Industry News & Events

How Toy Companies are Adapting to a Mobile World

Mar 29, 2019
future of creative play

There’s no doubt that playtime is changing. In the past decade, statistics have shown that 91% of US children aged 2-17 play video games in some form. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 75% of the 4-year-olds they studied have smartphones, with 97% of the children interviewed using mobile devices before their first birthday. Sure, kids still play with traditional toys, but they’re as excited about technology and smartphones as their parents are, and they want in on the action.

To keep up with technological demands, many toy companies have had to adapt quickly to kids’ changing interests. Let’s take a more in-depth look into how toys and technology can intersect, and see how some famous toy companies are adapting to a mobile world.

When toys and smartphones play together

There are a growing number of ways in which kids can play with toys while interacting with smartphones. One famous option is Activision’s Skylanders. An early innovator in the world of toys-to-life gaming, the Spyro spin-off enables players to bring unique Skylanders characters into their games through the Portal of Power toy. It’s a neat touch that allows kids to collect and play with figurines in both the physical and digital world.

Similar steps have been taken by LEGO with its AR-Studio. The iOS app uses Apple’s ARKit to allow kids to fly virtual LEGO models around their room. Using augmented reality, the app can sense surfaces and react accordingly, allowing kids to have a fire breathing dragon or a train charge through their room.

Likewise, Hot Wheels’ Augmoto is an AR racing game that ties into a track set of the same name. The company also produces MindRacers, an iPad-based Hot Wheels game that has players fling tokens at the iPad’s camera to accelerate faster. It’s more tactile than pressing buttons on a screen, plus it’s liable to use up some of the child’s innate energy levels. That’s sure to appeal to the parents of kids who are constantly on the move.

Energy is a crucial factor for many childhood toys. After all, kids love to use their imagination, but they also like to run around and be more active than most other age groups. That’s the thinking behind Hasbro’s augmented reality Iron Man mask. It’s a Google Cardboard-style mask where a smartphone can be slipped in to view the world through the ‘eyes’ of Iron Man.

How AR will change creative play

In the past year, interactions between physical toys and AR have grown. At the 2019 New York Toy Fair, we saw how physical and digital play aim to intersect. LEGO continued its forward-thinking plans with LEGO Hidden Side, an AR experience that’s part LEGO set, part app. Kids build a set in the real world before using the app to bring it to life via AR.

There’s also room for innovation in board game play. While titles like Exploding Kittens offer apps, Mattel Games has gone further with Pictionary Air. It skips the paper pad or whiteboard in favor of a light-up pen which players can use as a stylus to draw in thin air. The drawing is then simultaneously sent to mobile devices or via Chromecast or AirPlay for all to see. It’s both more ecologically friendly (no need to waste paper) and allows for things like the ability to video capture drawings or share them via social media.

Not all advances are solely mobile related, but that doesn’t make them any less important when it comes to encouraging firms to get more inventive. Microsoft’s Project Zanzibar is a particularly promising technology that detects physical toys and provides a layer of digital interaction. It’s similar to the technology we’ve seen used with Skylanders, Lego Dimensions, and other NFC-enabled toys but doesn’t require buying into a proprietary system. But for the time being, Project Zanzibar remains a prototype.

Toy companies like LEGO, Hasbro, and Mattel have been around for decades and will continue to be if they keep up with shifting consumer behavior. In this case, technology is one of the things that excites children the most, and companies are adapting to stay relevant.

This trend of blending technology with real-world play is something we expect to continue. With AR tools like ARKit and ARCore, there’s plenty of room for developers to create unique experiences. That’s even before you consider the potential of Project Zanzibar and what games manufacturers may come up with in the future.

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