Barbie, Beatles, guns to rule holiday toy roost

SEATTLE Thu Oct 1, 2009 10:30am EDT

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SEATTLE Oct 1 (Reuters) - Barbie "Fashionista" dolls, Nerf Blasters and the Beatles Rock Band video game are among the toys expected to fly off store shelves this holiday season as price remains king.

The 2009 "hot toys" list, released on Thursday, adhered to last year's pattern, with a majority of toys priced under $100. The list -- monitored closely by industry executives and analysts -- underscores how even indulgent parents continue to save money despite an economy showing signs of recovery.

The list, compiled annually by industry veterans Jim Silver and Christopher Byrne, included the life-like Elmo doll and Guitar Hero World Tour in 2008, both of which have sold well.

"Consumers are looking at price points a lot closer ... 99 percent of toys are under $100," said Silver, editor-in-chief of TimetoPlayMag.com, noting that shoppers wanted to be sure their money was well spent.

"They need to see the price-value relationship. You don't have a lot of toys over $200. There were a couple last year," said Silver, who with Byrne has compiled such a list for around a decade -- first with Toy Wishes magazine and now for their website TimetoPlayMag.com, which launched in 2008.

Toymakers, like many other retailers, rely on the pivotal holiday season for the bulk of their annual sales and rush to unveil new products they hope will win parents over.

After a bruising holiday season in 2008, toymakers have focused on making fewer and more affordable toys in past months as they try to entice frugal parents and their children back into stores.

But they may have their work cut out for them.

U.S. retail toy sales are down 2 percent for the 12 months ending August compared with the prior year, according to market research firm NPD Group.

Top toy maker Mattel Inc's (MAT.O) Rocky the Robot Truck and its older Dora doll also made this year's list. But its mind-control game, Mindflex, and $30 "Elmo Tickle Hands" gloves, which some other industry analysts had picked as top holiday toys, did not feature on Silver's and Byrne's.

In a step toward pleasing shoppers, some toy makers are coming up with cheaper, modified versions of specific items -- if consumers agree to sacrifice some bells and whistles.

The $60 tween Dora, for example, can be hooked up to the Internet to access more games and functions. A $20 version is identical except that it lacks that connectivity.

"Manufacturers realize that it is not one size fits all," Silver said.

While Hasbro Inc's HAS.N Transformers "Constructicon Devastator" battle vehicle rides the popularity of this summer's blockbuster movie, the Nerf Blaster toy gun was "just plain cool," Silver and Byrne said in their list.

Cepia's $8 toy hamsters Zhu Zhu Pets landed at the lower end of the list's price range.

But not all of the list smacked of economy.

Projected to be one of the hottest products this season was the Beatles Rock Band video game, distributed by Electronics Arts Inc ERTS.O, which could cost up to $250 depending on what a consumer buys.

Consumers may readily shell out that kind of cash thinking: "Not only is my kid gonna play with it, I am going to play with it," Silver said. (Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman; editing by Edwin Chan and Andre Grenon)

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