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Tweaking Toys for the Connected Generation

The 1990s icon is reimagined for today’s tech-savvy kids
Furby isn’t the only toy to use electronics to connect with kids
Furby isn’t the only toy to use electronics to connect with kids

In early 2011, Hasbro Chief Executive Officer Brian Goldner convened a team of designers, engineers, and marketers to figure out the Next Big Toy. They asked themselves: “What’s the most alive thing a toy can do?” After eight months of prototyping and kid focus groups, they had their answer: reboot the cuddly robot Furby, one of Hasbro’s biggest-ever hits, which seems to develop a personality as you play with it. In resurrecting a plaything that had its heyday when Bill Clinton was president, Hasbro is betting that the electronics-laden Furby’s ability to interact with its owner will appeal to tech-obsessed children. Still, a retro toy will be hard to market as a true innovation, says Sean McGowan, an analyst for Needham & Co. And at $60—double the original’s price—it may be a tough sell for shoppers recovering from the recession. “I don’t want to denigrate the technical innovation,” says McGowan. “In terms of the basic toy, yes it’s probably better, but it’s the same.”

The Furby reboot is one of the most expensive and complex product development projects in Hasbro’s history, and the largest U.S. toy sellers are also invested in its success. Wal-Mart Stores, Target, and Toys “R” Us put Furby on their annual lists of hot toys, a sign they’re dedicating plenty of shelf space to it.