Some say gaming could overtake television as the primary entertainment medium in the UK. But is there anyway way for parents to ensure that their children are playing something suitable that will help to develop their skills and boost your bottom line? Ben Furfie investigates?

Child’s play?

With Easter fast approaching and summer just around the corner, parents’ minds will invariably be turning to the question of how to keep their children amused, while keeping their minds working throughout the long breaks.

"Children are leaning more than ever towards computer and video games as their first choice for entertainment," says Focus Multimedia’s PR and marketing manager Grant Hughes. However, it isn’t just a paradigm shift away from television that is seeing children spend their time differently; it’s also affecting how much parents can get involved. "Casual games are easy to pick up and play and family friendly, so for those reasons we’re finding that children are increasingly joining in with their parents and siblings," adds Hughes.

But with this shift away from television to games, is price still important? "Pricing strategy is crucial," comments Avanquest Software Publishing’s sales director Steve Powell. "Titles within the budget category are often impulse purchases."

Unlike the bulk of the games industry, which focuses on major launches like The Sims 3 and Harry Potter, the budget side of the business benefits from the long tail. "The sector generates income all year round with higher margins than what you might find in other categories," argues Powell.

"Budget products are perfect pocket money presents," adds Powell, dismissing the theory that children’s software only sells during the school holiday periods. "Granted, they are great stocking fillers too, but at their price point, they offer exceptional value for money and are seen as a stimulating and entertaining alternative to television. There will never be a shortage of demand, while regular and lucrative seasonal promotions ensure a greater market penetration."

However, despite this Powell stresses that the products won’t sell themselves and some creative positioning to take advantage of pester power is necessary. "These products are impulse purchases and should be promoted in-store to drive this type of sale. High profile positions are critical and free standing display units, spinners and counter tops will attract attention and consumer interest."

Hughes agrees, adding: "Make sure you stock a good breadth and depth of titles and also consider maximising your offering with a counter stand or larger fixture in a high footfall area of your store."

"When merchandised effectively at key periods in the year, such as Easter, the summer holidays and Christmas, there will be high demand and significant potential for retailers," adds Powell.

Powell also argues that it is not possible to just stock any old game for a couple of pounds and expect it to sell: "The market is heavily driven by the popularity of brands. The most successful are TV or film characters and licences with merchandising opportunities across multiple product categories, such as toys or clothing. Children’s software is a very competitive category, where strong brands and aggressive price points are the key to success. These titles have increased brand awareness."

Title: Dora the Explorer: Candyland
Publisher: GSP
Distributor: Centresoft/Ideal Software/Interactive Ideas/Gem/Music Box Leisure

If parents are looking for a title that any child can play – whether they can read yet or not – then Dora the Explorer: Candyland from GSP does the job. Based around the board game of the same name, children can ‘take a rainbow journey’ with Dora and friends, while developing their spatial awareness and colour association.

Title: Go Diego Go: Safari Rescue
Publisher: GSP
Distributor: Centresoft/Interactive Ideas/Gem/Music Box Leisure

Set against the story of popular television show Go Diego Go, children must help Diego to beat the magician who has cast spells on all of the African animals. From giraffes with short necks through to zebras with no stripes and elephants that have been turned to stone, Diego and new friends Erin the Elephant and animal rescuer Juma, must use his magic drum to free everyone.

Title: Finley the Fire Engine
Publisher: GSP
Distributor: Centresoft/Interactive Ideas/Gem/Music Box Leisure

Aimed at children of three to six, GSP’s game of the popular television show gives children eight puzzles to work through. Set in Friendlyville, the game follows the main themes of the series, such as why wearing glasses is nothing to be embarrassed of. It is ideal for young children to play when developing logic and social skills.

Title: Encyclopaedia Britannica Children’s Edition
Publisher: Focus Multimedia
Distributor: Interactive Ideas and Ideal Software

The UK’s best-selling encyclopaedia has been adapted especially for children aged between the ages of six and 14. With plenty of content that is relevant for their studies, it removes the problem of children getting distracted while researching information online. It also includes a three-month free trial to the online version of the encyclopaedia.

Title: Roary the Racing Car
Publisher: GSP
Centresoft/Interactive Ideas/Gem/Music Box Leisure

Also based on a popular children’s series, Roary the Racing Car: Pitstop Puzzles is a package of eight games and puzzles, designed to teach children key skills. Players will help Roary solve various challenges around Silverhatch while building upon the background story of the show.

Title: Bookworm
Publisher: Focus Multimedia
Distributor: Interactive Ideas and Ideal Software

Bookworm is the result of a collaboration between Focus Multimedia and Popcap games, and is designed to be educational as well as entertaining. Popcap – the studio behind Bejeweled – has concentrated on creating a fun game that helps develop children’s vocabulary for all the family, with Focus ensuring it has bright, colourful packaging that is sure to grab the attention.

Title: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Publisher: EA
Distributor: Centresoft
With the film likely to be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, the game is also expected to do very well. While it’s not strictly educational, the extra parts of the storyline it explores might just be the stimulus to get those children who haven’t read the books to pick them.

Title: The Sims 3
Publisher: EA
Distributor: Centresoft

The latest in the hugely popular series is due to land on retailers’ shelves this June and is promising to be a huge step forward for the franchise. Ideally suited for children, not just because of its gameplay, but also because of its focus on budgeting, socialising and forward planning. It is also arriving just in time for the summer holidays.

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