Inside the industry: “I’m grateful for what the toy industry has taught me so far”

The obligatory references to the film Big, made by almost everyone outside of the industry who asks what it is we all do, aside, a career in toys is often a fascinating and fulfilling one. It’s peculiar then that it is also a career, that, for many of us, we have by one route or another, fallen into.

That it is a sector that attracts and retains such a wide-spanning wealth of talent, from product design and manufacture, to marketing innovation and determined retail, there to make sure that what the industry has to offer is placed in the hands of the next generation, is only testament to its own strength.

In a new series of features, interviews, and articles, ToyNews will be celebrating what it means to work within the toy industry, gathering an entire spectrum of perspectives, and opening up the floor to conversations around personal experiences, triumphs and the hurdles that present themselves; day to day, year by year, in an ever-progressive business of toys.

Kicking off ToyNews’ new Inside the Industry series, we hand over to game designer and founder of Emmerse Studios, Emma May – brains behind the popular family card game, Quirk! 

I stumbled into the toy and games industry as a happy accident. It was just one of the side effects I encountered while developing my card game, Quirk! 

Looking at it, it makes perfect sense now, of course, having seen where my passions have led me over the years. Growing up, my drawings would be the subject of a fair bit of praise; winning competitions and being printed in newspapers. However, it was in my teens I concluded that I couldn’t make a career out of drawing – but I could in 3D CGI.

I began learning 3D character modelling at University for the chance to work in the entertainment business. Instead, I found myself working in the tech industry, designing and developing products in CAD software and learning about manufacturing. When I eventually decided to step out on my own, it was all of these elements I took with me to create my own company, Emmerse Studios.

Without that background, I’m not sure I’d have manufactured a card game, as a solo business, quite so successfully.

Learning the ropes of the toy and games industry, I’ve found that it’s a sector that has been extremely welcoming, but it isn’t without its competition. On the games side – the side I am heavily involved with – there is a shared market place; we know that one customer will often buy from multiple manufacturers, if they like the same types of games. This gives us a great sense of community, equality, and inclusion. This itself is an area that is progressively being improved upon as the industry expands, and more creators enter the space.

On the toy side, the industry is just as welcoming, but I do believe there is still a barrier of entry for a total newcomer. For someone who hasn’t started a company based on a previous career in this industry, it’s especially apparent.

The toy industry itself is a small one, and everything is connected, and goes some way to explain why that barrier to entry is quite so high in this space. To meet that bar, you really do have to put yourself in the position of the retailer. With limited shelf space in shops, retailers are more likely to buy products that can guarantee sales and will continue to work with the companies they trust. It means, as an outsider, you have to prove yourself and prove that your product works in the market before you get given a chance.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a very interesting challenge, and one that many independent toy and game developers have been successful in. Through this process I have met some very good people who have expanded my opportunities in networking groups, and I have met ever-more helpful industry experts as my journey has progressed.

I am grateful for the lessons that the toy industry has taught me so far.

I’m just coming up to my fourth year in the toy and games industry, so I am still very much a fledgling. But over that time, I have seen an awareness of my brand grow – usually at trade shows which sadly won’t be taking place next year n quite the same way. It is the trade show that shows you a real insight into the industry.

For me, though, the most joyful part of the toy and game industry is creating products that are loved and enjoyed by others, while learning about the impact the game makes on the lives of children. My friend messages me every so often to tell me her nephew is wearing a Quirk! t-shirt or has been asking to play the game, recently he has been asking when he will get to meet the person that made the game. It’s a bizarre world in which I have fans, but it’s a wonderful experience at the same time.

Provided you are able to build that crowd around the products you are creating, you’ll find being in the toy industry a worthwhile and rewarding experience. There are so many new creators joining the industry every year and I am starting to receive a growing number of requests for advice in building a successful brand and product in this sector.

In fact, I’ve actually started writing a book about my journey, one to help new designers consider how to run a small business from the inside. Called Emmerse Yourself – How to go it alone and break the mould, the book will be released on November 24th this year. It covers a number of elements involved in running a business alone based on your personality and discovery of self, while also diving into time management techniques, how to focus, and which path to take as an inventor.

I hope the book will inspire new designers about what to expect if they want to take their ideas to the high street. Maybe encourage them into their happy accidents, too.

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