Gary Carlin has always been something of an innovator. As co-founder of Hasbro Interactive Worldwide, Carlin helped transform old reliables such as Monopoly and Scrabble into CD-ROM and multiplayer Internet games. He also introduced promotional Web environments for the Star Wars action figures Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Along the way, Carlin has become intimately familiar with prepping companies for the interactive age.
After helping Hasbro Interactive develop its Christmas marketing plan this year, the 7-year Hasbro vet decided to say goodbye to Mr. Potato Head and G.I. Joe and follow his heart. So Carlin, 39, left the stability and security of the No. 2 U.S. toymaker to start Inventor's Greenhouse, a Boston-based startup that specializes in incubating new toys and games--everything from CD-ROMs to action figures--and bringing them to market.
It's no secret that the toy industry traditionally has relied on inventors and even garage tinkerers for toy and game ideas. Given the increasing household penetration of PCs, the creative toy minds of today have been joined by engineers and computer programmers, Carlin says, who now will straddle both worlds.
Over the past three years, the toy industry has become more cognizant of the personal computer and the Internet as PC game sales first surpassed $5 billion. And with traditional games a primary feature on such sites as labattblue.com and Nabisco's candy stand.com, the demand for such entertainment has come from some unlikely places.
Advertisers, like toy marketers, have realized "that games are the killer app of the Internet," says Carlin. "Good games."
At Hasbro Interactive, Carlin oversaw site design for Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley board games such as Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. Owners of the games' CD-ROM versions could choose to play over the Internet. Other potential gamers could use the sites to sample the games.
Now, the Internet is proving to be an important part of a toy marketers' arsenal for reaching consumers year-round, marking a whole new era in a category in which most of the marketing dollars are devoted to the Christmas season.
"I think that there is a tendency in the toy industry [for marketers] to be formulaic because the major [advertising campaigns] happen at Christmas time," Carlin says.
Toy sites, by contrast, expand the category's marketing possibilities by enabling gamers to interact. "And what are toys and games all about but interacting?" Carlin asks.
But even as toymakers discover the Internet's power, Carlin believes using it will get harder as the luster of technology wears off. "I think what will happen is the interactive industry as a whole will have to be more marketing-driven."