When K.C. Miller got her seven grandchildren together for the holidays, things got a little messy in the kitchen.
They weren’t cooking some elaborate recipe: They were playing Pie Face, a game in which a dollop of whipped cream is served up from a plastic “throwing arm” to someone who has positioned his face in its path. As everyone tried to remain stoic while getting bopped with a white blob, Miller took photos and videos on her iPhone.
“We’d play these videos and we’d just howl at how funny they were,” said Miller, a 62-year-old resident of Gilbert, Ariz. And then she posted some of them on Facebook, wanting to share the high jinks with others.
Pie Face, made by Pawtucket-based Hasbro, was the single best-selling item in the games category in 2016 and the fourth best-selling toy overall, according to market research firm NPD Group. And Miller was hardly alone in sharing her family’s laughs online: Hasbro’s customer research found that over 50 percent of people who buy Pie Face make and share a video of themselves playing it.
Pie Face is a symbol of a new era in toymaking, one in which social media is allowing the industry to marshal you, the everyday shopper, to become a product’s most powerful advertiser. And its mega-popularity has helped fuel a flurry of action from toymakers to create games that offer a “shareable moment” – a brief visual morsel that parents and grandparents will post on Instagram or Facebook and that teens will put on Snapchat or YouTube.
It’s a new breed of toy that can’t just be fun for players in real time. It has to be demonstrative. Performative, even.
The desire to strike social gold is shaping the game business in a variety of ways: Toymakers are mining viral social clips for inspiration for new products. They are scrambling to crank out new games faster than ever to ride digital waves before they crest. And they are approaching their marketing campaigns differently, knowing…