What makes a great toy?

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In my last posting, I challenged our major retailers to provide consumers with a “Great Toy List” rather than a “Hot Toy List.”  I proposed that these lists put too much emphasis on what “sells well” and not enough on what “plays well.”
  Retailers could provide a great service to gift givers and receivers by directing parents, grandparents and other gift givers to toys that give a lifetime of pleasure rather than a moment of excitement.

Hermes-ball-glove-580cs020510 As I wrote it, I began to think about what constitutes a great toy or game.  So much of the joy of play is subjective that I pondered whether it would be possible to objectify the experience.  My conclusion was that though much of a person’s interaction with a toy or game is indeed unique to them; much is also is common to the bulk of the population.

So, with that in mind, here is my list of the qualities of a great toy:

1.    A memory that lasts a lifetime.

When you speak to someone who had a favorite toy or game, they not only remember the toy but they vividly remember playing with it. Give them some time and they will recount their experiences, alone or with others, around that plaything.  All I can tell you is that I still have a powerful memory of playing spinner hockey and leveling a slap shot that was so accurate and so powerfully hit that it went in the goal like a laser beam.  I love that game, I love that memory; what a great toy.

2.    A physical sensory experience

A great toy or game typically has a sensory experience.  It can be the rattling buzz of an electric football70%20jack%20rocks  game, the vinyl smell of a doll or the look and feel of a Monopoly piece.  These sensory experiences play a big part in creating the memory trace that stays long after the toy has disappeared.

3.    Scalable fun

Great toys provide scalable fun.  What I mean by that is they can have an extended life because they grow with the child or adult.  As the player becomes more physically and / or mentally adept, they bring more value to the toy itself.  In short they get better which means that a great toy should be able to expand its challenge at the same time the player is expanding their skill level.  This can be achieved by offering graduated skill levels or by including more complex rule alternatives.

Jumprope 4.    A legacy

Great toys last!  They are constructed in such a way that they don’t fall apart with just a few play experiences.  The really great toys get passed down from sibling to sibling and from generation to generation.  Great enough and they will end up on Antiques Roadshow and sell for a small fortune.  Just remember that they got there because they were physically durable and someone could not stand to throw them out.

If you have a moment, let us know what you think are the elements of a great toy.  If we share them, perhaps we can, as a group or individuals, determine which new toys fit those criteria. 

5 thoughts

  1. Hi… I grew up with a game that my mom devised to motovate me to spell and learn words. After many years I developed,produce and market the game: http://www.WORD-ROULETTE.com
    In June,I won 1st place at INPEX (inventors
    expo) and won placement in the SkyMall mag.
    on airlines for the Holiday issue for 2010.
    So all the elements you spoke of in this artical and the “Using Games to Teach SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL Competence”, is true! Tony

  2. In addition to looking for lasting play value, I like toys that are wholesome, that help my son grow. Not necessarily overtly trying to teach, like Leapfrog, but toys that excite his imagination, develop his sense of wonder, or help him explore the world.
    Recent favorite purchases for my 2 year old:
    1 pound dumbbells so I can include him in my exercise routine instead of excluding him.
    A frog.
    Etch a sketch

  3. I really enjoyed this article. One factor I would add to the list is “Belonging”. I think a great toy also gives the user a feeling of belonging to a group. This can be covered under the factor of Legacy, as in being part of the Legacy of a toy or game.

  4. A pack of card fits your four points plus it is so portable, can be played alone or with others, and in groups and teams. And there are so many games that can be played with a single pack of cards.
    Another important part of a toy’s value is the underlying learning process, whether this is the joy and satisfaction of mastering a skill, how to play and collaborate in a group and as part of a team, etc..
    I am particularly interested in this discussion as we are developing 3D haptic (virtual touch) sketch/modelling software that we would like to see considered as a great ‘toy’ for creativity that is also valuable through to professional level as well. And it fits all your points which is important.

  5. WIffle Ball and Bat provides great memories with my Dad as a kid learning to hit the ball in the backyard yet also drums memories of backyard tournaments with neighborhood friends as I got older. Very simple toy and very inexpensive, but lots of enduring fun.

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