Game Play

Three leading toy companies recently signed renewals of existing licensing deals tied to mainstream video game properties, or otherwise expanded their current assortments. This is a reminder of how the toy-licensing landscape has changed over time from almost entirely TV- and film-based to an environment where video games, one of today’s major leisure-time activities, play an equally important role. Video game-based toy lines have long had a presence in the industry, of course, but a growing number of deals now involve the biggest licensees, a wide range of target age groups, broader arrays of product than in the past, and mass distribution.

The three expansions:

  • At the end of last month, Hasbro and Epic Games agreed to a five-year renewal of their agreement allowing Hasbro to create toys based on the Fortnite IP. The original deal, which focused on Fortnite co-brands of NERF blasters and other outdoor toys, as well as Fortnite editions of Monopoly and Jenga, was signed in 2019. The new agreement expands the product assortment to include collectible action figures, role-play games, and vehicles. There will also be opportunities for in-game experiences based on Hasbro brands; Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe is the first Hasbro character to appear within Fortnite, leading to a collaborative action figure depicting the in-game version. IMG represents Epic Games for licensing.
  • Just days before the Hasbro announcement, Mattel said it would expand its assortment of Minecraft toys, produced under license from Microsoft, to include additional collectible articulated figures and action playsets for kids aged 6 and up, along with printable track segments to download and use for custom railway layouts. This broadens an assortment that already includes playsets, collectible figures of various sizes and types, and role-play items. Last February, Mattel expanded its array to include Minecraft Earth and Minecraft Dungeons toys, in addition to classic Minecraft, for which it introduced its first products in 2014. In its 2020 financial results, Mattel called out Minecraft as one of the evergreen licenses that drove sales growth during the year.
  • In December, Jakks Pacific extended its deal with Nintendo, expanding its rights to create Super Mario and Nintendo-branded toys. It first started working with the property in 2013. Products coming out this spring will include new figures and playsets, plush, action figures of various sizes, and vehicles, among other items. Jakks cited “very strong” sales increases in Nintendo toys as one of the bright spots in its 2020 financial results. Key items in 2020 were It’s-A-Me Mario!, a 12-inch articulated talking action figure, and the Nintendo deluxe Boo Mansion playset.

Along with these notable extensions have come several new deals involving interactive game properties across platforms. Last September Spin Master announced a new licensing agreement with Riot Games (via agent CAA-GBG), allowing it to develop action figures, role-play items, and playsets based on the League of Legends franchise, for a fall 2021 launch. Lego announced its first Sonic the Hedgehog building set last month, under its Lego Ideas brand, following a Super Mario set released in 2020. (It also produces Minecraft sets.)

A new U.K.-headquartered toy company, Toikido, acquired the global master license for InnerSloth’s title Among Us—which in November set a record for the most monthly users ever for a mobile game when about 500 million people played—in a deal announced in January. YuMe and PMI will serve as distributors for the action figures, playsets, collectible figurines, keychains, and plush. Jakks Pacific released its first line of action figures tied to Electronic Arts’ Apex Legends last fall, with a third wave out this month; it holds global rights for action figures, accessories, plush, role-play, and weapons and blasters, as well as costumes under its Disguise brand.

As noted, video game-based toys have been around for a long time. But these recent renewals and expansions, and the wealth of new deals, illustrate their equal, if not greater, importance in the industry vis-à-vis traditional entertainment licenses, at least in the current environment. In addition to the mega-popularity of many interactive game brands—enhanced by the pandemic—video games have certain advantages over film and TV properties. Thanks to their continuous release of new content, the interactivity, and the community built around them, they tend to maintain consistent fan interest over time, as well as boasting more fan engagement than films and television, for which the experience is more passive. And they offer a unique marketing platform for in-game initiatives.

This is not to say entertainment-based toys are going to disappear, and some deals on that front have been announced recently as well. Both types of property certainly will continue to maintain an important place within a toy company’s portfolio of licenses.

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