Archive for the 'Virtual Worlds' Category

Children’s Virtual Worlds — Sliced and Diced

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

[The following is an article I wrote for the July 2011 issue of Children’s Technology Review. If you’re interested in learning more about my recent virtual world research, you can purchase an expanded report by emailing me at scott (at) 360KID (dot) com with “Virtual World Research Report” in the Subject line. My next quarterly report will be completed on July 20, 2011]

The Top 20 Kid and Tween Virtual World and MMO destinations which include Wizard 101, Poptropica, Webkinz, Club Penguin, Fantage, Moshi Monsters, Minecraft, Monkey Quest, Jumpstart, NeoPets, Toon Town, Pixie Hollow, Roblox, PetPetPark, Build-a-bearville, Ourworld, Clone Wars Adventures, Pirates of the Caribbean, Happy Meal, FreeRealms

It’s been amazing to watch the virtual world (VW) space grow by leaps and bounds over such a short time. Using unique user traffic as a yardstick, the virtual world and massively multiplayer online (MMO) space increased more than 50% last year. Compare that with 15% for the prior year (in the US). The first thing to note is that traffic patterns seem to follow a seasonal rise and fall. Traffic increases from spring to early summer only to drop significantly when school starts in September. Then, as the holiday season approaches, it peaks before dropping off again in the new year.

WHAT’S HOT? The most popular destinations for both kids and adults are “casual gaming” destinations. For kids and tweens, that means Wizard 101, Poptropica, Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters (which was just valued at $200 million). While social and chat-based destinations like IMVU and Hi5 fall in second place for the young adult and older crowd, destinations that have a toy tie-in or real world connection, like Webkinz and Build-A-Bearville hold second place for kids and tweens. However, this VW/MMO type has been on a slow two-year decline, largely as a result of Webkinz loosing significant marketshare over that period, to newcomers like Wizard 101 and Poptropica. While Club Penguin has dropped in placement on the best top 10 list for kids, it has done a surprisingly good job of maintaining marketshare, loosing only a small percentage compared to Webkinz.

Two destinations have really taken off. Minecraft, a “better than LEGO Universe” online building (or “crafting”) world that appeals to both boys and girls is growing at an amazing rate globally. The funny thing about Minecraft is that it is still in public Beta! It’s not even a fully released product yet. (Note to execs, learn from this product’s creative expression thinking AND business model!) If you are not yet familiar with this low res, yesteryear looking world, tonight’s homework is to get familiar with it, NOW. Educators should note that teachers are beginning to create lesson plans around Minecraft’s in-world building activities. The second destination of note is Nickelodeon’s latest virtual world offering, Monkey Quest. This new 3D world is also growing quickly since its launch earlier this year and you can’t miss the advertising on Nickelodeon cable channels throughout the day. It’s a world that spent more than a couple of years in development and the polish shows now that it’s ready for prime time.

As we head into the summer months, the kids VW/MMO industry typically assumes that as the dog days of summer drag on, kids will become bored and start to gravitate to virtual world activities from the indoor comfort of an air conditioned room. If you watch any amount of children’s commercial television during the summer you can’t help notice the number of virtual world advertisements. However, while it is unclear if subscription rates actually rise during the summer months, unique traffic to kids VW/MMOs actually falls through July and August, especially in the casual gaming sector and in the toy and web connect space, an interesting trend that goes against popular belief.

What about education-based destinations? You might imagine these kind of sites have some appeal with younger audiences and kids, right? While the casual gaming space has captured almost 34% of all VW/MMO traffic, educational destinations hold less than 6% for all ages, and only 4.4% of all traffic for the top 20 kid and tween educational destinations. Out of this list, a majority share of traffic goes to Knowledge Adventure’s JumpStart and their new and fast growing world Math Blaster. Almost all other destinations show small numbers in comparison.

