspring, parents are prepared to indulge their children with expensive toys, says Euromonitor.

In addition, adults in the UK have become more fun-oriented, spending more on leisure products and activities to alleviate their increasingly stressful lives. As a result, consumer expenditure on leisure and education rose from £51.7bn (current prices) to £63.6bn between 1995 and 1999.

By 2000, UK children were growing out of traditional toys and games at a very young age, and instead spending an average of 4.4 hours a day in front of a screen of some kind – watching TV, playing console games or using a personal computer. Traditional toys were not generally regarded as major presents.

Over the past five years, computer and console games have gradually eroded the market dominance of traditional toys and games. By 2000 they accounted for just over half of total sales. According to Euromonitor, the console and computer sector experienced buoyant growth over the period from 1996 to 2000, with sales up by 135.5 per cent to reach £1.7bn in 2000. Consequently, the market share taken by traditional toys and games declined from 70.5 per cent in 1996 to 49.8 per cent by 2000.

Euromonitor’s study reveals that adults in the UK form a sizeable proportion of the market for console and computer games. Manufacturers have recognised that their prime market is adult males. Sony acknowledges that the main user group for its PlayStation, from 1995 to 2000, consisted of young men between the ages of 18 and 35. Similarly, the popularity of Sega and Nintendo products has transcended gender and generation divisions, with a number of older women admitting to playing frequently with or without their grandchildren.

The key trend boosting all sectors of the market has been the increased prevalence of toys and games based on popular characters from animated TV shows. Due to intense, child-oriented advertising, most UK children can recognise brand names before they can write their own names. By introducing a huge range of licensed toys, based in particular on popular TV and movie characters, toy manufacturers have generated consumer demand. Last year traditional toys were launched, such as Digimon action figures, that were taken from children’s TV series, as well as a wide range of computer and console games. Soft toys in particular have received a vital sales boost over the past five years from major must-have crazes such as Teletubbies.

Intelligent toys also fuelled sales of traditional toys and made up about 13.4 per cent of total traditional toys and games sales in 2000. Traditional toy producers started exploiting the increasing sophistication of children, who have become accustomed to other interactive media, by incorporating microchip technology into a wide variety of toys.

Intelligent toys also found popularity among adult consumers, who were fascinated by the toys’ capacity to learn and moderate their behaviour with prolonged play. Interactive technology was the driving force behind a number of soft toy crazes including Furbies, Babies and ET. Interactive laptops were also popular, as they introduced young children to mathematics or the alphabet and aided spelling, as well as enriching their vocabulary.

Euromonitor forecasts that the UK market for toys and games will grow by 16.8 per cent between 2000 and 2005. Future growth will continue to be driven by the console and computer games sector, which is projected to expand by 32.7 per cent in real terms over the next five years. The continued rise in PC ownership among UK households will be a key contributing factor to this growth.

Console and computer games will begin to see some competition from digital TV providers offering games stations from which viewers can load and play games directly on their TV sets. While most of these games were still in their infancy at the end of 2000, they are set to become a high-growth sector over the next five years.

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