In November of 1990, video game publisher Sega Corporation released its 16-bit console ‘Mega Drive’ in Europe, following a successful initial roll-out in Japan and North America. I was seven years old at the time, my lifelong love affair with gaming yet to be initiated, having previously been completely devoted to physical action figures such as Beetlejuice, He-Man, Thundercats and their likes. The launch of Mega Drive (known as ‘Sega Genesis’ in North America) undoubtedly spurred my early interest for the digital entertainment space and provided a new source of inspiration and focus for my play. Sonic the Hedgehog had me gripped and what would soon become my very first gaming console was also at the top of the holiday wish list for a whole generation. By the end of 1994, once upgraded 32-bit systems made the Mega Drive technologically obsolete, it had sold over 29 million units across the world. In fact, I still own my original console and it is not as dusty as you might think!
Fast track to 2014 and my seven year old son just shared with me his (without doubt digitally influenced) Christmas gift wish list. Not too surprisingly, recent years’ number one success story, Minecraft, is on there, as are Activision’s game series, Skylanders, and action adventure sandbox game, Disney Infinity. At first sight, his top-picks for the holidays are not too far from my seven year old self’s yearning for a Mega Drive; what is interesting, however, is the fast-evolving nature of the digital arena and how technological developments have significant impact on what children want. Whereas the 1990’s 16-bit Sega console opened up my eyes to video games as a complementary form of entertainment, my son has grown up in a world where the majority of it stems from the new media space.
It ought to come as no surprise, therefore, that the toys tipped to dominate Santa’s sack this year are predominately digital. When I was a child, the action figures I craved were often movie tie-in toys, inspired by blockbuster successes such as Ghostbusters and Batman. My son on the other hand, is mainly interested in toys derived from the new media universe: action figures, paper craft and plush items building on video games and apps rather than on comics, books and movie franchises. In that sense, the types of products children want have not really changed in the past 24 year period, except for the world from which they originate.
At the same time, it is important to note that the evolution of entertainment is a two-way street with more traditional brands such as LEGO and The Smurfs taking the leap into digital, launching apps and video games based on their much loved characters. These examples further highlight the significant impact technology has on entertainment and show that longstanding franchises stand a good chance of survival as long as they develop to stay current in the mind of consumers.SEGA Mega Drive Surely, it is fascinating to think that both my son and my seven year old self are die-hard fans of LEGO – just in slightly different ways.
We live in a time where technological innovations and digital concepts are key defining elements in both our children’s and our own lives. On the one hand, this makes me wonder whether the generational gap is at the widest it has ever been; things that would have been completely foreign to the children of 1990 are customary concepts to the kids of 2014. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that it is the delivery mechanisms that have changed, not the fundamental concept of play and entertainment. The thrill I experienced when getting my Mega Drive console 24 years ago is likely to be similar to my son’s joy when unwrapping his Skylanders figures on December 25th. If Santa decides to bring him any, that is.
Dan Amos is Head of New Media of Tinderbox, the dedicated digital division of leading global brand extension agency, Beanstalk.
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