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Spin Master ramps its game business as toys go digital

Toy maker Spin Master grew to a value of $2 billion with TV shows like Paw Patrol and toys like Air Hogs drones. But as shelter-in-place orders persist during the pandemic, the Toronto company is expanding into digital businesses, including games. Fredrik Loving joined recently as executive vice president of digital studios at Spin Master. He reports to co-CEO Ronnen Harary, who cofounded the company in 1994. Loving, a game development veteran who worked on franchises like Battlefield, is running the company’s digital studio in Los Angeles.

Putting a guy who used to make first-person shooters in charge of a kid’s toy company is a big change. Loving’s task will be to evolve Spin Master’s digital strategy and create games and digital entertainment that merge physical toys with connected play experiences, much like Activision Blizzard’s efforts to create toy-game hybrid entertainment offerings like Skylanders. But such projects haven’t always ended happily, as Activision shut down its Skylanders development after it overestimated the hype around its $3 billion dollar franchise.

“Bridging the physical and the digital is something that excites me a lot,” Loving said in an interview with GamesBeat. “I’m just so excited to be at a company that really understands the new play patterns and has studied the power of an ecosystem that bridges both physical and digital, as well as interactive and linear media. That’s why I feel like a kid again.”

Spin Master already creates world-class digital games and digital components that merge physical toys into connected play experiences. Its Air Hogs drones are a case in point, as they aim to provide fun for kids through a combination of drones and apps. Loving will also look to expand Spin Master’s position in the children’s mobile app space as he oversees the company’s Toca Boca Studio in Stockholm and Sago Mini Studio in Toronto, which together have seen over 350 million downloads and 25 million monthly active users.

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“I have the curiosity of a kid, and I just fell in love with what they do,” Loving said. “They think in a different way than where the industry is going. I think the behaviors have been there, pre-COVID-19, in terms of how we can be where the kids are. And if they are playing on their phones or playing on a console in the living room, we need to be there.”

From Battlefield to toys

A gaming industry veteran, Loving has worked in interactive entertainment for 15 years, leading, building, and growing game development studios and blockbuster games, including the critically acclaimed Battlefield franchise. Most recently, he has focused his efforts on establishing and assisting entertainment companies leading a new wave of fresh, interactive storytelling for games, film, television, and beyond.

“Fredrik’s reputation as an interactive storyteller and his track record of developing high-performance teams in gaming will be an incredible asset for Spin Master as we continue to innovate within this space, creating immersive experiences and growing our digital gaming presence,” said Harary in a statement.

About seven years ago, Spin Master scored a big hit with the Paw Patrol television show for kids. In 2016, the company moved into digital in a big way with the acquisition of Toca Boca in Stockholm. This summer, Spin Master has a couple of big launches, including the Toca Life World Home Designer Tool (which kids can use to design homes for their Toca Life characters), and Toca Life World University (where kids can find educational and career activities for their characters).

Loving will have plenty of resources at Spin Master, which has more than 1,800 employees across 17 countries.

“As a game maker, I just love the fact that we can get them to experience things on our mobile screens, or whatever screen it might be,” Loving said. “I get to see firsthand, as I have a son and I want to be a part of his life. It will give me joy to make things that he can play.”

Many adults are also very nostalgic about toys, and they’re buying a lot of them, ostensibly for kids.

“With a pandemic sweeping the globe, it is pushing us all into a virtual world,” Loving said. “We are all communicating through Zoom or whatever it might be. So it goes back to my curiosity for the future and what this new generation will be all about. Because I think my son growing up now is going to be a very different human being than I am. And I’m still a gamer, but he’s born into a real world and virtual almost at the same time.”

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