Trends from Toyland: Duality in Play Experiences

With the tremendous success of Webkins, there is now a full court press in toyland to follow this successful marketing approach.  Barbie, Hot Wheels, Groovy Girls, Funkeys, Disney Fairies—everyone is looking for a way to gain a piece of this new play pattern where you buy a toy that then unlocks an on-line gaming experience.  School aged kids have always loved to collect things–there’s nothing new about this pattern of play.  Collection is often the key to being part of the group (in the olden days it was baseball cards).  For my middle school years–it was really about getting the right David Cassidy trading card.   The success of Webkins also pulls from Beanie babies in much the same way—there is also that “hard to locate” Webkin that drives many kids (and their parents) into a frenzy, much to the delight of on-line auction sites where the prices can get out of hand.Our initial testing feedback on U.B. Funkeys and Barbie.com has been positive. As one of our Barbie testers pointed out–”what’s not to like…it’s shopping and gaming, all in one”.   As much as many of us find pleasure in on-line shopping, tetris, solitaire (how much time can that consume in a day?), or other on-line activities–the same holds true for kids.  The experiences are almost instantaneously rewarding, the visuals are pleasing….and even though there are “educational” components to some sites, there isn’t alot of hard brain energy being expended–it’s just fun.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that as an activity — the problem arises when that’s all your child is doing, for hours on end.  Know too that these sites are really ads for buying more products.  While many of the sites do have free games, there are aspects that are only available if you buy more toys. For example, some accessories (and hair styles) for Barbie are only available if you have purchased products.  The way we used to watch tv for hours, kids are now multi-tasking on line while the tv is also on.  I recently sat down to watch tv with my teenage son and his friend–only to look up to see that we all had laptops going as well.  Is this a good thing?  That we weren’t glued to mindlessly watching a show?  Or, are we all so attuned to having multiple layers of entertainment – that the thought of just watching something is now just too boring?   

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