As I look back on the virtual world and MMO data I have collected over the past five years one thing is certain; expect to see many more virtual worlds launching in the months and years ahead. I remember a few years ago hearing one day there will be over 300 virtual worlds globally. I remember thinking “that’s impossible, we will never have that many.” Well, that day has recently come and gone. I continue to add another ten destinations to my list every month. Adding more new worlds to the existing list of players will create challenges for everyone in this field, pushing all players to continually improve, build out, and try to hold onto market share. Ultimately it will be the children and their parents that will benefit. Each new world that launches raises the bar for quality, engagement, innovation and ultimately, access. That’s the good for kids, but it presents an ongoing challenge for publishers who choose to play in the virtual space.

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Club Penguin Founder Discusses Disney’s Latest, World of Cars

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Rachel DiPaola, Lane Merrifield of Disney Interactive Studios and the launch of World of Cars

Start your engines! Disney’s newest virtual world, World of Cars, is at the starting gate! World of Cars recently went live and is the latest online community for kids. The LA Times posted a great interview with Rachel DiPaola (shown in photo above) who is the Product Director for Disney Online and commander in chief for Cars Online. Reading the piece reminded me that just a few months earlier I had a conversation with Lane Merrifield (also in photo above) about Cars. Merrifield, founder of Club Penguin, now oversees all virtual worlds for Disney. Below are highlights from our conversation together as he discusses the thinking behind Cars Online. This interview was conducted in the Spring of 2010 and has been edited for clarity purposes.


In our last interview together, Club Penguin had just been acquired by Disney. Today you’re in charge of all virtual worlds for Disney. How many virtual worlds are you managing?

You were made the Executive Vice President of Disney Online Studio. Where do you start with this role?

What makes World of Cars unique compared to other virtual worlds?

What 3D solution are you using for Cars, Unity?

Was John Lasseter involved with this project?

In addition to Cars Online, what else can Cars fans look forward to in the near future?


Scott Traylor: In our last interview together, Club Penguin had just been acquired by Disney in August of 2007. Today you’re in charge of all virtual worlds for Disney. How many virtual worlds are you currently managing?

Lane Merrifield: We have four actively launched virtual worlds. ToonTown was the first, Pirates of the Caribbean Online, Pixie Hollow, Club Penguin, and soon to be World of Cars. That’s four live currently with a fifth virtual world actively being worked on. It’s a lot of worlds to manage, but we have really strong teams who own the product, who are passionate about it, and passionate about their audience. For me, I’m less inclined to feel like I have to manage the worlds themselves, and more inclined to make sure that the values are lined up, the priorities are right, the expectations on quality are consistent. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: You’re under Disney’s wing now, which was nothing unfamiliar to you since you first worked in the parks at Disney as a teenager. You’re brought on as the Executive Vice President of Disney Online. Where do you start with this role? Do you focus on business models for these virtual worlds? Do you coordinate branding? Do you modify these virtual worlds to meet the business objectives of Disney Online or maybe the entire Disney enterprise?

Merrifield: When I first came onboard, almost all of these worlds, with the exception of Cars, had already been launched. So all of them had a nature. They were all in different parts of their life cycle. Some were struggling a little more than others. Pirates, which had great content, was not technically functioning as well as it could. It wasn’t working well on all machines. The team had reached pretty far with what they could do technically, but as a result, had made the site less accessible. For Pirates, we put a halt on a lot of new development, went back to the drawing board, and retooled to get it to a place where it is now. Recently we started to move the content ahead again, and the experience is far more accessible. You can play it in a browser now. Anyway, these virtual worlds are all on different paths, and a lot of my focus has been stepping in, bring the two studios together (the Club Penguin studio in Kelowna, now called Disneyland Studios Canada, together with the Disneyland Studios LA,) and bring together a lot of shared learning.

It’s interesting, the two studios are almost identical in size, although one was focused on just one product and the numerous facets of that product, and the other was focused on multiple products. One studio wasn’t involved with as many languages. The other wasn’t as tied into their consumer products and other things. One was driving very deep, and the other was focused on all the pieces. Internationally, Club Penguin was really leading the way, and now the infrastructure that we developed for Club Penguin is going to allow all of our virtual worlds to be able to grow internationally in the same way that Club Penguin did. The sharing between the two studios has been a great cross learning experience. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: What makes World of Cars unique compared to other virtual worlds that compete in the same space?

