New Toys: The Changing Play

New Toys: The Changing Play

Children have changed the way they have fun - instead of toys and games, it's computers, and the stores are suffering.

Toy Insider

As with the once-great Sears, it was announced that Toys R Us has gone bankrupt, officially filing for Chapter 11. Now this isn't entirely a nail in the coffin, as Chapter 11 is done to be able to restructure the finances and work on finding ways to recoup the annual losses. In the Bloomberg report, one of the reasons their sales have been low is because children are moving away from actual toys and preferring things like iPads and video game consoles. And that's totally understandable, it is 2017 and technology is literally everywhere. However, this is not necessarily a good sign for the future, and it won't be long before kids don't even have access to physical toys and can get them via apps or downloads.

The slow switch from kids wanting the big toy of the year to wanting a gaming PC is a sign of the reliance we have, as a culture, developed on technology. I personally do not have a problem with video games or laptops or whatever else electronic that kids want – I play games regularly and write most of these on my laptop. But I also grew up with highly-detailed, poseable, and well crafted Star Wars action figures – and since 2013, Hasbro has focused on simple, “classic” style: limited movement, decent paint and design, but a focus on features. Of course they have access to the market researchers that can tell what the kids want to play with and what they don't, but it is sad that the mainline toys are of a lesser quality than what they were ten years ago – and yet they cost exactly the same. Perhaps that's just their way of a two-pronged approach, one line for kids, one line for adults. But at the same time, kids want to be able to completely reenact the scenes from the movie, and when the figure can barely move, that's not always the easiest thing. It also shows when kids would rather play with the Star Wars app or Battlefront to get their personal fix – which isn't really the fault of the company, just that of a changing society that focuses more on tech than on plastic.

Toys R Us is not the only toy company having financial issues. The Lego Group recently announced massive cuts to employees, laying off hundreds of workers from their factories in Denmark and China. Now this an even sadder question to ponder – why are they of all groups having issues with money? Once again, it's because of the fact that not everybody (read: not every kid with Internet access) wants to spend the time building the set step by step, they prefer to have instant satisfaction. Recently, Lego has been promoting their new app, Lego Life, where users can make a profile, watch cartoons based on Lego themes, play games and design sets, like a cross between YouTube, Facebook, and Lego Digital Designer. And a fun app isn't a problem, but children are moving away from the actual building with the bricks and instead using a program that has practically every brick right at their fingertips. Lego's adult fans can't keep the company afloat forever, and much like Star Wars toys, kids would rather use their phones than sit down and play with something that isn't connected to WiFi. Now, it should be noted that Lego hasn't filed for bankruptcy, but if their sales continue to fall and their product doesn't catch on as much with the kids, then it is entirely possible that the international company may face difficult times down the road.

Of course it's not just on the kids. Toys R Us has fallen in quality over the last few years, with many stores being unorganized, dirty, expensive, or hard to navigate (not unlike Walmart). The prices, which are usually exactly MSRP, are fine when an item first is released – but I've seen The Force Awakens X-Wings still on the shelves for the same price they were on release day in 2015, and most other big box stores had sold those all on heavily discounted prices before Rogue One came out. There is also a lack of toys based on STEM fields, the store primarily focusing on movie/TV/cartoon/comic tie-ins. Without promoting STEM as a future career, kids will not be exposed to the possibility of the different jobs and ideas within the sciences. Years ago, if you wanted to go get new toys, the best place was the mall-based chain KB Toys – always clean, organized, the employees knew what was going on and when, offered to help whenever necessary. Sadly, KB Toys went under and completely closed out by 2007, and the remaining stock was bought out by Toys R Us, along with the name. Maybe, to get some money coming in and help rebrand the image, they should bring back KB Toys as their take on an outlet store, selling discounted overstock, with a healthy amount of new product as well to keep the interests current.

We also look at the changing promotion of childhood in promotional material. Toys R Us hasn't played a commercial with the famous “I don't want to grow up, I'm a Toys R Us kid” jingle in years, and with the advent of products like Adblock, online ads on YouTube, Facebook, even (does that even still exist?) no longer show up if you don't want them to. Amazon has completely changed the face of shopping, where you can just go online and buy whatever you want without ever having to leave a single website. Kids' toys aren't advertised as much as they used to be – it's rare to see ads for Star Wars, superhero, or even Hot Wheels toys now, simply because they know that the target audience either isn't paying attention because they have an iPad or they already have seen reviews of said toys on YouTube. Why should a company spend millions of dollars on making ads for their product when there are people doing that for them already, and mostly for free too? Even the Lego ads have all but gone extinct, and those were some of the best ones during the dreaded commercial breaks between segments of SpongeBob Squarepants. Removing the ads remove the desire, and the kids don't know there's other things out there to play with.

Times have changed, and so haven't the kids. It is saddening to realize that within another decade, the concept of physical playthings will be lost on the children who were born into and grow up in a world run on technology, apps, games, and the Internet. Things like Lego, fidget spinners, yo-yos, Star Wars toys, and even Funko Pops, will become a thing of the past and sold in antique stores as something that future generations will be baffled by, asking “how did they play with these if they couldn't connect to the network?” The world is moving forward with advances in home electronics, and as I've said, I'm not against that at all – I still buy and collect toys, I'll admit it. But the problem is that we're raising a generation of children who don't care for being able to hold something in their hands and prefer to use their devices to play with computer-animated virtual toys that they can use until they run out of coins to use, causing them to try and get more. Whereas with a Lego set, a kid can build a city bus or a spaceship and have hours upon hours of imaginative play. We must nurture the imagination of children, not put them in front of a predetermined screen that plays the same thing to millions. Let the kids find their own stories and use toys and games to think and make up what they're playing. That's how Toys R Us can come back – by inspiring children to create.

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