Toy Blast is a level-based puzzle video game for iOS and Android. It’s very popular. How popular? Well, game developer Peak Games claims that Toy Blast and Toon Blast (for our purposes, an identical game) are played by more than 200 million people around the world. Should your kids join them? The answer is complicated.
Toy Blast is a simple matching game. Players are tasked with matching two or more blocks of the same color until they score enough points to reach the next level — and free the titular toys. It’s rather standard in its play: You have a limited number of moves, there’s a selection of power-ups and boosters scattered about that, when activated, clear the board faster, and coin rewards are given to you at the end of each round.
Toy Blast is fun and simple to learn. It also happens to be freemium game, which can be dicey. While technically free to play, Toy Blast also offers ample opportunities to spend money on premium items like extra lives and power-ups that allow them to continue playing or make it easier for them to be successful.
If you do let your kid play Toy Blast or any freemium title, it’s important to make sure they can’t charge in-game purchases to your credit card. There have been multiple stories about kids blowing hundreds or even thousands of dollars playing freemium games. Amazon even got busted for it.
The freemium model creates a dynamic where the developer profits when more people play their game for longer periods of time. This is because long-term players are more invested in succeeding in the game, and therefore more motivated to spend money to succeed. They also spend more time playing and can thus be bombarded with more opportunities to spend money in the game.
Knowing this, game designers use a variety of psychological tactics (e.g. intermittent rewards, chances to extend a level after failing) to turn occasional players into regular players. It’s these tactics that make decisions as to allow your kids to play Toy Blast, if you do, what kind of limits to set so complex. As you make your decisions, consider this expert advice.
Set Age-Appropriate Time Limits For Toy Blast
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children two years old and younger not use electronic devices with screens. So if you have really young kids, don’t give them a phone or tablet.
Dr. Melissa Deuter, a board-certified psychiatrist based in San Antonio, recommends different rules depending on how old kids older than two are.
For school age, pre-adolescent kids she recommends setting specific time limits. Use phrases like “you can play this game for 30 minutes” or “you can play this game while mom is on the phone.” Kids at this stage of development lack the ability to think abstractly, and they can’t consider the costs and benefits of spending time on a particular activity.
Deuter says that adolescent kids have a greater context to make informed decisions, so broader rules make more sense. She recommends giving them the opportunity to balance their own time and stepping in to correct only if more important obligations are neglected.
Use Toy Blast As a Teaching Opportunity
Freemium games are hardly the only places where these kinds of strategies to encourage long term engagement are happening. Deuter points to social media notifications and revelation-dense television shows as examples of intermittent rewards in other areas of the culture.
Jordan Shapiro, author of the upcoming The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, uses the term “upselling muddle” to describe the tendency to get people to spend more to upgrade their experiences. Fast food menus that promote larger food and drink sizes for a nominal fee are an example of this tendency. Other examples? The chance to beat a Toy Blast level more easily with a power-up or by buying extra moves to get through a particularly tough level.
Because so much of our culture functions this way, Shapiro sees Toy Blast as an opportunity to train kids to deal with the kinds of situations they’ll encounter throughout their lives.
“Parents need to see it as a teaching opportunity because it’s not the only part of life that uses these sort of predator upselling processes, and this is a great opportunity to start teaching kids how to take advantage of them,” he says.
Shapiro uses the analogy of teaching a kid to cross the street. The first few times you might simply admonish them to stay on the sidewalk until you take them across. Later on, you might ask questions like “did you look both ways?” that prompt more self-reflection and help them develop the internal voice that will keep them safe when they have to cross the street without you. You also want them to develop the voice that tells them they should stop playing (or not spend money on) Toy Blast.
It’s important to make sure kids are safe when playing online games, something not enough parents do in the context of mobile games.
“The problem is a lot of parents see the iPad of the phone or whatever as a chance to ignore their kids,” Shapiro says. Parents trust that their kids will make the right decisions without offering guidance as to what the right decisions are. Sometimes, parents need to say “you screwed up and I’m taking control.”
Ultimately, the answer doesn’t seem to be to keep kids away from Toy Blast. Even if you were able to, there are so many other similar distractions that it would ultimately be for naught. Your job as a parent is to limit you kids’ game play to responsible levels, educate them on how they’re being manipulated when they play, and keep an eye on them in case things go south.