Merrifield: Well the most obvious is that it starts from such a strong place in terms of its intellectual property. People know the product, people know the characters, they know what Radiator Springs should look like and feel like, although they haven’t necessarily experienced it like this before. There’s great strength in that, but it’s also a double-edged sword. It means people’s expectations are going to be higher. We already had a head start in the narrative, and in the environment and the characters. I don’t like to focus on the technology, but we’ve also created a way of doing 3D in Flash that’s pretty unique and different from Papervision and some of the other technologies out there. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: The front-end is in 3D using Flash? You’re not using Unity?

Merrifield: We’re using Flash, at least until some of these other tools get to the same adoption rate. Our goal is never to try and perpetuate the technology. We’d rather come in behind it once it’s already reached a significant adoption level. This is not to say we’re not looking at all of these other new tools, playing with all of them. Just the same, we’re not locked into Flash either.

We always talk about being technologically agnostic. That’s a big focus for us. It’s difficult to bring a Pixar 3D movie to life in 2D. Not to say we didn’t experiment with it, but it just wasn’t the same thing. The character of the cars, and the ability to bring them to life, and the way they are articulated, we knew we had to address that problem. And yet, the requirement was always not to chase technology. If we’re going to do it in 3D, it has to have a 98 percent install base, which is what Flash has. It was a tough challenge, but the team rose to it. In part, it’s also why we’re making sure everything will work right for the launch. This is a technology approach that hasn’t been done before. We need to make sure when there are 60 cars driving around on the same page at the same time, that it’s still as strong an experience as if there were just two cars driving on screen. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: Was John Lasseter involved with this project?

Merrifield: Yeah, John’s been pretty involved. He would do check in meetings throughout. He also has the dedicated gurus of Cars at Pixar who are involved in work on Cars II and the Cars Land Experience. The relationship has not been like a licensing situation where we say “Okay, can you tell us everything about Cars, and we’ll go make it.” It’s been a real collaboration. In fact, there are elements of what we’ve created that are being incorporated into the Cars manual, the Cars bible. Some point down the road, it could be incorporated into future movies or theme parks or whatever else. It’s neat to see this. It’s a collaborative effort, more than it is one way. John’s been a big fan, and he’s very interested in this because it presents a new medium for storytelling. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: What you have shared with me so far is that there’s a new Cars Virtual World, a new physical world theme park called Cars Land, you’re also talking about the next Cars movie. I’m seeing a “tent pole” approach with the Cars brand that has many different elements circling around that center pole. Fans of the Cars franchise are soon to see much more than just the Cars virtual world, is that correct?

Merrifield: There is a lot of cool stuff coming out. The neat thing about everything you mention is that the center pole IS the story and IS the narrative. People sometimes say, “The virtual world is the connection point.” The Internet may be the connection, the vehicle, and Cars Online will be a browser experience. However, as devices get more and more connected and smarter, as we connect more with mobile, as we connect more with console games, as we connect more with the physical environment, my hope is that this next evolution of engaging with the Cars franchise will be more about this connected experience. Disney has been making similar connections from a franchise perspective for years. It’s not just about the replayability of these various experiences. It’s really about one continuous story across multiple experiences. (Return to Question Picker)

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2010 Trends for Tech Toys and Virtual Worlds

Friday, March 12th, 2010

The virtual world conference Engage Expo was held at the same time and same location as the annual NY Toy Fair

In mid-February, the annual New York Toy Fair held their conference at the same time as the virtual world conference called Engage Expo. Both industries compete for kids’ interest and at times, even collaborate in engaging them through both online and offline play. The two conferences offered a rare opportunity to hear how both industries are thinking about engaging kids through digital play.

