15 June 2016
Construction Toys Build on China Success
China's toy exports were worth some US$30.8 billion in 2015, a 16.9 per cent year-on-year increase, according to the Guangdong Toy Association (GTA), whose President, Li Zhuoming, said the sector performed well despite economic uncertainties in overseas markets. Innovative products and the popularity of licensed products based on animated films and videos helped boost the market.
The trend was largely reflected at the April International Toy and Hobby Fair in Guangzhou, where Beijing’s Filmba Culture Media exhibited a wide range of vinyl toys based on characters from several film and TV franchises, including Game of Thrones, Zootopia, Star Wars, Superman and Batman. In 2014, it became the sole Chinese mainland agent for Funko POP!, a US-based manufacturer of collectible vinyl figures.
"The core competitiveness of Funko POP! lies in its large number of partnerships with IP rights-holders,” said Sheng Yan, Filmba's General Manager. “This gives it the facility to both use original images and to design toy tie-ins with several pop-culture icons, including profile figures from the worlds of film, gaming, animation and sports."
Funko POP! currently holds the rights to more than 5,000 licensed properties from 150 leading global companies, including Marvel, DC Entertainment, Disney, Pixar, Universal Studios, DreamWorks, Paramount Pictures, CNN and the NBA.
According to Mr Sheng, the retail price of one of its typical 10 centimetre vinyl figures is Rmb88. The company this year plans to launch collectibles in a range of other sizes, as well as several limited-edition items, all capitalising on the popularity of animation, movies, TV and games.
Another exhibitor with strong links to many leading animation, movie and TV companies was Young Zone Culture (Shanghai). According to Xiong Yue, its Vice-President for Agency Business, the company currently holds licenses for Boonie Bears, Big Head Son and Small Head Dad, Balala the Fairies and GG Bond. It is also already working with the Walt Disney Company, including on several projects related to its Marvel subsidiary.
Young Zone has also developed NeoBear, its own brand of animation products, to tie in with the upcoming 52-episode NeoBear series, which will air on several mainland cartoon TV channels in the second half of this year.
Lego, the Danish toy building brick-maker, recently announced a 30 per cent year-on-year increase in its mainland sales for 2015, nearly doubling the group's average global growth rate. Lego's success on the mainland has had a knock-on effect to the overall building toys niche across the mainland.
A large number of building-toys companies took part in this year's fair, including Mic-o-Mic (Hong Kong). According to General Manager Lin Hang, the company acts as a sales agent for Germany's Mic-o-Mic, as well as Fischertechnik, Fischer TiP, Brixies, JawBones and PlusPlus from Denmark.
Seen as offering an alternative to Lego, the products from these companies come with unique assembly systems. Mic-o-Mic, for example, uses plugs and flexible clips, with the clips' fastening tightness determining how the assembled model behaves. Its Hong Kong agent currently markets 33 of the brand's products.
By contrast, Denmark's PlusPlus uses simple '++' shaped bricks. These can be assembled in several ways and can even be set at 360 degree angles, a facility unmatched by the majority of other brands. Using a very different approach, the JawBones' bricks can be connected in a similar fashion to the joints of the human body.
In the case of Fischertechnik, its construction set comes with a conveyance function, allowing items to be transported to the top of any completed structure via a motor-driven wheel.
Success in the sector, according to Cheng Yue, Product Manager of Hangzhou Youyou Education Technology, depends on continuous innovation and an extensive product range. His company is currently focused on developing a new line of wooden building blocks.
With augmented reality (AR) toys a big hit among children, manufacturers in the sector were out in force at the show this year. The appeal of AR toys and games lies in their ability to superimpose realistic 3D effects on top of real-world objects, all viewable through the cameras of many smart devices.
One product making good use of this technology was Young Zone's Pocket Zoo 2. Launched in March this year, it comes with an extended range of prop cards, scene cards, summon cards, animal cards and setting cards compared to the previous version.
To access the system, users must first install an app on their smartphone. When the image off a mosquito card, for example, is captured by the smartphone camera, a lifelike 3D mosquito appears on the device's screen. Children can then zoom in to see various parts of the insect.
Other animal cards in the range also come with special interactive features. When a rabbit is captured on the screen, for instance, users can say "jump" and the animal follows their instruction. According to Mr Yue, several such facilities are not covered in the operating instructions, allowing children to discover these surprise options for themselves.
The company also showcased its pop-up AR paintings series. "This series makes use of AR technology and allows children to see a pop-up animation character as they paint," said Mr Xiong. Through AR technology – and with the help of a smartphone or tablet – it is possible to view the whole colouring process. Parents can then use their smartphones or tablets to take pictures as children paint. Once coloured, a 3D-image of the animated character can then be rendered on-screen. Parents can also take pictures of their children and the 3D animated characters, which can then be shared via social media.
When Pocket Zoo launched in 2015, it achieved sales of some Rmb90 million in just 12 months. Given the rapid development of AR technology and its wide uptake, it is perhaps unsurprising that the company remains upbeat about the prospects in this particular segment of the toy market.
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