Toy Buy or Not Toy Buy?

Worlds Apart, an English manufacturer of children’s lifestyle products, has created an online toy value calculator aimed at helping parents figure out the relative worth of various playthings.

You simply enter in a value of 1 through 5 for attributes such as whether the toy promotes individual play, play with others, creativity, utility, and the likelihood of the item’s being passed down to younger siblings. You then estimate the number of hours per week that the child may play with the toy, and a guess as to how many months the toy will last in the household. Finally, enter the price (the calculator asks for a price in UK pounds sterling, so just take an estimated Canadian or US price and cut it in half, which is close enough.) Voila! A numerical score for the toy or game in question, relative to other playthings.

This is, of course, a subjective exercise: what I consider to be a toy high on the “social” scale may not strike you thus, and vice versa, so that our scores for the same toy might be quite different. Still, it is the item’s rating relative to other items you are considering that counts. Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you would like to buy a doll for your child. You are hesitating between two dolls: one, an electronic marvel that speaks phrases in four languages and has a price of CAD$75.00 (or roughly £37.00). You estimate that your child, who is four, will play with this doll for two years, or 24 months, for about four hours per week. Entering these values into the calculator gave me an estimated play value of 43 for this doll.

The other doll is a fashion doll with no electronic components. She has hair that can be combed and brushed. You figure that the child will play with her for the same number of hours weekly, but possibly over a shorter period, since your previous experience has been that these dolls break or are discarded in just a few months. The price of this doll is CAD$20, or roughly £10. Entering these guess-timates into the calculator brings up a play value of only 34, based (I suppose) largely on the shorter lifespan of the toy.

It’s an interesting exercise, this attempt to pin down a quantitative idea of value in playthings. Something that is more expensive may not really be so, in the long run — for it may be a toy that is cherished for years, and passed down to younger siblings or even to children. A great toy’s value may be a question not of dollars per hour of play, but rather of hours of play per dollar.

Of course, this is not to say that more expensive toys are always the better buy — far from it. Still, you may be surprised to discover which toys your own estimated ratings rank most highly on the value scale!


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