At the end of both of these events, a number of industry experts gathered together to discuss key trends with kids, technology, virtual worlds, and play. What were some of the key findings for 2010? Less virtual world announcements. Deeper virtual world experiences. Less technology toy announcements. Lower price points across all products. Less “watch me” toys. More touch screens for tech products that were screen-based. The desire by kids to stop being “micro-paymented” to death.

These and other trends can be heard in the video recording of this group get-together offered below. Also included in the video are photos of new products announced at the show that you will see rolled out later in 2010.

For those who would like to simply cut to the chase, I’ve also included a look up table below to find the location within this video where the group talks about specific products you’re interested in. After you’re done viewing, share your thoughts about what key trends you see in the world of digital play. Enjoy!

Maker Product Time
Air Hogs Gravity Laser 21’14” N
Ami Entertainment
My Ami 36’20” Y
Apisphere Geomate Jr. 11’29”, 35’45” Y
Apple iPhone/iTouch 12’15”, 33’29” Y
Beamz Interactive The Beamz 22’52”, 25’42” Y
Big W Productions FaceChipz 38’24” N
Disney World of Cars Online 3’55”, 14’34” Y
Disney Clickables 38’26” N
Disney Club Penguin 4’35”, 14’38”, 40’24” N
DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda World 3’48”, 4’56”, 14’36” Y
Facebook Facebook 33’39”, 39’10” N
Fat Brain Toys Erector sets 2’44” N
Fisher-Price Dance Star Mickey 22’22”, 45’12” Y
Fisher-Price Red Rover 32’20” Y
Fisher-Price Follow Me Thomas 21’23” Y
Fisher-Price Elmo Live! 45’22” N
Fisher-Price Tickle Me Elmo 45’31” N
Fisher-Price Frightening McMean
Talking Truck
44’17” Y
Fisher-Price iXL 18’13”, 20’59” Y
Flipoutz Flipoutz 8’23”, 37’48” Y
Gamewright Rory’s Story Cubes 30’04” Y
GeoPalz GeoPalz 9’28” Y
BigBoing Gnomads 38’35” N
TDC Games Green Pieces 42’19” Y
Gyrobike Gyrowheel 10’48”, 13’09” Y
Hairy Entertainment Elf Island 37’31” N
Hairy Entertainment Xeko 37’25” N
Hasbro Scrabble Flash 23’07” Y
Hasbro 75th Anniversary Monopoly 27’40” Y
iToys Me2 9’35” N
Jacabee Jacabee Code 15’21” N
Jakks Pacific Spy Watch 19″31″, 19’59” Y
Jakks Pacific EyeClops (Spy Net) 19’50 N
KidsGive Karito Kids 42’42 N
LeapFrog Leapster 2 18’22” N
Lego Creationary 24’57”, 25’20” Y
Lionel Lionel Trains 2’10”, 2’41” N
Mattel Avatar i-Tag
Augmented Reality cards
39’48” Y
Mattel Loopz 22’49”, 25’58”, 26’56” Y
Mattel Mind Flex 22’40” N
Nintendo Nintendo DS 18’24” N
Paricon Sleds Flexible Flyer Sled 1’57”, 2’39” N
Rio Grande Games Dominion 43’47” N
Rio Grande Games Settlers of Katan 43’45” N
Rixty Rixty 35’25” Y
Scribble mats Scribble mats 16’45” N
Shidonni Shidonni 29’47” Y
Smith & Tinker Nanover 33’24”, 39’59” N
Swinxs Swinxs 11’21”, 32’14”, 36’06”,
Techno Source Rubik’s Slide 11’08”, 11’26”, 11’53”,
Techno Source Rubik’s Touchcube 45’45” N
ThinkGeek Guitar Tshirt 26’31” Y
TCKL Drip Drops 28’50” Y
Topps Augmented Reality
Baseball Cards
39’47” Y
TV Hat TV Hat 26’07”, 36’11” Y
Obvious Twitter 10’12”, 33’08” N
Uncle Milton Pet’s Eye View Camera 9’57” N
Uncle Milton Star Wars Force Trainer 22’42” N
University Games Brain Quest Smart 28’13” Y
VTech Flip 18’09”, 21’03” Y
VTech MobiGo 18’34” Y
VTech Submarine Learning Boat 44’23” Y
VTech Musical Bubbles Octopus 44’46 Y
Where’s George Where’s George 38’43” N
Wild Planet Hyper Dash Extreme 32’24” Y
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James Paul Gee on Video Games and Learning

