3 May 2016
Construction Toys Look to Build on their Success across the Mainland
- Photo: Toys on parade: A military-themed construction set.
- Photo: Visions in vinyl: The Funko POP! range.
- Photo: A model modern military man.
- Photo: The Mic-o-Mic’s bricks.
- Photo: Taking off in China: Mic-o-Mic.
- Photo: PlusPlus bricks on show.
- Photo: Wooden topped: Hangzhou Youyou’s building blocks.
- Photo: Creature features: The Pocket Zoo.
- Photo: Early learning: The Hong Kong way.
IP licensing in the animation sector, building sets and augmented reality toys proved the current highlights for China's toy industry, according to many of the exhibitors at this year's well-supported Guangzhou International Toy and Hobby Fair.
According to figures released by the Guangdong Toy Association (GTA), China's toy exports 2015 were worth some US$30.803 billion in 2015, a 16.96% year-on-year increase. According to Li Zhuoming, the GTA's President, the sector had prospered despite the economic uncertainties in many of the overseas markets. Overall, it was seen that a range of innovative new products, as well the popularity of a number of licenced products based on animated films and videos, that was responsible for this relative buoyancy. It was against this largely upbeat backdrop, then, that many exhibitors made their way to Guangzhou for this year's International Toy and Hobby Fair.
Taking a notable lead on the licensed product front was Beijing Filmba Culture Media. This year, the company had on offer a wide range of vinyl toys based on characters from a number of film and TV franchises, including Game of Thrones, Zootopia, Star Wars, Superman and Batman. Adding to its repertoire, in 2014 it became the sole mainland agent for Funko POP!, a US-based manufacturer of collectible vinyl figures.
Assessing the significance of this new collaboration, Sheng Yan, Filmba's General Manager, said: "The core competitiveness of Funko POP! lies in its large number of partnerships with IP rights-holders. This gives it the facility to both use original images and to design toys tying-in with a number of pop culture icons, including profile figures from the worlds of film, gaming, animation and sports."
At present, Funko POP! holds the rights to more than 5,000 licensed properties from 150 leading global companies. These include Marvel, DC Entertainment, Disney, Pixar, Universal Studios, DreamWorks, Paramount Pictures, CNN and NBA.
According to Sheng, the retail price of one of its typical 10cm vinyl figures is Rmb88. This year, though, the company 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 of the world's 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 licences for Boonie Bears, Big Head Son and Small Head Dad, Balala the Fairies and GG Bond. It is also already working with Disney, including several projects related to its Marvel subsidiary.
Young Zone has also developed NeoBear, its own brand of animation products. Tying in with this, a 52-episode NeoBear series will air on a number of mainland cartoon TV channels in the second half of this year.
Lego, the Danish toy building brick-maker, recently announced a 30% year-on-year increase in its mainland sales for 2015, a figure nearly double the group's global average growth rate. In something of a knock-on effect, Lego's success in China has helped boost the overall building toys niche across the mainland.
It was no surprise, then, that a significant number of building toys companies took part in this year's fair, including Mic-o-Mic (Hong Kong). According to Lin Hang, the company's General Manager, the company acts as sales agent for Germany's Mic-o-Mic, as well as Fischertechnik, Fischer TiP, Brixies, JawBones and PlusPlus from Denmark.
Seen as offering something of an alternative to Lego, the products from all of 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 product.
By contrast, Denmark's PlusPlus uses simple '++' shaped bricks. These can assembled in a number of different 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, another client of Mic-o-Mic (Hong Kong), its construction set comes complete with conveying 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, is reliant on continuous innovation and an extensive product range. At present, his company is focussing on the development of a new line of wooden building blocks.
Unlike many traditional wooded products, Youyou's building bricks don't just allow bricks to be stacked on top of each other. They also come with a series of holes and rods that allow for far greater construction flexibility.
This year, Youyou was also exhibiting its new range of soft wood building sets. Constructed from cork, these building bricks are said to be lighter, safer, quieter and more environmentally-friendly than many other options on the market. Entirely free of all toxins, they have be produced in compliance with all US and EU safety requirements. The company is now set to launch three new products in this particular range.
With augmented reality (AR) toys proving a big hit with many children, manufacturers in the sector were out in force this year. The appeal of AR toys and games lies in their facility to superimpose realistic 3D effects on top of real world objects, all viewable through the cameras of many smart devices.
One product making particularly 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. Then, 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 a range of special interactive features. When a rabbit is captured on the screen, for instances, users can say "jump" and the animal follows their instruction. According to Yue, several such facilities are not covered in the operating instructions, allowing children to discover these surprise options for themselves.
This year, the company was also showcasing its popup AR paintings series. Explaining their particular appeal, Xiong said: "This series makes use of AR technology and allows children to see a pop-up animation character as they paint." 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. These can then be shared via social media.
When it was launched in 2015, Pocket Zoo 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 Xiong remains upbeat about the prospects in this particular segment of the toy market.
The 28th Guangzhou International Toy and Hobby Fair was held at the Guangzhou Poly World Expo Center on the 8-10 April. More than 1,000 Chinese and overseas companies took part in the event, which occupied a total area of some 70,000 square metres.
Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou