Toymakers feel the pinch of economic tough times

The scene at Toy Fair in New York this year was a lot like the scene at home — anxious and thrifty, but still trying to find a way to have fun.

What was missing was the "wow" factor — the cool ideas that cause so many conversations to start with "have you seen ... ?" This year, even reliable innovators are flaunting only additions and improvements to their existing lines.

"Kids are still going to play, and parents are still going to buy toys. We just have to adjust to these new economic realities," said toy analyst Chris Byrne.

Toymakers got the message that parents want to buy toys that will be enjoyed over and over: dolls, games, arts and crafts, activity toys like yo-yos, and sporting goods.

One of the more popular playthings of more recent vintage is the Uglydoll, a line of quirky plush toys made by Pretty Ugly that debuted in 2003.

New Uglydolls for 2009 will include Trunko, who "freaks out over everything," and Turny Burny, who will "insist that it's all just a misunderstanding, and that the trouble-making is all being done by their doppelgangers from an alternate dimension."

Hasbro is about to launch a huge media campaign about how wonderful it is to stay home and play a game with the whole family.

"Staycations have replaced vacations," said John Frascotti, global chief marketing officer for Hasbro. "For $20 you can get a great (game) and have a terrific family activity. "

That relevance can be found in Team Trivial Pursuit, where the players are in teams so the clueless (or youngest) kid in the family won't get clobbered and start sulking.

Or there's a new version of Clue that will send clues to your phone by text message, appealing to even the most disconnected teens.

"The new optional text messaging feature transmits game-shaping intelligence to Agents Plum, Scarlet, Mustard and the others while an ultraviolet, secret decoder reveals hidden missions to the players," Hasbro said.

And Boggle can now be played on a Wii, because once you own that expensive system, well, you really ought to use it more.

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