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Monopoly keeps growing at 80 with help from ‘Frozen’

Allison Prang
Bloomberg News

How do you keep a Depression-era board game like Monopoly growing after 80 years? Keep giving people a reason to buy a new one.

That’s been the strategy of Hasbro Inc., which has created hundreds of versions of the game in a bid for repeat shoppers. Special editions of Monopoly cover everything from the New England Patriots to “The Walking Dead” TV show. The best-selling variation currently on is based on Walt Disney Co.’s “Frozen.” (“Whoever collects the most cash will thaw their freezing heart and win.”)

Monopoly’s ceaseless reinvention has helped bolster demand in an era when kids are engrossed in smartphones and tablets. Sales of the product have climbed more than 15 percent in the past three years, and lately it’s been outperforming the rest of Hasbro’s board-game business. A key driver: a 2013 token contest that let people vote out one of Monopoly’s game pieces and choose a new one to take its place. After intense lobbying online, the cat replaced the iron.

“Since then, we really just started to build on that dialogue with our fan base and make sure we were listening to them and doing things with the game,” Jonathan Berkowitz, vice president of gaming marketing for Hasbro, said at this week’s Toy Fair in New York.

Monopoly, which celebrates its 80th birthday next month, is a bright spot in Hasbro’s sluggish games category. Total sales of the products fell 4 percent last year, with classic games such as Twister contributing to the decline, the company said earlier this month. That compares with 20 percent growth for its Boys category, a group that includes Nerf and Transformers.

Monopoly appeals more to collectors than some other games, in part because of the variety. Take Lauren Showers, a Monopoly fan in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The middle school teacher has six different types of the game.

“I just get a kick out of it,” the 23-year-old said.

Even so, the board-game business has seen “increasing volatility” over the past decade, said Sean McGowan, a toy-industry analyst at Needham & Co. in New York. Mobile devices are demanding more attention, and many families don’t have time for a game that can last hours.

Hasbro has developed Monopoly computer versions and mobile apps, but it also relies on technology to gauge what to do with its board games. Berkowitz’s team uses social-media accounts and quantitative studies to get feedback, as well as a “fun lab” where they test games on children, he said.

“We have a lot of kind of face-to-face testing and seeing how kids and families react to things,” Berkowitz said.

A new version called Monopoly Here and Now will replace Boardwalk and other properties with cities chosen by a BuzzFeed poll. The final list will be announced on March 19, Monopoly’s official birthday.

Even as Hasbro works harder to keep Monopoly fresh, it retains the allegiance of die-hard fans. That includes Dan Fernandez, a 63-year-old collector in Dove Creek, Colorado.

Every morning, he wakes up, gets his wife off to work, feeds his pets and goes straight to his computer. There, with a cup of black coffee, Fernandez scours EBay for Monopoly memorabilia. Though his collection is focused on older versions of the product, Fernandez thinks the game is still relevant today.

“It’s just a part of American culture,” he said.