Not admitting to missing Toy Fair.

For the second year in a row, I skipped Toy Fair. My phone, email, and Facebook have been figuratively “ringing off the hook” with people trying to set meetings.

This got me wondering why I stopped going. There is the obvious …… I don’t work in the toy business. And the not so obvious …. I’m totally focused on interactive experiences – gaming, gaming everywhere – just not toys reliant on the retail shelf.

That doesn’t mean I’m not still interested in what’s up at the American International Toy Show. There’s always a lot of cool stuff and this year a lot of cool stuff featuring cutting-edge technology and innovative play patterns.

Here’s a couple things I wish I’d seen in person.

“Angry Birds Knock on Wood” – Mattel game based on the massive Angry Birds franchise. It’s great to see one of the first brands to break out from the phone to the toy world.

“Sweet Talking Ken Doll” – Apparently this doll will say what Barbie wants to hear. Should be amazingly successful and good training for guys everywhere.

Cisco Products has a “Digi Piggy”. This is a digital piggy bank that let’s you track what you are spending or saving.

Barbie has a new “I Can Be” line. Now in addition to being a Fashion Model or Rock Star, little girls can be a Computer Engineer. Wearing pink, but still a Computer Engineer.

LeapFrog has a kid’s iPad device for $99. It has a camera, plays Apps, and books.

Lego Hogwart’s Castle.  With so much discussion about social play, it’s nice to see a toy that by nature is social. You need a Harry, Hermione, and Ron to help you put this massively amazing project together.

Fisher Price has an iPhone holder so that little kids can easily play touch screen games. This is a really nice idea for little ones.

And finally,  apparently Lego created a life-size Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. That alone would have made the trip to the Jacob Javits Center worth it!

What’s your favorite toy announcement?

E3 – what’s missing?

I’m dating myself, but I have attended every E3 since the beginning. And actually before the beginning …. when games companies showed at Comdex in Chicago, CES, and even New York Toy Fair. I missed two years – 2008 and 2009, when I took my detour into the toy business at LeapFrog and “didn’t have time” to visit E3. What a mistake …. because the games business marched on while I was away. Or did it?

E3 2010 was a 15 to 25 year old guys  gamer fantasy land.  Action, first person shooting games dominating – New Halo, new SOCOM, new Kill Zone. Big budget, high production value games akin to action movies stole the show – TRON.  Amazing new Star Wars games – The Old Republic and The Force Unleashed 2. New kinds of controllers – Microsoft Kinect and Sony Move got a lot of press. Nintendo DS 3D stole the show. On Live impressed. I found myself wondering ….. where are all the social games? where are all the mobile games? where are all the kids games?

Incredible to think that the most dynamic part of the gaming business was virtually unrepresented at E3.  No Zynga Farmville or Mafia Wars. No Tap Tap Revenge. No iPad Scrabble or iPhone Angry Birds. How did it happen that the Electronic Entertainment Expo became only about game product sold at retail?

Also interesting to think that even though kids may be the hardest core gamers of all (based on time spent playing), product for them is limited – except the biggest licenses like Toy Story , Harry Potter, and Mario.

In an industry that’s struggling to avoid the fate of the music business, why aren’t we   pushing harder to expand the audience with compelling, innovative game play for all audiences and working harder on the marketing side to make sure these games get the exposure deserved?

The gaming business has changed in the two years I was away. E3 didn’t, but it should have.

The Lost Buzz

I was driving into work at my consulting job at a hot social gaming company this morning and thinking about last night’s episode of Lost.  For those of you who aren’t devotees, you should know it’s the last season and the producers have promised to answer all the big questions.  The season’s been great so far and the buzz has just been amazing. So what’s this have to do with anything?

I watched the show last night while surfing the web on my Mac. I was reading the speculation posted by East Coast viewers of the show as well as official commentary from the likes of Entertainment Weekly.   I was pondering the questions raised by bloggers while actually watching the show ….. and shockingly, this really added to my experience. It was kind of like having an experienced tour guide take you through the Louvre  or a sports commentator during  a football game.

Fast forward to this morning. Still thinking about Lost,  I got into the car and heard two radio DJ’s discussing the show. They had obviously read the same blogs and reviews that I had and were talking about it on air like it was their original ideas.  Their discussion raised even more questions for me. I needed to know. Was that actually Willy Wonka music at the end of the episode? So I called my friend Kevin. Kevin was  actually listening to a podcast about Lost when he answered.  Kevin started giving his theories, which were the same as the Blogs , EW, and the Radio DJs earlier that day (and attributed it to the podcast)   We hung up and I received a text from my son from college. It read “Desmond is new Jacob”.   I checked Facebook. My friend J had started a thread “Desmond = Jacob 2.0”  How did this happen? Was this message planted?  What an amazing phenomenon. Viewers posting theories, discussed online, then expounded by “real” members of the press as if it was unique thought.

This got me thinking about the role of marketing and message management  in this environment. Do the marketing folks working on Lost at ABC manage all the communication? Do they anticipate what fans are going to think (and post) and message accordingly?  Feed the message so that fans and press start speculating en masse?  Does all this speculation change viewers involvement and engagement in the property? Does the instantaneous, multi-channel communication  change the marketing approach ?  The answer is probably yes to all these questions.

And these questions are likely relevant to any consumer brands with passionate, engaged customer bases. Video Games? check. Books? check. American Idol? check. Politicians? check. Southwest Airlines? check.   Yet another data point that social marketing skills are more important than ever and for all brands.  And speaking of social marketing …… you can follow me on twitter at  nancymacintyre ,  so you won’t be Lost 🙂