Games and puzzles are back in fashion. As board game clubs, ‘badult games’ and revamped versions of classics hit retail, Billy Langsworthy asks toy firms why they believe the space is in rude health.

State of play: A closer look at the games and puzzles sector

Games and puzzles, more so than any other sector in the toy space, is truly multi-generational.

Pre-schoolers can get gaming or puzzling with a wide range of simple educational offerings while grandparents, parents and children can take each other on in one of hundreds of popular family games.

Likewise, many have rediscovered a love for gaming through the recent ‘badults’ craze spearheaded by Cards Against Humanity.

A raft of party games have suddenly embraced the true experience of ‘party’: they’re raucous, awkward, embarrassing, controversial, and someone at some stage is going to get offended. But consumers love it.

The games market was worth £194 million in 2013, according to NPD data. As of July 2014, the games sector is up one per cent on last year, driven by the strategic card games category which is up 29 per cent year to date.

NPD data also reveals that while other games collectively were flat, family games is currently up nine per cent on last year.

The stats are echoed by the manufacturers, who have told ToyNews the world of games and puzzles is in great shape.

“I feel the games sector continues to go from strength to strength,” says Bananagrams CEO Rena Nathanson.

“Quality family time is becoming more and more of a priority and games are a great way to integrate all generations, whether it’s a traditional family, or the “framily” of current times. The action of sitting around a table and actually communicating with others in the ‘real’ sense is becoming more valuable and is a refreshing change from insular online activities.”

Maps Toys MD Dirk Kiefer agrees, adding: “Games consistently perform well and I think their ability to cross over lots of mediums helps to maintain their popularity,” while Paul Lamond’s sales director Richard Wells, states: “We are very happy with our listings and are expecting a strong sell through.”

Others have also enjoyed a good year in the sector, in spite of a wave of newcomers adding further competition to the space.

“The current state of the games sector is very buoyant at the moment and gearing up nicely for a good last quarter,” Tactic Games sales manager Greg Burns tells ToyNews.

“New players seem to be entering the market all the time and it must make buying decisions in the games area very difficult, along with the continual fight for space in-store. To me the importance of the games market is summed up by some of the positive quotes coming out of Vivid following their tie-up with Drumond Park.”

And how do these new players, like Accentuate, view the state of their new home in the games and puzzles sector.

Accentuate CEO Graeme Fraser-Bell states (in his own accent): “We see the games market sustaining itself at current levels, but with some notable differences in the various segments.

“In particular, we see a resurgence of games directed towards the 16 and above range, with new games in this adult segment picking up traction where they would have struggled in the past.”

And when it comes to the biggest firms in the toy space, games remain a vital part of the business.

Kay Green, UK marketing director at Hasbro tells ToyNews: “The gaming sector continues to be an important part of the Hasbro business. This Christmas season, Hasbro have a number of exciting new games launching, in particular, My Monopoly, allowing fans of the game to personalise their own boards.

“We believe that bringing new experiences to annual favourites will mean games continue to remain as relevant to today’s families as they always have.”

One firm putting new spins on family favourites is Cartamundi, which has pulled several iconic Hasbro titles into the digital age with its Shuffle range.

“The sector is very strong,” states Cartamundi’s head of marketing and licensing, Trudi Bishop.

“Firstly choice is greater, with many games available across real or virtual formats; in fact our own Shuffle product offers both in one package. The drive to innovate is undiminished. And the continuing growth of home entertainment may be having a knock-on effect.”

Some, like Pants on Fire director Richard McLuckie, believe the larger games companies need to take more risks when it comes to creating games.

“I think the mainstream is too conservative,” McLuckie tells ToyNews.

“The huge corporations are risk averse, be it the large toy companies or the multiple retailers. There is an over reliance on brands and advertising.

“However, the sector is growing and this in part is due to a vibrant ‘indie’ sector. The emergence and growing popularity of board game pubs and clubs is evidence of this. Board games have become ‘cool’ and it is this grass roots support that will continue to drive the popularity of board games.”

Coiledspring has also noticed the popularity of board games is on the rise, through the enthusiasm for the sector witnessed at this year’s UK Games Expo.

“We’re seeing more and more families realising the benefits and fun of playing board games,” says Rachael Wyatt, marketing manager at Coiledspring.

“The visitor numbers at UK Games Expo this year show that it’s certainly becoming far more mainstream.”

Elsewhere, Amanda Murphy, sales and marketing manager and Gibson Games, sees the market as being heavily weighed to the last two months of the year.

“For many decades the Friday night board game gathering was a staple in many families’ lives,” says Murphy.

“Nowadays the board game market is heavily skewed towards the last eight weeks of the year, making accurate forecasting and planning more crucial than ever.

“Christmas is the time when everyone can get together, whether it’s family, friends or the odd acquaintance. Once the catching up is over, presents are opened, and the turkey has been devoured, the best way to pass the time is to play a good old fashioned board game.”

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