by Lesley Salem, Senior Research Director
As a keen observer of kids’ trends over the past couple of decades, Lesley Salem’s noticed very little shift in the play drivers behind children’s gift choices – particularly at Christmas time. Of course, technology is ever-present and impacting on toy design. However, much of what’s on this year’s wish lists are merely iterations of traditional play…
Promoting care and nurture
Kids develop their understanding of other’s needs, and demonstrate love and care, through role-play. Therefore, dolls and animals have always dominated in children’s play choices. AI and robotic technology have transformed the market, so today’s toys are able to learn, evolve, and be more responsive to their owner. Young children have animistic thinking and believe objects are living, so AI and robotics have created more realism and are able to inspire loving moments and emotional bonds with children by responding to touch.
Popular examples include Luvabella Doll which has over 100 phrases and different facial expressions, Zoomer Chimp and FurReal’s Roarin’ Tyler the Playful Tiger learn commands and tricks over time, encouraging longevity of play. These kind of toys are not ‘just for Christmas’.
Promoting fantasy play and safe risk-taking
Some parents might feel uncomfortable purchasing toy weapons but it’s natural instinct (particularly for boys) to enjoy fantasy play involving weapons and super hero role play. It’s critical to their development with regards to safe risk-taking. It also allows kids to feel empowered in a world where they have little control.
Nerf guns continue to storm in sales but desire for action and love of cars are combined with this season’s Nerf Nitro LongShot Smash. Kids can design their own stunts and fire foam cars with powerful, high-performing Nerf blasters. The set includes two foam cars, plus a long-jump ramp for long-distance jumping challenges. Lazer X is another game expected to do well this Xmas and is a twist on laser tag. The set is designed for two players. Each player wears a chest plate that has energy for 10 lives. The experience is likened to being inside a video arcade game with various features that stimulate the senses.
Star Wars continues to be a popular franchise and with Hasbro’s Bladebuilders, users can choose between being a goodie or baddie and customise their weaponry in over 100 different combinations.
The joy of the unexpected
More than ever, kids love games that have an element of surprise or randomness in them to provide unexpected, shared experiences. Combined with humour, games like Pie Face and Toilet Trouble (both by Hasbro), work on the principle that after some time, one unlucky player will either get whipped cream or toilet water splashed on their face. Other toys are also tapping into the idea of surprise. L.O.L. Surprise! by MGA Entertainment is expected to surge this Christmas. Kids are encouraged to peel through layers to reveal treats and accessories before reaching a mystery doll in the middle. As there are so many different combinations, this has also increased its value as a collectable. Then there’s Hatchimals Surprise by Spin Master Toys; small eggs that hatch over time to reveal a unique animal inside.
The lines between education and entertainment have merged, so edutainment is an important trend to the toy industry. LEGO Boost allows kids to build and code interactive, motorised robots and models with distance, colour, and tilt sensor technologies.
Mattel’s Bloxels allows kids to create and animate play spaces, characters and objects, enabling them to become the artist, game designer, storyteller, programmer, publisher and player in their very own virtual reality.
Cozmo by Anki joins a range of friendly robots that explore the environment, repeat phrases said by their owner, and show off their epic moves. Kids can take advantage of Cozmo’s Code Lab feature which enhances its movements, actions, and animations. SAM Labs is a bit like Meccano for the internet generation. It teaches kids how to code and also develops STEM skills. It includes a light sensor, a tilt sensor, a motor and buzzer.
Kids are growing up in the selfie era, following YouTubers and watching talent shows, so it’s no surprise to see a rise in toys that promote kids’ starring performances. DreamWorks’ Trolls Selfie Karaoke Mic Stand and VTech’s Kidi Super Star are definitely something the parents can mess around with when the kids have gone to sleep!
What about gender neutral?
With all the chat this year on the importance of promoting gender neutrality in play, there’s little evidence of this in toy packaging this Christmas. Cars, weapons, and gaming toys still feature traditional ‘boy’ colours and male models whilst dolls and performance toys come in pinks and purples with female models on the packaging. The reality is, from our research, that whilst girls are more open in their play choices, boys are very traditional and steer clear of anything that has a hint of ‘girl’ on it. Media, parents, schooling and other cultural/socialisation mechanics have a long way to go to make play more gender neutral.