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Toys-To-Life ‘Games’ Don’t Deserve That Title

Every month in Play Magazine, we take a hot topic and look at the arguments for and against. The subject of debate this time is toys-to-life games like Lego: Dimensions, Skylanders and Disney Infinity. We start with Play’s Paul Walker-Emig arguing that they are a glorified advertising platform for selling tat. Next week, we’ll have the defence from Retro Gamer’s Darren Jones.

‘Toy-to-life’ games, as they have now been named, are not made to be good. They are cash traps developed with the aim of exploiting children as a means of extracting as much money from the pockets of parents as possible. 


Now, I’m not naive: I know that any game made explicitly for children likely wasn’t born out of a desire to create a work of art. In the pre-figure era, the decision to make kids’ games was still probably, at base level, a business decision. Once that decision had been made, however, there was nothing in the way of the developers of those games getting to work making an experience that kids could enjoy. They did it with the Lego games, LittleBigPlanet and the Ratchet & Clank series, to name but a few.


The problem with the likes of Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Lego Dimensions, is that there now very much is something in the way of making those games as good as they should be, and it is those little plastic figures that they’re all flogging. Lego Dimensions is a prime example of this. In past Lego games, you would unlock characters through playing the game that would allow you to access new areas. In Lego Dimensions, you are still presented with areas that you can’t access without certain characters; the difference is that you now have to pay for the corresponding figures if you want to access them. [Note: Lego Dimensions has been updated since this article was originally published to allow you to temporarily unlock characters in-game to address this criticism]. The game is constantly reminding you that you are missing out because you haven’t bought this figure or that. Remember that the base set of Lego Dimensions costs £100, and it is now telling you that game you’ve bought is incomplete; you’ve got to spend more if you want it all. The point here is that good game design is not the priority for these toys-to-life games. The priority is to make you spend more money buying figures and that’s never going to be a benefit to you, or the quality of the games. 


Speaking of buying figures, they’re disgustingly expensive. Let’s say you want Lego Dimensions and you’re a fan of Back To The Future. Once you’ve bought the game, the level pack including Marty McFly, and the Doc Brown set, you’re looking at £140. One hundred and forty pounds for a videogame. It’s a slippery slope, too – one set of figures here, another there, and before you know it you’re using bin bags for shoes because you sold all your proper footwear to feed your toy addiction. We shudder to think how much it would cost if you decided, for example, to buy all the figures Skylanders has to offer, but you don’t have to spend long totting up the numbers before you can see it tipping into the thousands rather than hundreds. Looking at those vulgar prices and taking into account how these games lock off content behind the toys they are selling, these games appear as the transparent cash grabs that they really are. 


Toys-to-life games barely deserve the moniker ‘game’. They are little more than vehicles to sell merchandise. They are cynical, exploitative and a waste of money. There are plenty of great games out there that are still child-friendly. Go and spend your cash on those games and not on a glorified advertising platform for plastic tat.  

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