Monday, December 28th, 2009

James Paul Gee, noted expert on video games and learning

If you’re attending a conference on forward thinking ways to help kids learn, or maybe an event on learning through video games, chances are you will be listening to thoughts offered by James Paul Gee. Dr. Gee is a noted expert on the topic of video games and learning. He is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University and is a member of the National Academy of Education. His work has been published widely in journals in linguistics, psychology, the social sciences and education. Dr. Gee’s recent book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy argues that good video games are designed to enhance learning through effective learning principles supported by research in the Learning Sciences. His new book, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning, written with Elisabeth R Hayes, will be available this coming May, 2010. At the recent Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age conference held at the Google headquarters, I had the opportunity to speak with James. You can view a short video of my interview with Dr. Gee on the Cooney Center YouTube channel or read the complete interview below. Portions of this interview were edited for clarity:


What successes do you see in the learning games movement?

Why do you think games are not perceived as effective learning tools?

Would a funding approach that is similar to public television be a good model for the learning games industry?

What excites you when you see kids developing their own games?

How are learning games best used to accelerate learning?


Scott Traylor: Where do you think things stand today with the learning games movement? What successes do you see?

James Paul Gee: Successes have been slow in coming, much more slowly than I would have thought, but they are coming. What I’m seeing is the beginning of noncommercial games for learning.

Looking back on the gaming industry, developers made products that were expectable, products that were designed by baby boomers and made by principles of instructional technology. These games didn’t break the mold, and didn’t break out of a pattern. They were not good games and did not include good learning. Today we’re beginning to see games being developed by young game designers who understand learning and understand game design. They’re making good games, and they are making things that work. Over the next few years we’re going to see a real explosion in better products. Some of this has to do with the appearance of the independent game studios. In the commercial world the independent games community has been very slow to develop. For a while there really was none, but now with downloading services across all major platforms, you’re seeing many independent games being developed. Games like Flower and Braid, made with relatively small budgets, but they are really top games. Independent games like these are doing as well as many of the commercial games out on the market, and they’re setting the standard for so called “serious games,” games that have the ability to teach. If we can make commercial games that are as good as Flower or Braid for a modest budget, we certainly can make games in the learning sphere that are equally as good. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: Why do you think games are not perceived as effective learning tools?

Gee: I think the major reasons are cultural, along with the slow development of an independent game industry, but also the power of baby boomers. People of my age, baby boomers, have theories and are in relatively solid positions in institutions. They get to call the shots, but this is a changed world. We’re talking about learning and using technologies that people under thirty know a lot more about. It’s not surprising when they apply our theories and do a better job than when we applied our theories. I think that’s all good, we need to release that creative energy.

The other thing you touch on, and it’s a very serious matter, is that we really don’t have many new business models. Think about it. We’re trying to make things that do social good, but if the social good is done for free, it dies when the grant ends. Right? We now realize we have to think about how to make products that can go on for a long period of time, and at some level earn enough money to sustain themselves while still doing social good. Lots of people are now thinking about how we can create new and innovative business models so that everybody wins. Models that allow people to make enough money and at the same time spur new businesses, new enterprises to open up, models which will help everybody benefit. Until we really get that down, what you’ll end up seeing are products that are made on government dollars that die the day the grant is over. The same is true with academic research, the day the grant money stops coming in the research stops. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: Would you suggest a financial approach that is similar to public television? Would that be a good model for growing a learning games industry?

