Bandai’s** clever marketing and awareness of Japanese social structures in the late 1990s undoubtedly had a hand in the extreme popularity of the Tamagotchi (a small, simple, egg-shaped toy). No detail was left to chance, even the name of the toy was a carefully constructed combination of the Japanese “tamago(たまご),” which means “egg,” and “-uotchi (ウオッチ)” a suffix meaning “to watch.” The result of the portmanteau was a word phonetically similar to “tomodachi (ともだち),” which means “friends.” According to Dead Media Archive, the toy reached global popularity because it catered to a human desire to nurture. Japanese kids wanted pets but their families either couldn’t afford them or didn’t have the time or space to keep them. The Tamagotchi’s constant care requirement filled the void. For adults, the appeal was similar. Those who wanted felt the need to nurture but didn’t have the resources to raise a child or a pet could purchase a Tamagotchi. The toys were portable and disposable, making them even more convenient. Simple design features made Tamagotchis easy to take care of and appealed to younger audiences, further adding to the toy’s popularity.
Marketing such a simple toy, of course, was no small feat. Bandai needed to convince the public that this seemingly insignificant toy was exactly what the public needed. The company handled this by emphasizing connection making. Consumers could connect with the toy on an intimate level (they could even name their pets, which Dead Media Archive interprets as an owner-property connection) and connect with their friends on a personal level. Children made a competition out of it- who ever owns the longest living pet is the winner (Dead Media Archive). Through this type of interaction, friends became closer and Tamagotchi sales skyrocketed. Surprisingly, the Tamagotchi’s fame was short-lived. After two years, sales had already started to fall.
The decline of the Tamagotchi had mostly to do with the controversies surrounding it. Though the toy was designed to be simple and portable, it was extremely time consuming. Older audiences grew frustrated that they could not leave their Tamagotchis alone for a few hours to fulfill their responsibilities (like going to work) without their beloved pet dying. Children, more interested in the toy than their schoolwork, spent more time caring for the pet than on their studies, prompting schools all over the world to ban the toy and irreparably damaging Tamagotchi sales.
While Dead Media Archive does mention the ongoing production of Tamagotchis, it fails to interpret this continued production in the context of declining sales. The Tamagotchi has been reinvented several times and in each new version, Bandai has incorporated more modern technologies into the toys in an attempt to bolster sales. Still clinging to the idea of connectivity, Bandai began to include mating, infrared technology and an internet community in Tamagotchi design. Mating forced two consumers to physically connect their devices to “mate” and create the same “Tamagotchi Baby” for each user to raise. Infrared technology not only allowed longer distance mating, but also allowed Tamagotchis to visit each other and play games together. Tamatown, the Tamagotchi internet community combined all the previous design elements and was one of the first handheld gaming devices to combine the use of the device with the use of the internet (the Nintendo DS came out slightly earlier with this feature, but it should be noted that Bandai and Nintendo have a partnership- there were several Tamagotchi games released on Nintendo platforms).
[Introduction of internet capabilities: American Tamagotchi V3 Commercial]
All of these evolutions increased social connectivity, but failed to return the Tamagotchi to its former glory.
Tamagotchis have failed to return to the high sales surrounding their original release because the niche they filled no longer exists. The toys were popular because people were looking for portable, constant companionship and entertainment. Now, mobile devices serve a variety of functions, including entertainment and social networking. Games (Candy Crush, Flappy Bird, etc) fulfill the entertainment need while Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging fulfill the companionship. These apps are more brightly colored and require less patience, therefore making them the obvious choice. Though Tamagotchis are still being reinvented and sold, newer handheld devices (like smartphones) have doomed them to a lifetime of sitting on museum shelves.
**Bandai is also known as Bandai Namco in the United States
Sources: Dead Media Archive: Tamagotchi , List of Tamagotchi Releases
Picture: Familitchi Blogspot