Block party: How Minecraft wooed the toy business

Having sold nearly 54m copies across all platforms in the world of video games, Minecraft is now making pixelated waves in our industry. Billy Langsworthy looks at how the brand is building itself into a toy titan.
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Mojang's Minecraft is a video game titan.

The game has remained, give or take the odd week, unbudged at the top of the Xbox Downloads chart for over two years, dominated the number one position in the PSN charts since launching on the platform last December and, in June, sales of the console editions of Minecraft past the life to date total of its original PC platform.

Mojang has revealed that, when taking into account mobile platforms, Minecraft has sold nearly 54m copies across all platforms. The game will debut on even more platforms, Xbox One, PS4 and Vita, later this month.

There’s also a movie in the works and The Simpsons has even dedicated a couch gag to the hit brand.

And just as Minecraft has been making seismic waves in the world of video games, the licensed lines spanning action figures, craft, plush, LEGO, posters, books and more, have been making a splash in our industry.

Mojang welcomed player’s input back when the game was still in its infancy, and Chris Dring, editor of video games trade magazine MCV, believes this is one reason as to why the loyal fanbase has helped the toy lines become a success.

Dring tells ToyNews: “Minecraft was one of the first PC games to let people play the game before it was even finished, allowing them to get involved in actually making the game. It has meant the millions of Minecraft owners have developed a special attachment to the brand and they want to touch it away from the computer or the console or the mobile.

“It is why it has proven such a lucrative licence across toys, books and clothes. Minecraft books alone generated £2.58m in the UK last year, that’s more than every video game guide put together. And that number is expected to be bigger this year.

“The game’s appeal is young. The ability to construct and build anything you like and the freedom of the title has really appealed to the younger teenage audience, and this has spread via the internet. It’s a true product of the YouTube generation.

“It’s a massive video game brand and one that is likely to endure longer than the likes of Angry Birds and Moshi Monsters.”


One firm that has witnessed the success of Minecraft away from the screen first hand is Character Options.

The company’s range of action figures and plush quickly established themselves as one of Character Options’ best performing lines.

“It’s multi-platform and it’s grabbed the imagination of both kids and adults,” says Character’s marketing manager Mark Hunt.

“It gives players a creative freedom to go on epic building sprees. Our product range allows players to do the same but with a physical toy or piece craft kit, it’s traditional play but keeping the essence of the game so this is why they complement each other.

“Minecraft is one of our best performing ranges. The entire range collection has become a phenomenon and keeping it on shelf is a continuous challenge. There is a huge demand for the three-inch action figures, however we have seen very strong sales on paper craft and plush.”

Elsewhere, GB Eye produces a range of Minecraft posters that has rivaled the firm’s line of One Direction products in terms of success.

But why is the lust for product that overwhelms so many ‘Directioners’ finding its way into the veins of those who like to build worlds out of heavily pixelated cubes?

“Minecraft owes its success to the ability it offers players to create absolutely anything online and to communicate and collaborate with others while doing so,” Nicola Hallam, product and marketing manager at GB Eye, tells ToyNews.

“Kids aren’t encouraged to play outside as much as they once were so Minecraft is something of a substitute. Instead of digging in the dirt in the local fields, they can do so virtually and be masters of their own universes, controlling it and creating whatever they can imagine.

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“Minecraft is a future classic that people will play for years, so there will always be a certain level of demand. Amazingly there are still some buyers out there that do not know what it is and the current craze will be extended by those people when they finally start ordering product.”



Spin Master has seen the appeal for Minecraft even stretch into the dress-up category, with its line of Box Heads proving just as popular as its plush and six-inch figure offering.

“Spin Master has been delighted to partner with Jinx to distribute Minecraft toys in the UK,” states Emma Eden, marketing manager at Spin Master.

“The player numbers are staggering and growing every day so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the toy line is performing incredibly well for us.

“In a relatively short space of time we’ve expanded from six-inch Vinyls to adding a whole range of larger plush and the infamous Box Heads as tweeted about by Dick and Dom.

“Minecraft is one of Spin Master’s best performing brands and we see no signs of Minecraft slowing up.”

While the brand is showing no signs of slowing down, the demand for Minecraft product was just as immediate before the brand dipped a toe into licensing.

Rather than a property like Despicable Me’s Minions, which took two movies for the toy demand to find its voice, the thirst for Minecraft toys from the brand’s massive fanbase was powerful right from the off.

“It’s been pretty incredible,” The Entertainer’s buying director Stuart Grant tells ToyNews.

“The second we got product on the shelf it went through the roof and it’s continued. Every time they launch a new character we see a huge surge in that new character, and because the toys are so akin to what the kids are seeing in the game, the fit is perfect.

“It’s been one of our top boy’s brands this year. What’s made it so successful for us is that we’re picking up two
kinds of customers: the older age collectors and kids. The age span for the brand is huge.

“The other thing is that Mojang haven’t over-licensed the brand yet. The people that are really interested in the brand are finding there is very little product to buy, so that has polarized the spend to a handful of products as opposed to traditional licensing portfolios that span every category you can think of.”

So while the brand is enjoying a great 2014 in the toy space, does Minecraft have the potential and staying power to continue to grow in this sector?

Character’s Hunt adds: “The game is soon to be released on the PS4 so expect a whole new generation of gamers embracing the craze.

“As for toys, our expectations are great. Any new lines seem to sell out instantly. We aim to introduce new characters to the action figure range throughout the year; this will drive volume and collectability. We also have some pretty cool box sets that feature exclusive characters such as Animal Mobs six pack, Steve with Horse and the Spider Jockey pack.”

Others, like The Entertainer’s Grant, are a little more wary.

“I don’t know if Minecraft will run and run,” says Grant.

“It will be a solid brand. The only thing that potentially holds it back is the variety of characters that they can make.

“That’s all down to whether they can add more characters to the game. But Mojang isn’t gearing everything around the licensing programme. Mojang gears up everything around the game and licensing is a nice thing on the side.”

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