Matt Hudak, Euromonitor's toys and games analyst looks at why the force is strong with Star Wars this year.
Star Wars is currently one of the most significant licensed properties in the world, with a fan base that spans generations. Its licence can be found in nearly every area of retail, especially toys and games, where there are countless traditional toys and video games based on the property.
And, despite the fact that the core Star Wars theatrical film series has not had a new film in roughly a decade, the brand still manages to be a major draw for people around the globe. With a new film coming out in 2015, Star Wars’ already large effect on toys and games might get even bigger.
A long time ago
The first Star Wars film was released in May 1977 and quickly became an unexpected blockbuster. Soon after the release, the demand for Star Wars toys and other merchandise was enormous. Demand was actually so great that Kenner Products, which, at the time, was the only toy manufacturer that had struck a licensing deal for Star Wars, had to sell empty boxes with vouchers in them to be used as gifts for the holiday season.
With the subsequent years and numerous Star Wars films that followed, the brand has obtained licensing deals in nearly every area of toys and games as well as apparel, home textiles, personal accessories, consumer appliances, and many more.
The rights to Star Wars were eventually obtained by Disney in its US$4.05 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, and it has since laid out plans to greatly increase the size of the already robust Star Wars media franchise.
Traditional toys and games empire
While Star Wars merchandise can be found in nearly every area of a store, traditional toys has long been one of its strongest sales areas. Star Wars products within traditional toys and games managed to generate US$348 million in retail sales in 2013. And this figure largely does not include sales from areas of traditional toys and games in which Star Wars products represent a portion of a brand’s sales, such as is the case with LEGO products.
LEGO has generated over US$4.0 billion in sales globally since 2011, and has consistently reported Star Wars Lego as one of its best-selling products. Currently, a vast majority of the brand’s sales comes from Western Europe and North America, although it has been steadily growing in developing markets like Latin America.
A major video game force
Besides traditional toys, Star Wars has also had a major impact on video games, in which the franchise saw its first game release in 1982. Since then, the franchise has released games in multiple platforms, with various types of games, such as role-playing games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, shooters like Star Wars: Battlefront, or action/adventure games like Lego Star Wars.
The brand has also entered the online gaming category more than once in the last few years, with its most recent entry being EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. Star Wars: The Old Republic was notably launched as a World of Warcraft competitor with a monthly subscription model, which was eventually dropped in favour of a free-to-play payment model in November 2013.
Currently, development of Star Wars video games for the core game market is being handled through an exclusive licence by Electronic Arts, which obtained this deal following Disney’s decision to shut down LucasArts, which had previously been publishing games for the franchise.
Return of the franchise
The recent Star Wars Celebration, a fan gathering event for the franchise, took place in Anaheim in mid-April 2015 and gave some indication of what we can expect from Star Wars in the next few years.
The celebration showcased Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first of a new trilogy of Star Wars films that will likely result in a near limitless amount of licensed merchandise. It also unveiled a new Star Wars: Battlefront game, to be released by EA in November 2015.
Additionally, work is being done on the new animated Star Wars Rebels show, which debuted in October 2014, as well as plans for stand-alone films within the Star Wars Universe. While the exact magnitude of the impact Star Wars will have on toys and games in the next five years is uncertain, it seems very likely that consumers can expect to see a lot more light sabers very soon.