Gee: There’s going be a whole new set of models. Open source, the public sharing of programming resources, is one very important area. A public television model around games that would include both design workshops as well as giving out products, and also encouraging consumers to make products, would certainly be one model. We just have to have new models for new businesses. There are going to be “double bottom line” businesses; businesses that are committed to social good by solving our educational problems but these same businesses would be committed to making money. Making money not just to enrich individuals, but to also keep the social good going. There are a number of models we can think of for that. As is true of many academics, we didn’t think that business models were important. Now people are starting to see that business models are needed to bring about long-term impact. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: What excites you when you see kids developing their own games?

Gee: I’m excited that so many young people today are taking gaming beyond gaming. They’re not just playing games. They’re making games. They’re designing things for games. They’re setting up discussions and guilds and websites around games. They’re learning new software, software that contributes to these sites and discussions and products. And very often, they organize themselves into learning communities to do all of this. Their passion for learning in these communities grows beyond their passion for the games themselves. In other words, it’s a trajectory towards learning communities, and towards thinking like a designer, and producing, and not just consuming, that some of our best games give rise to.

The video game Spore is a great example. Spore is designed so that you play, and then you design, and then you play, and you join a community, and you get the products you have designed to appear within the game, and then you design with others collaboratively. This game provides very good tools to do that. Anyone, from the very young to the very old, can play.

Another great example is the game Little Big Planet. There’s a whole bunch of products coming out that say why don’t you see playing and designing as things you can do together in a game. These things are integrated together, so the game becomes as much your product as it is ours, and becomes a community event and not just an individual event. The lessons here for education are massive, because it means we’re going have to start designing, not just pieces of software, but ways for people to set up learning communities that they’re productive within. (Return to Question Picker)

Traylor: So the perception that learning games alone will result in really good learning outcomes, is not the full story. What you’re saying is that learning games, supported by learning communities, are really the combination that accelerates the learning opportunity?

Gee: Those of us who study learning games make the distinction between a game, which is just the software, and the game with a capital “G”, which is the whole set of social learning interactions built around the game. We used to argue, if you’re going to use games for learning, you have to have a community of learning built around the game. Now the commercial industry realizes you won’t make money if you don’t build a learning community around the game. It’s an integral part to gaming, to participate in a collaborative community around the game.

My work has never been that of an advocate to put games into schools. That’s a fine thing to do, but that’s not what my work is about. It’s about putting the learning found in games into schools, learning that’s centered on problem solving and collaboration.

In school students get a bunch of facts and information. You can’t solve problems with it, so you get nothing. The interesting thing is if I make you solve a problem, and I really design the experience of that problem, guiding you and mentoring you, which is what good game design does, you get problem solving and you get facts and information, because you have to learn that in order to solve the problem. I will also get you to collaborate in a community where you might even innovate. You’re going to design new things and do new stuff. I want to see that model go into schools and that model doesn’t have to be a game. We can do that in the world in many different ways.

The other thing I really want to stress about games is that, in my opinion, it’s not a good idea to try to teach a whole curriculum through games. Industries are building up to try to do this. It’s too expensive. We want to learn in many different ways. Games are particularly good for preparation for future learning. If you want to motivate somebody in an area like chemistry or physics, a game is an ideal way to not only motivate that learning, to get learners to see why you do it, what is good about it, why it would be a turn on to do it, but it also prepares them to get ready for learning in the future. That future learning doesn’t have to occur in games. We tend to get obsessed with one platform, but just like in the world where kids don’t just game, they also go on the internet, and they write fiction, and they mod games. They do a whole bunch of stuff. We want our curriculum to be a whole bunch of stuff as well. (Return to Question Picker)

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Must Have Toy List Mashup

Friday, November 6th, 2009

‘Tis the season for a whole new crop of toys to find its way into your home. I’ve noticed that a number of “must have” toy lists have been announced in the past few weeks. These lists include:

I thought it would be interesting to see what could be learned by mashing together all of these lists. After doing so, a few trends did make themselves apparent. From this new mashup list of 44 toys, I could see:

