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Toys and games bring holiday cheer

Electronics or traditional? Toys are always given at Christmas Keystone

Traditional toys such as board games, teddy bears and Lego are flying off the shelves this Christmas, while interactive electronic games are also selling well.

Toy sales in Switzerland don’t appear to have been affected by the economic crisis, the industry reports. The e-games sector is even expecting a light upswing, boosted by market innovations.

Christmas is a key time for toy retailers, with around 50 per cent of sales – yearly turnover for the industry is estimated to be SFr416 million ($433 million) this year – taking place during and in the run up to the festive period.

“Christmas toy sales look pretty stable,” Sandro Küng from the Swiss Toy Association, which represents traders, told

“We don’t depend on the economy because people don’t save money on toys, but they also don’t spend more when they have more money.”

But some retailers such as market leader Migros, are reporting better sales than last year. Among its top sellers are Lego, Playmobil and FurReal Friends robotic soft toys.

Other retailers say board games, puppets and outdoor games are popular, showing that even in this age of iPhones and computers, the traditional seems to be in.

“I see e-games as a complement to traditional toys. Electronic toys cannot replace a doll, Lego building blocks or a board game,” Küng said.

And looking at the Swiss Toy Association’s round up of Christmas trends, one thing is clear: it is still Lego for the boys and Barbie for the girls.

Not so board games

Among the board games, Monopoly and the non-governmental organisation WWF’s wooden Madagascar game are doing well.

Journalist and critic Tom Felber, who sits on the jury of the Game of the Year, an award for board and card games in German-speaking countries, has observed that people – adults included – are increasingly enjoying the social experience of playing such games.

“There was a big impact of digitalised media. I think now that’s the backlash because people start to realise they also need something else,” he said.

The Game of the Year 2010, for example, is Dixit, a highly communicative game that can be played by all the family.

The other big trend is that the market is being flooded with new games, he said. When he started on the jury ten years ago, he had to test around 100-150 games. Now there are around 1,000.

Tennis, anyone?

The electronics games market in Switzerland – worth SFr401 million in 2009 according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers Swiss Entertainment and Media Outlook 2010-2014 survey – also makes 40-45 per cent of its turnover during the Christmas period.

It did see an impact of the economic downturn last year and in the first half of 2010. “But the third quarter was better, [turnover up 3.8 per cent on same quarter in 2009] and Christmas sales look like being pretty good,” Peter Kuster, spokesman for the Swiss Interactive Entertainment Association, told

Innovations in hardware, lacking in past years, means there are more games on the market, which is encouraging people to buy, added Kuster.

Trends are the new controllers PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect which allow more interactive gaming, such as being able to play tennis against Roger Federer or more realistic football matches (bestseller FIFA 11). Online gaming is also undergoing a boom.

Although the Swiss market may not be as developed as those in Japan and the United States, Kuster says the Swiss are among the top gamers in Europe.

All indications are that the sector will grow: the PwC survey said that the Swiss videogames market should increase by 6.9 per cent per year to reach SFr561 million by 2014 – the second fastest growing branch of the entertainment and media sector after internet advertising.

Picking up

Traditional toy sales present a different picture. In 2001 these amounted to SFr490 million. But the entry of e-games during the dot-com boom prompted a fall, the toy association’s Küng said.

“There are also other factors: the lower birthrate so fewer children, and migrant children, who have another play culture. They play with other toys and don’t buy as much as Swiss children,” he observed.

The toy market now seems to be recovering – after a low point of SFr400 million in 2008  – with e-games now making less of an impact, Küng says.

“If the e-games market goes up so does the traditional toy market,” he said. “The more people in general like to play with toys the better for the market.”

There are several toy and game labels, which are trusted by consumers and whose winners are usually very good sellers during the Christmas period.

Game of the Year (see link) is an award for board and card games in German-speaking countries. It is awarded by an independent jury. It has existed since 1979.

The Swiss Toy Award (see link), organised by the Swiss Toy Association since 2007. The jury is made up of its consumers. This year more than 15,000 children participated judging toys in six categories, plus one for grown-ups (over 12s).

While most Europeans will be cutting costs this Christmas, recent retail studies have shown the Swiss will be spending more than last year: including 1.2 per cent more than last year on gifts, food and going out at Christmas.

However, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) says the Swiss economy is facing a slowdown  as there are “mounting indications” that export development will worsen next year. The government’s expert group said that given the relative resilience of the domestic market so far, the expected slowdown should remain limited.

Its forecast is for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth to slow from 2.7 per cent in 2010 to 1.5 per cent in 2011.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR