Kids’ Games Are Getting Ridiculously Expensive

Kids’ Games Are Getting Ridiculously Expensive

Children’s console games have come a long way in recent years. Gone are the motion controlled mini-game bundles and second rate movie tie-ins. In their place we have experienced and talented developers working with budgets the size of blockbuster movies.

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK.

The key to this brave new age has been the addition of toys. Not just any toys, but smart playthings that unlock content in the game and automatically save progress to a chip buried in their plastic shell.

The price of this gaming revolution is, well, just that: the price. The multi-billion-dollar toys-to-life genre is not easy on family finances.

The real cost is in the on-going spend these games can trigger. Buying a starter pack gets the game in the door, but to access the whole experience a series of character, vehicle and campaign expansions need to be purchased.

For example, the cheapest way to access every open world area in Lego Dimensions is $US184.90 – and that’s in addition to the $US99.99 Starter Pack, bringing the total cost up to $US284.99:

  • Fun Pack Doctor Who, Cyberman and Dalek $US14.99
  • Fun Pack DC Aquaman $US14.99
  • Fun Pack Ninjago Lloyd $US14.99
  • Fun Pack Chima Cragger $US14.99
  • Fun Pack The Simpsons – Bart $US14.99
  • Fun Pack – Wizard of Oz Wicked Witch of the West $US14.99
  • Fun Pack Back To The Future Doc Brown $US14.99
  • Portal – Level Pack $US29.99
  • Jurassic World – Team Pack $US24.99
  • Scooby Doo Team Pack $US24.99

If you wanted to access every area within these worlds you would need to add further characters with the particular special abilities each one requires. The cost of buying everything would be well over $US300.

Let’s be clear: this would be a massive amount of content, offering a lot of value in terms of on-screen play-time in addition to the brick-building fun. However, families may not see this pocket-money-eating juggernaut coming when they purchase the Starter Pack.

Disney Infinity follows a similar model, although it adds complexity by restricting where and when you can use the extra toys you purchase. For example, to accrue a complete collection of Star Wars Disney Infinity 3.0 characters would cost $US178.88 in addition to the $US49.99 Starter Pack, bringing the total cost to $US228.87:

  • Yoda $US13.99
  • Obi-Wan $US13.99
  • Darth Maul $US13.99
  • Ezra Bridger $US13.99
  • Kanan Jarrus $US13.99
  • Sabine Wren $US13.99
  • Zeb Orrelios $US13.99
  • Luke/Leia PlaySet $US24.99
  • Darth Vader $US13.99
  • Chewbacca $US13.99
  • Han Solo $US13.99
  • Boba Fett $US13.99

If you wanted to add in The Force Awakens, Classic Disney, Inside Out, Marvel, Good Dinosaur and Zootopia characters, the costs would grow further.

Assessing value here is more difficult. Unlike Lego Dimensions where toys unlock both a character and a related open world, Disney Infinity toys simply grant access to the character. Also, again unlike its competitors, you have to collect tokens in the game to earn the ability to use a new Star Wars character if it’s from another Star Wars era.

Muddying the water further is that both Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions release toys in waves. This means that the cheapest route to certain content is only available if you wait until a month or two after the game launches.

For instance, to access the Rise Against the Empire adventure in Disney Infinity without having to buy the big $US89.99 Special Edition Starter Pack you need to wait until the playset is released on its own next month.

Equally, the cheapest way to access the Back to the Future open world in Lego Dimensions is via the Back to the Future Doc Brown fun pack for $US14.99. However, this is not available until January, meaning that to access it at launch requires the $US29.99 Back to the Future level pack.

Skylanders Superchargers fares a little better on the cost front with a slightly more restrained set of characters available at launch. To collect all these would cost $US146.91 in addition to the $US74.99 starter pack, for a total cost of $US221.90 (not counting the Wii U exclusive figures):

  • Sea Shadow $US14.99
  • Sky Slicer $US14.99
  • Crypt Crusher $US14.99
  • Dive Bomber $US14.99
  • Shark Shooter Terrafin $US12.99
  • Stormblade $US12.99
  • Fiesta $US12.99
  • Dive Clops $US12.99
  • Deep Dive Gill Grunt in Sea Racing Pack $US34.99

Identifying value is easier in Superchargers because characters are sold individually and work anywhere in the game. However, the complex combination of terrain (Air, Land and Sea) and element required to access in-game areas means that you need to own a total of ten carefully selected vehicles to access every area.

Skylanders does have the big advantage of allowing any of the hundreds of existing toys to be used in the new campaign unrestricted. This greatly reduces the pressure to buy new characters as a family’s collection grows from previous years.

This benefit seems likely to be matched by Lego Dimensions going forward and certainly offers an advantage in these two titles compared to the more restrictive Disney Infinity. Disney Infinity does, however, have its hugely impressive Toy Box game creator mode, where any character can be used. Here players can access powerful and intuitive tools to make and share their own adventures, and all that can be accessed with just the Starter Pack.

Just Say No?

Are parents doomed to being the bad guys and endlessly saying “no” to children’s requests? The short answer is yes. Even though I get a good number of these games to review in the home, I still find myself needing to resist requests for more of these toys at supermarket checkouts.

But better than a flat “no” is to understand how to get best value out of these toy-to-life games for the family. Get it right, and not only does the cost headache go away, but they can become a really valuable part of leisure time.

A good rule of thumb is to exhaust the Starter Pack before adding expansions. These generally offer tens of hours of game-play and can be completed without additional purchases. Add-on packs should be seen as nice-to-have extras rather than must-have additions.

Skylanders and Disney Infinity both have super cheap routes to purchase because of their backwards compatibility with the USB peripheral used to read the toys. You can reuse your old Disney Infinity base with the stand alone Disney Infinity 3.0 game (either via the disc or download) and one play-set.

Less visible at retail is the Skylanders Superchargers Portal Owners pack. This is available to download directly on the console and can make use of any older Skylanders portal to access the toys in the game make it better value. This is further underlined by not needing to purchase this year’s toy characters to play the new game: you can simply re-use your existing Skylanders.

Lego Dimensions, being in its first year, does require the more expansive Starter Pack to access the game. Here, getting best value is about playing enough of the main game before choosing expansions.

On that point: although Level packs are more expensive than the Fun packs, they have the added benefit of unlocking a level in the campaign for that franchise in addition to the one you get for free in the Starter Pack. All the packs also unlock the open worlds for their brands.

The final tip is to play older games. This can keep costs down because of the rapid discounting of older titles. It also enables you to play games on older systems, rather than being forced to upgrade (only Skylanders still supports the Wii in 2015).

Going back to Skylanders Spyro’s Adventures, Giants, Swap Force and Trap Team offers a strong experience at a much reduced cost — particularly if you pick these up second hand. Also, these older versions support specific Adventure packs that can also be found at a fraction of the cost in the used game market.

Older versions of Disney Infinity have even more going for them than the reduced price. Not only does 1.0 and 2.0 of the game get you started with the Starter Pack and toy box but they also support specific adventures not available in newer versions. If you or your kids want to experience a wide range of Marvel adventures, then 2.0 is worth considering. If you want to play with Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, Cars, Monsters University or Lone Ranger, then 1.0 could be a good version to start on.

The bottom line is that if you don’t keep an eye on things, kids’ video-games can end up costing you way more than you expect. The best way to manage these costs is to play the games with your children, so you understand just what it is they really need.

Get it right, and modern kids’ games have much more to offer families than the cheaper, simpler and ultimately much worse experiences of years gone by. Whether learning how to program in Disney Infinity’s toy box, introducing your sons or daughters to Doctor Who or Back to the Future in Lego Dimensions or taking to the race-track in Skylanders Superchargers, there is plenty of value here to match the price-tag – as long as you can still say “no” when you need to.

This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.


  • Gee, if I didn’t know any better I’d say companies were trying to exploit the easy impression of kids to nag their parents into spending hundreds of dollars on game extensions that were removed from the game due to the ignorance kids have over the value of a dollar.

    • And yet what they’re really doing (despite the age ratings, let’s face it no-one reads those anyway) is tapping into the nostalgia factor of adults who have grown up with Doctor Who, Back to the Future and Ghostbusters … and it’s working!

      • I know I would have picked up the Portal pack, even though I’m not planning on getting the game, just for the figures. But for 30 bucks? Forget that. I’ll just wait til it’s on sale months from now.

        • Considering the price of normal Lego sets, it’s not unreasonable. They’ve always been pricey. Only reason the Portal one is higher in price than most is due to it being a level pack, and there’s a lot of content tied to that which makes it worth it for me. Glados easily steals the show.

          • Considering the price of normal Lego sets, it’s not unreasonable.

            30 bucks, for one mini-fig and about a dozen blocks? That’s not the normal price of lego, even when it is expensive. But as you said, the cost does include the extra maps and junk.

          • Last time I checked a toy store, the smallest (licensed) packs of Lego were anywhere between $20 and $30 … not including the Minecraft play sets which were even more expensive 🙁 It sucks too, I’d love to collect more of it.

          • Lego City ones can be as low as $10 for a few blocks and two minifigs. U won’t find a licensed set for under $18 with similar contents. Lego Dimensions is actually pretty decent in price when you consider it’s a small licensed lego set that also unlocks in game features.

  • Nice tips for getting the best value.

    Toys have always been expensive, though. I don’t see these games as being much different than the toys of my youth. TMNT, for example.

    You bought the bits you could afford, you gazed longingly at the Blimp on the back of the figure’s package, but you did your best to just enjoy what you had.

    Besides which, in hindsight I had more fun and now have fonder memories of getting together with friends and combining our collections for an afternoon than I do of the times that I got a big collection of my own.

    • Had the blimp, still wanted the car, still wanted the bike, and the sewer, and a hundred foot soldiers. I mean I wasn’t letting all my stuff gather dust because I wanted the next thing, I was happy enough with what I had, but it’s not like I went into a toy store and walked out empty handed completely and totally satisfied that I had enough at home.

  • The same could be said of GI Joe, Transformers or any of the other crap from when I was a kid. You buy a tank and a GI Joe as the ‘starter pack’ and suddenly there are a million others to buy. Ninja Turtles were a set even if you didn’t look at it that way. LEGO was a set way before NFC (hell, at least now the collection has an end, you don’t need two Doctor Who sets but I could have had 50 space bases and still wanted more). Star Wars has had an insanely large collectable action figure line for decades.
    The only real differences are that as an adult you now see the entire collection as the goal and that with the exception of the LEGO sets these toys are just crappy statues. For these prices I’d want a Luke Skywalker action figure that I could play with both in and out of the game. The toy companies are exploiting your need to collect the whole set, not your kids.

    • nah man thats not comparable. You had 2 gi joes you had an adventure. You have 2 skylander figures you have…. 2 skylander figures… next get the 89.95 game. In Dimensions case, the 170 game.

      • But if the Skylander figures are truly worthless as toys without the game, which I agree is the case, the problem isn’t that it’s expensive it’s that it’s crap. These things are the price of a game and the DLC. If the toys were better than what you’d dig out of a Happy Meal that’d be totally fair.
        You can buy a single GI Joe and play with it, but you can also buy a starter pack and play it like any other game. I would argue you don’t get much of a game for the price of a starter pack, but it’s not really out of line with other kids games on a quality level.
        It’s like looking at buying your child an XBOX One or PS4 and thinking ‘oh great, then I’ll have to spend a few hundred on the console and then buy everything listed on the marketplace’.

        LEGO Dimensions is the only one that’s really expensive and that’s just LEGO knowing this stuff sells to adults with too much disposable income. It’s like classing Warhammer 40,000 as a kids toy.

        • There were never ‘starter packs’ for GI Joe, I don’t know where you get this idea?

          The inherent problem with Skylanders and other games (We collect Skylanders and Disney infinity fyi) is that the game actively locks off areas to you until you get the ‘elemental figures’ that are extras. You don’t get to explore more than around 30 percent of the game. maybe 50 max, until you get these figures. Yes theoretically you can ‘complete’ it, but ‘completing’ it is a very hollow experience.

          But it’s really not comparable to buying a 10 dollar GI Joe, when you spend 10x the amount on Skylanders, Infinity and roughly 20x the amount on Lego Dimensions. Sorry man, no matter how much you wanna try and paint it the other way.

      • I guess you could also just buy a couple of Skylanders and play with them as if they were GI Joe action figures (dolls). Activision just wants to tempt and tantalize you with promises of endless digital fun if you only purchase this thing… and this… and this…

  • Having worked at a games store for years now, the parents do lament the current toy craze, and I can imagine their pain. Dimensions is a particularly cruel mistress seeing as it’s so expensive and such a damn popular franchise.

    • Yeah it doesn’t help that Lego is expensive, then licensed Lego is even more expensive, throw in that they’re for a game and yeah you get their price.

  • Doing my best not to buy into this crap. I got gazillions of games I can drip feed my kids on multiple platforms to fufill pretty much every gaming desire they might have. Frankly my eldest more enjoys building lego from instructions than faffing round with inanimate plastic characters and I’d rather spend that kinda cash on lego.

    I use the diversion tactic as a parent often, you want that? hey look at this.

  • Or you could go the indie route or classic route. Get them old PS2 platformers like Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Daxter. And Pokemon.

  • I’ve gotten off the train this year. After four successive Skylanders games – across two kids, my 11yo for the first three and my 5 yo for the last one.

    This year I went to Target, stumped up $20 and bought Disney Infinity 2.0 for Xmas for the 5yo. He has no concept that it’s not the latest one, loves superheroes, he’s seen it on YouTube – he’ll have a blast and I’ll revisit Dimensions next year when it’s on clearance!

  • Also…
    I still find myself needing to resist requests for more of these toys at supermarket checkouts.

    Is anyone else annoyed that our supermarkets don’t sell video games here as they seem to in the UK?

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