  • a little more than half of the toys are technology-based
  • a little less than a quarter of this list uses well known branded characters
  • four of the toys cited involve some sort of virtual world along with a tangible toy (Dora’s Explorer Girls, Littlest Pet Shop Adoption Center, Liv Dolls, Nanovor Nanoscope)
  • only two toys on the list could be considered educational (Color Me a Song, Zippity Learning System)
  • two toys on the list are video games (Beatles Rock Band, Wii Sports Resort)

I also found that three toys in my mashup list were recommended on three out of the four separate toy lists:

Toy Maker Age Cost FunFare Kmart Time 2 Play Toys R Us
Bakugan 7-in-1 Maxus Dragonoid Spin Master 5+ $39.99 * * *
Nerf N-Strike Raider Rapid Fire CS 35 Hasbro 6+ $29.99 * * *
Zhu Zhu Pets Cepia 4+ $9.99 * * *

Bakugan 7-in-1 Maxus Dragonoid is a toy that folds up, expands, and connects to build a much larger toy. This toy feels a bit like a mashup itself between Transformers and Pokemon. From what I’ve heard from classroom teachers, many 8 year old boys are buzzing about this product.

The Nerf Strike Raider is a full sized, automatic toy machine gun and looks pretty threatening. The Nerf line is a very popular toy product for Hasbro, but I wish that toy guns didn’t make it to the list!

Zhu Zhu Pets are little robotic hamsters that react in some way, with noise or motion, when you touch them. These critters can be sent to live in a super hampster wonderland, similar to the real world animal Habitrail concept, complete with its own hampster ball. This product is just a little misleading. The price of the pet itself is really affordable! What parents will most likely miss is that if you buy the pet, they will also end up spending a fortune on all the accessories. None-the-less, I think this toy will be the hot product for kids under the age of 10, if you can find it. It already looks like stores are already all sold out of this product.

This next list below includes toys found on two of the four lists:

Toy Maker Age Cost FunFare Kmart Time 2 Play Toys R Us
ChixOs Design-A-Luxury Loft Spin Master 4+ $29.99 * *
Crayola Crayon Town Wild Planet 3+ $9.99 * *
Disney NetPal Disney/ASUS 6+ $349.99 * *
Girl Gourmet Sweets Candy Jewelry Factory Jakks Pacific 8+ $29.99 * *
Laugh & Learn Learning Farm Fisher-Price 6m – 36m $79.99 * *
Printies Design Studio Techno Source 6+ $19.99 * *
Transformers Constructicon Devastator Hasbro 5+ $99.99 * *

The toy I think will be a big seller from this list is the Girl Gourmet Sweets Candy Jewelry Factory by Jakks Pacific. It’s a little like the old Easy Bake Oven, but instead of making baked goods, it makes candy jewelry. The catch to be aware of with this product is that it does not come with the special 40 watt bulb you need to make the product work. It has to be purchased separately.

I’m also watching the Printies Design Studio by Techno Source. This is a clever product where a child can create all kinds of unique crafts using a specially prepared (and pre-perfed) paper that your child can design, print, cut out, and then stuff with cotton. It uses low end color printers, like the kind you most people have at home.

Some surprises? First, I was surprised to see the LeapFrog TAG & TAG Jr. reading systems did not make it onto any list. Once I realized that LeapFrog was missing from the list I then noted that not a single toy from VTech was on the list either. Maybe just a bad year for electronic learning products? Also, WowWee, the amazing robotic toy experts did not have a single mention as well. The Nintendo DS and DSi were not on the list either, but that may be more of an issue with toy experts not specializing in reviewing software and gaming platforms than anything else.

I was also surprised not to see more website toy tie ins on the list. There certainly are a number of them out there, but not so many captured on these more traditional toy lists.

If you are interested in my complete mashup toy list, you can download a copy as an Excel file here. Note the tabs on the bottom of the spreadsheet, I have arranged the list by product, age, cost, etc.

Let me know if you see any other trends. I’d enjoy hearing what toys are on the top of your list!

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