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COMMENTARY: Licensed Video Game-Based Toys Can Ease Kids into Other Kinds of Play

KNEX.SuperMarioDesertIt’s summertime, which for a lot of kids means playing outside in the sunshine, swimming, and maybe even going on trips to visit nature. But for others, summer means staying indoors and playing video games all day. It’s probably best to moderate any activity that involves staring at a screen; however, the question is, how to get video game-obsessed kids to take up a different form of play? The answer may be toys based on popular video game titles, and there are quite a few of those available right now.

We kick off our non-comprehensive list with K’NEX, which since 2010, has partnered with Nintendo on construction toys based on its popular Mario property. Recently, I spoke to an executive at the company, who said that no small part of the partnership’s success came from replicating game elements in K’NEX’s construction sets: For example, many of its Super Mario building sets have a mechanism that simulates the avatar’s in-game jumping ability.

K'NEX.TitanThis July, K’NEX will have toys based on the new science-fiction-themed title Titanfall, from Electronic Arts, and in continuing the philosophy that worked so well with Nintendo’s properties, these building sets will feature interplay between the giant robot Titans and their armored pilots—a key aspect of the video game. K’NEX also has new building toys based on the hit game franchise Plants vs. Zombies, from PopCap Games. While these sets utilize kids’ brain power and physical dexterity for building, they also capture the anarchic fun of the games: For example, the Wild West Skirmish set yields a mutant plant pea-shooter that uses zombie cowboys for target practice.

It’s impossible to discuss popular video game titles without mentioning Minecraft, by Mojang, which has inspired an extensive toy line from Jazwares. The toys share the same retro visual style as the game, and now they’re back with an all-new second series that includes action figures and plush. The newest action figures include Steve with Diamond Armor, Villager, and Iron Golem, which Minecraft fans can use to stage or re-stage their digital adventures in real life.

Jazwares.DiamondArmorSteveMy personal favorite is Steve with Diamond Armor, in which the player avatar is doffed in one of the most durable substances in the game’s universe. The base figure resembles the first series’ Steve, with the same pose-able head, arms, waist, and legs. It also comes with cool accessories, such as a sword with jagged edges, making it look fresh out of an old school video game, a block, as well as my favorite, a square-shaped helmet that easily fits his square-shape head.

Jazwares.BabyOcelotThe latest plush dolls include Baby Ocelot, which does not resemble an actual ocelot—baby or otherwise—but like its in-game counterpart, has an appealingly bright yellow exterior, as well as spots along its body that resemble pixel-ization. Meanwhile, it definitely works as plush, thanks to its soft texture and squeeze-ability. It’s suitable for comforting even the youngest Minecraft players as they’re (temporarily) separated from the computer or game console.

In closing, partnerships for toy-based video games are definitely worth the interest of toy companies, and such products are something that retailers may want to consider stocking. Video game-inspired toys offer a built-in fan base; meanwhile, there’s conceivably a growing market for them, as parents are more concerned than ever about their kids living a sedentary, computer screen-centric existence, and not getting enough activity or sunlight. Digital entertainment in and of itself is not a bad thing, and video games aren’t going to disappear overnight. So here’s a way to gently ease kids into other kinds of play, without removing them completely from what they love.

For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Licensing Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

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