It's that time again, when toy makers offer their first peek at what to expect under this year's Christmas tree.
|The new Jewel Girl Barbie has more natural and realistic proportions than the traditional, voluptuous doll.|
Buyers, analysts and the media will converge in New York City this week to view this year's offerings at the annual Toy Fair, which runs through Thursday.
Believe it or not, toy companies already feel a sense of urgency to showcase even showoff their best and brightest products, because in this fiercely competitive market, there is no such thing as starting too soon.
Despite the presence of many small companies, two superpowers Mattel and Hasbro still dominate the world of toys.
In its corner, Mattel has Barbie, Hot Wheels and Matchbox toy cars, while Hasbro has the licensing rights to Pokemon and Star Wars. Both companies also signed licensing deals last week to market toys based on the popular Harry Potter children's books.
Surely, if those names aren't enough to make the little guy run and hide, nothing else will.
But it's no longer good enough for toy companies simply to rely on well-known brands. Utilizing the latest technology has become standard fare. Yet, as Mattel learned from its $3.5 billion purchase of The Learning Co., simply incorporating computer chips won't do the trick. (Chief Executive Officer Jill Barad recently lost her job after Mattel continued to rack up losses from The Learning Co., which makes educational software.)
Toy makers have learned they must execute technology in creative ways, and successfully market the products to fickle children and teen-agers, who will quickly dismiss toys that don't excite them.
|Hasbro's new Pokemon lineup should remain a force this year|
Hasbro will continue to expand its Star Wars line. (Fans should particularly like the new interactive Yoda toy.) But it's apparent the company isn't depending solely on the science fiction series to grow its sales.
Indeed, the Pawtucket, R.I.-based company's Pokemon lineup should remain a force in 2000, with a variety of new video games, Pokemon Monopoly and even a card game to help initiate new players, and also to help Mom and Dad understand the hype.
For its part, Mattel will unveil two technology adventure games that build on the popularity of Barbie.
Previously, adventure games were targeted mostly to boys. But with this year's Barbie Magic Genie, for the PC and GameBoy Color, players control the movements of Barbie the Genie with a bottle-shaped device that connects to the computer via the joystick port.
The 3D adventure game in an Arabian knights setting, allows girls to interact with a host of characters and take part in various adventures. Similarly, Barbie Pet Rescue, also for the PC and GameBoy Color, sends Barbie off on exciting missions to rescue lost animals.
But such technology-driven offerings doesn't mean Mattel has given up on its core Barbie dolls. This year, however, America's favorite fashion doll gets a make-over, new siblings and a husband.
Jewel Girl Barbie shows off the new Barbie, who has more natural and realistic proportions, while Princess Bride Barbie awaits her prince charming. Mattel has hinted that Barbie and Ken indeed will walk down the aisle for the first time together come October. No official word on whether we'll see a Honeymoon Barbie.
|This battery-powered Swimming Champion Barbie coincides with the Sydney 2000 Olympics|
Meanwhile, Swimming Champion Barbie, sporting a swim suit and gold medal, is ready for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. This battery-powered swimmer can compete in both backstroke and freestyle events, but an Olympic pool is not included.
Pop music tie-ins also continue to be popular in the girl's market.
ToyMax builds on last holiday's success with their singing Britney Spears doll, along with B*Witched, Christine Aguilera and TLC dolls.
Hasbro joins this "band" wagon with a line of singing figures from the Brit-pop band S Club 7.
He-Men and War Figures Should Be Big for Boys
For boys, a battle of he-men will dominate the line-up.
Mattel will introduce Max Steel, a twentysomething secret agent who just happens to have his own 3D-CGI animated action adventure series. Not to be outdone, Hasbro brings ActionMan to America, an internationally-renown character who also will have his own TV series.
Hasbro also get nostalgic with it John F. Kennedy PT109 figure and a commemorative WWI Dough Boy figure. But in the military arena, Hasbro could see an invasion from smaller companies such as Cotswold, 21st Century Toys, and Hong Kong's Dragon figures.
These upstarts have begun to release detailed historical figures from World War I and World War II already a hit with collectors with the resurgence of interest in all things related to the wars.
Of course not all toys for boys are of the 12-inch variety. Both Mattel and Hasbro plan to take advantage of the popularity of NASCAR with a variety of licensed products including race sets, computer games and even remote controlled cars.
Interactive Toys Still Hot in Toy Market
And interactive toys will remain a priority.
While Sony's Aibo, the cute but expensive robot dog that retails for an eye-popping $2,500, may be out of Santa's buget, Toymax may have the $99 answer with R.A.D. Rover. This radio-controlled dog won't learn like Aibo, but the young pup seems to be much more kid-friendly and is certainly more attractively priced.
|Mattel and Intel teamed up to create the QX3 Computer Microscope, one of the hottest interactive toys during the last holiday season|
Last year, Mattel and Intel unveiled their QX3 Computer Microscope, which turned out to be one of the hottest interactive toys during the last holiday season. This year, the two companies build on that success with their Computer Sound Morpher, a device that allows users to record voices and sounds and then alter them on their PC. They also will unveil the ME2CAM Computer Video Camera, which allows kids to make their own digital movies.
But the ultimate high-tech toy of the 2000 Toy Fair could very well be Bandai's new Power Rangers deluxe Interactive Omega Megazord, a five-piece action figure that connects to the viewer's TV during the daily airing of the Power Rangers' show, and downloads new phrases into the talking toy.
Using Microsoft Smart Technology, it can update itself daily, while requiring kids to watch the Power Rangers show. Who knew Microsoft was the real power behind the Power Rangers?