With a £2m marketing budget and licensing agent IMG lined up to rep the brand in key territories, Toikido’s first-ever in-house IP Piñata Smashlings has created an impressive buzz ahead of its 18 July launch on Roblox.
Neil Porter, the company’s head of creative, sat down with LicensingSource.net to tell us about the universe-building and storytelling behind the brand, and how for the Toikido team, creating the next craze is a family affair.
First off, can you tell us a little about your career history? How did you end up in the role you’re in now?
My background is in graphics. I was at Panini for a long time, working on sticker and trading card collections across Europe and globally, and also on the publishing side of things. I worked on anything from the Marvel Universe and Peppa Pig to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Harry Potter – brands that had really deep storytelling. Then I went to Moshi Monsters, which I absolutely loved. It was an incredible learning curve. I was working with some of the most talented people in the industry and getting a glimpse into the games industry as well.
Can you talk us through Piñata Smashlings? What’s it all about?
The game – which we’ve developed with our gaming partner, Supersocial – is aimed at nine- to 10-year-old girls, but boys aren’t excluded; there’s definitely something in there for everyone. [Watch the game trailer here.]
The Piñataverse we’ve created is a vast party map. There’s a Rainbow Whale that flies in the sky and drops Rainbow Pods. When they land they run off, and players have to catch them in their rainbow nets. Inside the pods are Smashlings – they’re these positive, super-fun party characters and they’re very, very cute.
It’s going to be a live game that will continue to grow. It has a really lovely narrative; it’s all about the party world, which is full of sweetness. But of course, there’s bitterness, too, in the form of Meañatas who want to capture Smashlings and turn them into mischievous creatures called Bashlings.
The initial concept came from our chief product officer, Jeff Hall. I feel like he’s the head and the brain of the brand. And then Anthony [Rule], our art director, is the ‘body’ – we joke that he has elves in his garden because he manages to create all the artwork so fast. I’ve written all the character bios and gone in-depth into the storytelling, fleshing out the Piñata Smashlings’ world, putting the soul into it and the meat on the bones, if you like.
Each Smashling character – there are over 100 so far – is different. They’re all listed in the Smashlings Collector’s Guide that Ladybird has created, which comes out in November. There’s something in there for adults as well, so if you’re reading it to your child, there are hopefully a few things that you’ll find funny. We’ve got Boarsy, for example, who’s kind of a second-hand car salesman. He lives in the Mecha Zone, and sells bumper cars to Smashlings. And there’s Marsh, an Unreasonable Snow Smashling who is very disagreeable…
Although Jeff came up with the concept for Piñata Smashlings, over about six months or so it’s grown into something completely different from the initial sketches and ideas. Our weekly brainstorming sessions have been fundamental, in that everybody has ownership and feels like they’re a part of the brand. For example, our head of marketing named some of the characters, and our head of product development shared an idea for featuring inflatable tube men, like the kind you get outside US gas stations – so now we’ve got a field of those in the game.
What kind of research did you conduct?
We did some research with a company called Kids Know Best; they tested our characters at a very early stage. On top of that, most of us are parents, and all our kids have been our best critics and guided a lot of the creative direction. Every time Anthony creates new characters, we show them to our kids and the feedback is incredible in that they are really picky and they will tell us if they don’t like something! When they come home from school, they’ve also been game-testing and feeding back. Their input into the characters and the wider Piñata Smashlings world has been amazing.
The comments we’re getting back indicate that there’s definitely a space for this at the moment. One of our partners was saying that there’s hasn’t been a craze for a while – and Piñata Smashlings certainly feels like it could be a craze kids will really get into. Everyone seems to be 100% behind it.
I think our energy, our enthusiasm and our culture has rubbed off on the industry to an extent. Certainly the partners that I’ve been talking to are excited and really want to work with us – they’re nice, fun people to do business with, and I think we are, too. It hopefully makes a huge difference to them to be working with people who are really proactive as well. If anybody needs anything, we’re very much, ‘Yes, we can do that!’.
Our toy range [plush, play-sets and collectables], by PMI, will launch in September this year, and Ladybird’s Smashlings Collector’s Guide will follow in November. Next year, we’ve got a full programme. We have four more Ladybird books coming out, and we’ve got stationery, bedding, apparel and greeting cards, with partners including Character World, Fashion UK, Danilo and Blueprint, lined up for 2024 – and that’s not just in this country, it’s global. There’s also an animated series in the works from kids’ entertainment studio Nelvana.
For the party-filled series 1 collectable toys that we’re launching in September, there’s over 70 characters to collect. We’ve already started creating the packaging ready for series 2, and begun working on series 3 of Smashlings characters. So we’re going to be busy.
The amazing thing about Toikido is that we’re building it from scratch. We’ve come such a long way in such a small amount of time. Darran [Garnham, Toikido’s founder] has created a really lovely company culture that brings out the best in people, from a creative point of view. And I think that’s how we’ve been able to move so quickly, because everybody’s extremely supportive. We’re all in it to help one another.
To find out more about licensing opportunities for Piñata Smashlings, contact email@example.com.