One of the Hottest Toys These Holidays Was a Facebook Star First
Getting hit in the face with a pie makes for a great Facebook video.
It’s that simple truth that’s helped turn Pie Face into one of the hottest board games this holiday season. In a world dominated by flashy digital entertainment, it’s analog and simple: Spin a wheel, turn a handle, get smashed in the face with whipped cream. In June, Hasbro bought the manufacturing and distribution rights for an undisclosed sum from the small U.K. toymaker Rocket Games, which first released the game in 2014.
Not surprisingly, it was a Facebook video that got Hasbro’s attention. The clip of a grandfather and his grandson playing the game went viral in April and has been viewed almost 40 million times. Its popularity was unprecedented, according to Hasbro, and the company fast-tracked global distribution. As a result, new life has been given to a game concept that first surfaced in the 1960s.
“All of a sudden it started to spike in a way we really haven’t seen before in the game space,” said Jonathan Berkowitz, senior vice president for marketing at Hasbro Gaming. “Clearly it was a game that was new and sharable, and people wanted to talk about it.” It usually takes years for a board game from a small company to gather enough steam to go global but Pie Face was the exception, says Berkowitz. The company started receiving calls about it as soon as it came out in the U.K. "We didn’t even make the game at the time,” he said. Now it's available in 20 countries around the globe.
Hasbro declined to share specific sales numbers, but Berkowitz said Pie Face has become one of the company’s top sellers. Target, Toys “R” Us, and Walmart have all sold out of the game on their websites. Walmart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman said it was the chain's single best-selling game. A spokesman for Target said Pie Face was among its best-selling games, and when Toys “R” Us Chief Executive Officer Dave Brandon was asked on Black Friday what was selling well, the only item he cited by name was Pie Face. “Inventory is being replenished daily in our stores across the country to keep up with customer demand, while availability of the game on toysrus.com varies by region,” said spokeswoman Jessica Offerjost. Amazon.com and its third-party sellers don’t have the toy readily available either, with back orders through early January. Meanwhile, resellers are taking advantage of the craze, jacking up prices to $30 or more.
The pie-to-the-face game concept has been around for a long time. Hasbro has actually sold a version of Pie Face before, with the same name, in the 1960s. It looks bigger and a bit more intense:
There’s also an unrelated game called Splat, which is essentially the same thing.
While buying the rights to Pie Face was a shrewd move, the game is not likely to be a long-standing hit, according to Jaime Katz, an analyst at Morningstar. “After you do it once, how many times do you want to go back and do it again?” Katz said.
Hasbro’s games division could use a boost after sales fell 4 percent, to $810.7 million, in the first three quarters of the year. That came after a decline in 2014.
What would give Pie Face more staying power is if it could cross over as a party game with broader appeal—even with adults, said Sean McGowan, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. Games that have made this leap, including Trivial Pursuit and Taboo, are not limited to a small audience and get purchased outside the holiday season because they’re fun to play at parties, he said. He sees similar attributes in Pie Face.
“The pie-in-the-face routine is just a classic routine,” McGowan said. “It’s that tension. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Someone is going to get ridiculed, and the next time around it could be somebody else.”
Shannon Pettypiece contributed reporting.