From teddy bears to Angry Birds

With Angry Birds' merchandise hitting Indian retail outlets by early next year, Yolande D'Mello asks if the teddy bear of old has been replaced by a new set of toys inspired by online games, as attractive to a four month-old as to 24 year-olds

Baishali Chatterjee is a 24 year-old freelance journalist who has never played the popular online game, Angry Birds. And so she is bemused by all the attention her stuffed toy, a green pig (a character in the game), has garnered. "I've never played the game but I know how everyone has been going gaga over it. And I know why. The characters look so adorable," she says.

One can figure why Chatterjee's stuffed toy has been such a hit with her friends. Rovio, the Finnish firm that developed the game, has only recently created merchandise based on the game, but all of it is available only in retail outlets across the US, UK and some parts of Asia.

From March next year, expect to see them in Indian retail outlets. The range will include not just stuffed toys based on the game, but interactive life-size slingshots, T-shirts for children and adults, water bottles, slippers and bags too.

And it's not just Angry Birds that is taking the lesser-known route of toys inspired by online games. Since November 14, limited-edition Farmville characters have been made available on the electronics retail website Best Buy. Now, one can go beyond just taking care of an online farm, and focus their affection on pigs, goats, cows, sheep, chicken, ducks, horses and rabbit toys. Toys of another popular online game, Moshi Monsters, are also available for purchase from online stores.

The death of the teddy bear?
As people spend more time surfing the Internet, and online games become a rage, will toys based on online game characters now hold pride of position in a kid's shelf, instead of the cuddly teddy bears of old? And on a circumspect note, can these new toys expand their fan base to also include those who have not played the game?

According to Jiggy George, founder of merchandising and marketing company Dream Theatre Pvt. Ltd., that will be launching the Angry Birds merchandise in India, "Currently, the target audience for these toys are fans of the game. But this base will diversify to include new fans who might have never played the game. Just like Harry Potter, whose set of fans include those who have not read the books but enjoyed watching the films." George, who sits in a room surrounded by bottles, bags and clocks with Angry Birds characters, adds that the craze for the toys will only get bigger, as the game creators are now developing a film based on it.

According to Keith D'souza, the editor of Techie-Buzz, an online technology, software and gaming website, "The initial merchandising for the toys started when the game became famous. However, over time, people who have never encountered the game have also started liking it." D'souza, apart from reviewing the toy for his website, also gifted one to his four month-old nephew.

Even if the toy buyers are simply those who have enjoyed the game, this will make for a large market. Rovio's CEO Peter Vesterbacka, in a conference at Helsinki, Sweden, to mark the opening of the first Rovio store on November 11, said Angry Birds has been downloaded 500 million times since it was launched in 2009.

A very noisy market
Moshi Monsters, the popular social networking online game for children (here, players adopt pet 'monsters' and solve puzzles to win rox, which can be used as a currency to buy items like food and clothes for the monster), was first developed in 2008 and earlier this year, they branched out into merchandising.

Michael Acton Smith, the CEO of Mind Candy, the firm behind the game, says that apart from earning money from those who subscribe to the game, they earn a significant chunk from merchandising royalties. "We signed about 100 licensing deals this year, everything from books to trading cards, magazines, and music. That's a really important part of the business as well."

Terming the market of merchandising of online games "a very noisy one" where a lot is currently going on, he says, "This is just the tip of the iceberg in a dramatic shift in the entertainment landscape."

Merchandising, the way to go
According to George, getting into merchandising is essential for an online game. "This will help increase loyalty to the brand, especially children, for whom it is essential to have a physical connect to the game," he says. Angry Birds products will be made available in India for anything between Rs 99 and Rs 1,000.

Is merchandising the way to go for popular online games like Farmville and Angry Birds? Raj Menon, director of, an online gaming website that hosts a number of proprietary thinks so. He says, "Merchandising is one way to raise revenue. You subcontract a company in China, they manufacture at a nominal rate, and you mark it up and make a lot of money. George Lucas was the godfather of merchandising. He was smart to hold on to merchandising rights. And now it's Angry Birds," explains Menon.

George is, however, quick to add a word of caution. "In India, online gaming is still in a nascent stage. If something is big on TV in India, marketers think of getting into merchandises. Otherwise, not too many characters have that appeal."

Despite such toys being a new concept, with much of the market currently existing in the West, the likes of Dhyanjyoti Borah are thrilled to learn that Angry Birds merchandise will soon be available in India. This 25 year-old Andheri resident, who works as a sound engineer at a popular radio station in Mumbai, is such a big fan of the game that he has bought bags, keychains and T-shirts inspired by the game, through online stores and during his last trip to Bangkok earlier this year. "I play it on my phone and my laptop whenever I'm free. Whenever these toys are made available here, I just have to go check them out!" he says.

An Angry Birds theme park in the offing?
The Window of the World amusement park in Changsha, China, recently opened an Angry Birds attraction as part of its month-long 'stress-reducing festival' on September 1 in southeastern China. Players pull a real catapult and shoot Angry Birds plush toys at green piggy balloons placed around a toy brick fortress. While the park didn't bother with copyright, Rovio isn't interested in suing but allegedly started negotiations with the park to possibly set up a long-term partnership.

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