Augmented Reality Toys Represent a New Era in Gaming

Posted on May 7, 2016


Toys come to life with a dash of augmented reality thrown in, and big hitters like Disney and Nintendo have already carved out a multi-billion dollar industry from physical toys coupled with virtual worlds.

Nintendo's Ambiio game characters

Nintendo’s Ambiio game characters

Franchises like Disney’s Infinity and Nintendo’s Ambiio (reported to have passed $2 billion sales in one quarter last year) use physical figurines – from popular films or games – to activate and unlock levels in console game worlds. This crossover from real world to virtual tempts kids with the strong urge to collect characters, that then transform the way they play with consoles like Xbox, Nintendo 3DS or Wii U and Playstation.

Sets from Disney include popular characters from The Incredibles, Pirates of the Caribbean and Frozen, among others, so expect these toys to start making a big impact soon, if they are not in the toy box already. Big money and big fun then for console players, but add in the attraction of this type of augmented reality play with mobile devices and the market really looks attractive to toy makers.

Draw and Code's SwapBots

Draw and Code’s SwapBots

Mobile Interactivity

Independent producers like immersive tech agency Draw and Code from Liverpool, hope to contend using mobile apps and more affordable toy sets. SwapBots are toys that use a smartphone or tablet to bring them to life via a free app. Each SwapBot is built from three separate blocks that can be exchanged with other characters, creating hundreds of different combinations, as you battle with friends to knock them out in a fast-paced game.

“SwapBots addresses two of the key failings of some toys-to-life products – the lack of connection between physical and digital play is neatly addressed by the use of augmented reality as you look through the screen to see the physical SwapBots,” says Draw and Code director Andy Cooper. “Also, the price-point is lower than most rivals with no need for an NFC base station.”

There will be a mixed reality mode to add in virtual reality and the company says SwapBots will be available at “pocket money prices”.

SwapBots offers 'mixed reality' for AR and VR

SwapBots offers ‘mixed reality’ for AR and VR

Money Matters

Cost is an important factor, especially for parents who will end up funding their kids collectables and gaming habits. Silas Adekunle is founder of Reach Robotics, which makes toy robots that use AR to battle each other. There are physical add-ons and upgrades for the robots, because the company believes that people love to tinker with physical products, but all of the gladiatorial stuff takes place using a mobile app game.

Unlike SwapBots founders whose first impulse is to keep prices down, Reach Robotics wants to create value using its elaborate robotic models. “People love to play with toys,” said Adekunle to Digital Trends. “And that’s when they are happy to make big purchases, too. They’ll spend $100-$200 on a physical product, where they wouldn’t spend anything like that on a game.”

Reach Robotics upgradeable robot toy

Reach Robotics upgradeable robot toy

AR Wearable Toys

Disney has gone one step further to create its own set of wearables called Playmation for a Marvel Avengers game. Kareem Daniel, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Disney Consumer Products, says the idea is to create more physical play opportunities for kids. “We use digital technology to make active physical play more exciting for kids,” he says. “Parents believe technology is becoming a natural part of kids’ lives, but at the same time most parents are nostalgic about how active they were when they played growing up.”

Playmation Marvel’s Avengers uses gesture recognition, infrared and radio technology to allow kids to battle supervillains, guided by the voice of the computer AI that appears in the Iron Man films – J.A.R.V.I.S. Action is recorded on the wearable wrist toy and uploaded through the AvengersNet app so they can keep track of their scores and compete with friends.

Impressive stuff. Obviously the AR toys industry is likely to favour big studios with big budgets, but if smaller independents can appeal to parents concerned by price, then smaller companies will compete.

By the way, if you want to try out VR/AR gaming using your mobile device then check out Pantomime’s fun ‘Playground‘ app for iOS.