Tuck study group ranks Holiday toys

by Grace D'Arcy | 11/26/07 2:19am

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GBaby Magnetic Play System by GeoMag was ranked the top tech toy for kids 9-24 months by a team from the Tuck School of Business.
by Courtesy of Toys R Us / The Dartmouth

Although the stereotypical Tuck Business School researcher may be focused on development in emerging economies or business administration, Tuck professor Eric Johnson and his team of students have turned their attention to a much lighter issue: what toys gift-givers should buy for the holidays.

Johnson led a group of three Tuck students -- Kate Reiling Tu'09, Adam Bulakowski Tu'08 and Shilpa Karnik Tu'08 -- in a study to determine this year's "Top Tech Toys." Johnson concentrated principally on how supply chain management affects information technology.

To develop the list of nine toys, the team focused on whether the "play value" that results from technology innovation can balance any increased cost. Play value, Johnson said, is defined as the length and extent of a child's "excitement for the cost."

"Does the technology really add a lot, does it add play value, or is just a gimmick?" Johnson said of what guided his choice of the toys.

Thousands of new toys are released every year with progressively more complex technology. The real challenge is innovating and improving the play value of a toy through technology, Johnson said.

After picking out their favorite toys, the team distributed them among children, professors and students for trial periods as long as a week, and then recorded the participants' reactions.

Reiling said that the difference between today's toys and those of the past are striking.

"It's also amazing to consider the difference between the toys I grew up with and the toys kids [today] will grow up with," Reiling said. "They will take for granted the integration of technology and play."

When asked why children today demand more of their toys than did children of the past, Johnson said, "I don't think kids demand technology. You just know it's cool. What they really demand is excitement."

Johnson said that one of the most exciting developments in toy technology in recent years is the "fusion of offline and online." This innovation is evident with "Easy Link," one of the toys on the group's list. Easy Link is an internet launch-pad that allows children to play with figures in front of them while interacting on pre-school appropriate websites to play online games.

Many of Johnson's picks for top toys have overtly educational purposes, though Johnson said this was not the study's primary concern.

"We lean toward active things," Johnson said. "We don't just focus on educational toys. There are a lot of educational toys that are kind of dopey."

All but three of the toys included on the list require active movement by children, from participation as moderate as walking to activities as strenuous as the athletics of "Cosmic Catch," an innovative technological take on the classic game of catch.

While these toys were tested on children to ensure entertainment value, pure entertainment or market success was not enough to land toys a spot on the list.

"You can just add noise to an old product, and who cares?," Johnson said. "What we're really looking for is innovative ways of using technology."

Hot Wheels Maniacs, however, was so entertaining for children that the team felt it had to make the list, Johnson explained. Although the toy is marked by a stereotypical portrayal of a rustic monster truck fan and involves the mutilation of the truck driver, Johnson said it was also impressively innovative.

"It was really the packaging of this one," Johnson said as he twirled around the monster truck in its packaging while the toy driver screamed for "more pain."

The price of the toys on the list hovers around $30, though Johnson said the group did not impose any price limit.

Choosing toys this season has become controversial not only because of price, but also as a result of the increasing recall of toys produced in China. Johnson said one of the most innovative toys on the list and one of his personal favorites, Aqua Dots, is produced in China and had to be removed from the list after it was recalled for mimicking the effects of date rape drugs once metabolized.

Johnson said the increase in recalls of toys produced in China is due to a combination of a drop in Chinese production standards and an increase in attention from the American media.

"I mean, practically all tech toys are from Southeast Asia," Johnson said. "If you were trying to avoid Chinese toys there wouldn't be much under the tree."

The top toys were Geomag's GBaby Magnetic Play System of magnetized shapes ($12.99); Fisher-Price's Easy Link Internet Launch Pad ($24.73); MGA Entertainment's plush robot dogs, Rescue Pets ($24.99); Mattel's Hot Wheels Maniacs ($29.99); a "Bionic Eye" that magnifies things on TV (JAKKS Pacific's EyeClops, $39.99); Hasbro's Cosmic Catch talking ball ($24.99); Bandai's Tamagotchi ($14.99), Tiger Electronics' Tooth Tunes toothbrush ($9.99); and Radica Games' Cube World of interactive digital cube characters ($24.99 for two).