aNb Media News, June 11, 2018

ASTRA Elects New Members to Board

Members of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) elected three specialty toy industry leaders to its Executive Committee and four to its Board of Directors at ASTRA’s Marketplace & Academy in New Orleans. The new representatives are:


  • Christine Blumberg, CPE, Roberts Blumberg Giacobbe, Guilford, CT


  • Kevin McGrath, The Original Toy Company, Milford, CT


  • Amy Saldanha, CMR, CPE, kiddywampus, Hopkins, MN


  • Melissa Beese, CPE, Little Pnuts Toy Shoppe, New Orleans, LA
  • Betty Skoke Burns, Angellina’s Toy Boutique, Whitehorse, YT Canada
  • Jacqueline Killian, Beyond the Blackboard, Aurora, CO
  • Nick Tarzia, Stamford Toys, Stamford, CT

Dee Farrell, CPE, of Ann Williams Group of Bloomfield Hills, MI assumed the role of Chair of the ASTRA Board of Directors. She has served as Chair-elect for the past year.

“ASTRA is so fortunate to have committed professionals who volunteer their time to lead this important organization and generate innovative ways to help members grow their toy businesses,” says ASTRA President Kimberly Mosley. “ASTRA has always been member-driven, and our creative, engaged Board of Directors has always been one of our great strengths.”

Microsoft Doubles Down on Gaming Investment with New Acquisitions

At Microsoft’s Xbox E3 briefing on Sunday, Microsoft announced it is doubling its game development studios and showcased 52 games including 18 console launch exclusives and 15 world premieres.

The lineup included exclusives such as Forza Horizon 4, Halo Infinite and Gears 5; independent titles such as Session, Below, Ashen, and Tunic; and blockbuster games coming in the next year such as Fallout 76, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, Kingdom Hearts 3, Devil May Cry 5, Battlefield V, Metro Exodus, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

As part of its growth plans for game development, Microsoft adds five new creative teams to the Microsoft Studios family. New investments include the formation of a new studio, The Initiative; the acquisition of Playground Games; and letters of intent to acquire Ninja Theory, Undead Labs, and Compulsion Games.

Based in Santa Monica, Calif., The Initiative will be headed by industry veteran Darrell Gallagher and focus on the creation of new worlds, characters, and game experiences.

The UK-based Playground Games has been a Microsoft development partner since 2010 that helped grow the Forza franchise to new heights. In addition to its work on this year’s Forza Horizon 4, Playground Games will have a team dedicated to bringing its open-world expertise to a new project.

Ninja Theory and Microsoft first partnered in 2000 when Kung Fu Chaos was in development for the original Xbox and culminated in the release of Hellblade on Xbox One earlier this year. Microsoft’s intent to acquire Ninja Theory aims to ensure the creative team has the resources and freedom to bring more ambitious games such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice to market.

Seattle-based Undead Labs is the creator of the popular State of Decay franchise. In the first two weeks since State of Decay 2 launched, more than two million fans joined the fight to survive and took down more than two billion zombies. By entering into a letter of intent to acquire Undead Labs, Microsoft is signaling its commitment to growing the franchise.

As We Happy Few nears its full multi-platform release on August 10, Microsoft has entered into a letter of intent to acquire Montreal-based Compulsion Games. By joining the team at Microsoft Studios, Compulsion will have the resources, platform, and freedom to take even bigger creative risks and create even more ambitious worlds with its future projects.

Cartoon Network Launches Africa Creative Lab

Cartoon Network Africa has announced the launch of its brand new initiative, Cartoon Network Africa Creative Lab, an African venture designed to bring local short-form content to the channel and its digital platforms, while reinforcing the local relevance of the brand.

The initiative was made to encourage African talents—creators, writers, graphic artists, animation students, etc.— to explore their creative, animation, and production talents and have the chance to produce a short-form animated comedy for Cartoon Network Africa and its digital platforms in 2019.

Entries for the Cartoon Network Africa Creative Lab are open now through August 31, 2018 across Africa. For more details, visit

Panda Mony Launches New Toy Line at ASTRA

Panda Mony will launch a new line of action figures at ASTRA Marketplace 2018. Alter Nation, features a team of heroes who are animal-human hybrids with supernatural abilities raised in seclusion on a military base on an island off the coast of California under the eye of Colonel Stone. The hybrid-humans are told that the outside world is hostile to them because of their condition, but soon discover they’re being lied to when GK Alpha, an early experiment, returns to exact revenge on the military. Our heroes are torn between saving humanity and their own independence.

The line will include six hero characters, two villains, and 12 lab animals that are genetically combined animals and serve as pets. The characters range in size from two-inch lab animals to seven-inch premium figures. The line will launch in 2019.

eOne Reveals First Peppa Pig World of Play

Entertainment One (eOne) and Merlin Entertainments (Merlin) announced plans for the first Peppa Pig World of Play. The standalone indoor attraction will bring to life eOne’s preschool TV property in a series of interactive play areas. The first locations will be Shanghai’s LC Mall, which is set to open later this year, and the Grapevine Mills in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, which is targeted to open in early 2019.

Additional Peppa Pig World of Play sites have been secured in Beijing, as well as Michigan and the New York area, which are also planned to open in 2019.

Peppa Pig World of Play seeks to give preschoolers an opportunity to step into the world of Peppa Pig in an immersive play environment packed with family-inclusive activities. With a design concept adaptable to different spaces, Peppa Pig World is Play will feature 10 play areas. Merlin will build and operate the themed attractions under an exclusive multi-territory licensing agreement with eOne.

Earlier this year, Merlin launched two in-park dedicated brand areas at Gardaland, Italy and Heide Park, Germany as well as Peppa Pig-themed accommodation at both Resort Theme Parks.