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Playing In The Digital Age: 2019 CES Opener, ‘TechUp’ Talks 21st Century Toy Market

Remember playing the boardgame Sorry! Or Monopoly growing up? How about building your own world with LEGO?

Today, the toy market is estimated at around $6 billion. Yet, in our digital age, it’s seen a rapid decrease in product lines. But, why?

GritDaily spoke with TechUp, a new collaborative service showcasing the future of play by providing considered and connected play into both adults and children of all ages.

GritDaily’s Managing Editor, Andrew Rossow, with TechUp co-founders, Peter Jenkinson (L) and Valerie Vacante (R)

The company is the brainchild of Collabsco’s Valerie Vacante and Toyology’s Peter Jenkinson, whom have come together to help demonstrate how interactive toys can help both adults and children play, learn, and better explore the world of technology.

Following its successful launch at Wired Live and WIRED Next Generation in London earlier this year, TechUp made its debut appearance at CES 2019 in Las Vegas, Sunday, talking about how the toy industry is surviving and thriving in the digital age.

What It Means To Be A ‘Toyologist’

Prior to this event, I had never heard the word ‘toyologist’ used before, but maybe perhaps I’ve been living under a rock.

A ‘toyologist’ is an engineer who focuses on the science of toys and their mechanical make-up. This includes observing the everyday behaviors of kids and adults; studying the interests that both demographics take in the items they buy, whether it’s a connected, or interactive device, or a non-connected device.

“What I’ve noticed over the last decade is there has definitely been a decrease in the amount of product lines in the toy market,” Jenkinson told GritDaily.

“There are more considered and technologically evolved toys, which is why we’ve moved away from the loads of plastic and into more fire-end and very intuitive, technology-infused toys on the market. Kids have never had it so good, and that’s been a big change we’ve seen.”

Wild At Heart: Unleashing Your Inner Child

Jenkinson asked me what my favorite toy was growing up, and for a moment, I was stumped. Not because I didn’t know the answer to the question, but because I had never really considered my favorite boardgame, Sorry!, to be a ‘toy.’ Ironically enough, the co-founder and I shared a similar childhood liking to the boardgame.

He told me there has been a massive rise in the “kid-adult” market, where approximately 12% of all toys purchased by adults, are ironically enough, purchased for themselves or other adults.

“This market is growing exponentially,” he said, “specifically as it pertains to the board game markets, which have seen a massive rise—at least 20% year-on-year, for the last five years.”

But, for millennials like me, digital has become an every day part of our lives.

“Remember, as your generation continues to embrace analog, and you become parents, you want that collaborative experience and are taking on toys where you can work with your kids on, which is why we’ve seen LEGO come from near bankruptcy 12 years ago, to becoming the world’s number one toy company.”

3 Core Principles For Tackling Toys

During its CES debut, Vacante identified the company’s three core principles it keeps close when considering design, interactivity, and privacy:

(1) From an analyst perspective, what’s happening in emerging tech and trends?
(2) Strategic partnerships, which may be up and coming startups and global brands, whether they are new technologies or play experiences; and
(3) Creating those connected products and experiences.

Vacante told us that as it pertains to the third principle, there is a vast insight as to why kids play the way they do.

“Finding out why kids choose the toys they do is fascinating and learning how to incorporate them into the process, is a lot of fun,” she emphasized.

“Adding on to what Pete said about kids never having it this good, I agree, and where companies are getting it right, is when they are giving people the actual choice on whether to play connected or not. This makes it a much easier experience for both parents and kids.”

With Today’s Toys, Safety From Design Is Paramount

As a practicing internet attorney, I was most interested in how toyologists like Vacante and Jenkinson consider privacy and security when breaking down the science behind toys.

“Nobody takes it more seriously than Val and I,” Jenkinson exclaimed.

“The safety of our kids is of paramount importance. The problem with connected toys, especially those most engaging like augmented reality-based toys, are there are a lot of companies out there that didn’t really know what they were doing, and attempting to grab at the market space. They went into it, and made some really sub-standard products, and got into a lot of trouble for it, or simply made products that people didn’t want.”

But, according to the Toyology CEO, we are in a place where we have much more considered play, and not just from established toy brands like Hasbro.

“We are now starting to see other challenger brands emerge, who have all their time and efforts invested into one product and doing it right,” Jenkinson explained. In today’s atmosphere of data breaches and security incidents, the TechUp co-founder recognizes that safety is what’s going to be “dissected first and foremost by parents and the media.”

“Companies are now thinking about privacy from design and the get-go,” added Vacante. “They are looking at and considering GDPR parameters, COPPA compliance here in the U.S. and are doing their homework. It’s all about taking these considerations up front, rather than backwards.”

With companies like TechUp in the toy space, we will hopefully start to see more engaging and thought-provoking technologies that today’s generations are able to appreciate and learn from, for many years to come.