Playing in the kid toy headspace

The relationship between kids and toys is indeed a fickle one, and no one can predict with any kind of certainty what will be the 'it' toy of tomorrow. But to help cut down the guesswork, we checked in with the Reactorz kids to find out what's topping their playlists and where they're going to get the goods.
February 1, 2003

The relationship between kids and toys is indeed a fickle one, and no one can predict with any kind of certainty what will be the ‘it’ toy of tomorrow. But to help cut down the guesswork, we checked in with the Reactorz kids to find out what’s topping their playlists and where they’re going to get the goods.

But first, we took a look at the demographic parameters of play – and found that there really are none. In true Peter Pan style, our preteen panelists claimed they would never be too old for toys, and many cited their parents’ penchant for computer games as proof that one doesn’t ever outgrow the need for playtime. But when they were asked how much toy time they rack up on average, the vast majority of kids said they spend less than two hours a day playing with toys.

So what kinds of products are kids making time for? Beyblades, vid games of all kinds, Diva Starz, Lego, spy binoculars and stuffed animals ranked as the most popular toys among our Reactorz panelists. In terms of the gender divide, boys listed vid games as their hands-down favorite plaything, with titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Animal Crossing and various Mario Bros. games proving particularly sticky. Girls like vid games too, but they also spend time with classic board games such as Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue and Life, as well as Barbie, craft kits and Beanie Babies.

Toy play is definitely a social pastime, with our panelists overwhelmingly reporting that they prefer to play with friends and/or family members than by themselves. So kids will place a much higher value on toys that facilitate group play – i.e. console vid games (which are more likely to have multiplayer functionality than their computer game brethren), building sets like Lego and board games.

Another interesting finding is that kids appear to be tiring of toys based on TV and film properties. Many respondents said they just want their toys to be toys, without all the slapped-on tie-in elements. When we asked if there was a toy they’d like to see turned into a TV show, those who thought it was a good idea suggested Calvin and Hobbes, Diva Starz and Grand Champion Horses. And on the flipside, kids were into seeing new playthings based around The Simpsons and The Amanda Show. As far as film merch goes, kids seemed disinterested in toys based on most upcoming releases – with the exception of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (November 2003).

Toys ‘R’ Us, Wal-Mart and independent toy boutiques are kids’ favorite places to shop for play items, with TRU and Wal-Mart lauded for their wide selections and good prices. Toys ‘R’ Us isn’t the store of choice when it comes to buying video games and all the necessary equipment, however. Wal-Mart does a better job in this category, according to our panelists, followed closely by Best Buy and Future Shop. The Reactorz kids really enjoy retail environments in which toys are taken out of their packaging so they can be can be tested out by potential consumers. Dollar stores got a collective thumbs-down as kids’ least favorite toy source because their stock tends to be cheap and breaks easily.

Kid Insight: Marketers, producers and toy manufacturers should take note that kids are feeling inundated with TV/film merch. A few hot franchises like Harry Potter can still get them excited, but they’re more interested in toys that are fun in their own right.

What Kids Said

‘I enjoy playing my PS2 with my friends because we can play with two players at the same time, rather than having to take turns on the computer.’ (boy, 11)

‘I love Monopoly and Scrabble. They are lots of fun because my parents play with us, and my dad really gets into it.’ (girl, 8)

‘I don’t like playing by myself. I usually have sisters and brothers to play with.’ (girl, 11)

‘I don’t want to get rid of my Beanie Babies because I like to collect them.’ (boy, 10)

‘I think that TV should stay TV, and toys should stay toys.’ (girl, 12)

The topics explored in this monthly column are generated by the members of Reactorz, the youth-powered research engine of Big Orbit Inc. that helps companies find out what kids and young people ages seven to 22 are thinking, feeling and talking about. For more information about how Reactorz Research can help your business, please visit or contact Sean Bittle or Kelly Lynne Ashton at 416-516-0705 (by e-mail at

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