Timeless as they may be, classic toys aren’t immune to today’s digital trends. A new age of “Toymaking 2.0” ensures the concept of “play” will never be the same.
In 2012, toy makers and their most venerable franchises will evolve with semi-digital, mobile and tablet extensions. This direction is rooted in data, with Common Sense Media reporting that not only do 52% of children five- to eight-years-old have access to a mobile device, but 25% use them to multitask most or some of the time.
This year’s push represents the industry’s most aggressive integration of technology to date as companies large and small focus on reversing a disappointing 2011 holiday season.
With NPD Group reporting retail toy sales declined by 2% last year to $21.18 billion, all eyes now lie on rebuilding demand digitally. Here are just a few examples of how toys will continue to evolve into “e-toys” over the next few months:
Mattel is introducing a new platform called Apptivity that will allow kids to take a physical toy and safely play with it on their iPad’s screen. In May, the toy maker will begin with Hot Wheels Apptivity, which lets kids take a 1:64 scale Hot Wheels car and race through three game modes on the iPad. The company will also introduce Apptivity to the youngest techies-in-training with Fisher-Price’s Laugh & Learn Apptivity Monkey, an interactive plush learning toy for babies that give them their very own apps on mom or dad’s iPhone or iPod touch device. Later this year, Mattel plans to roll out this technology to Barbie, Monster High, WWE, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja.
Identity Games, a much smaller company, was one of the first to blur the line between physical and digital interaction. Last November, it launched GameChanger, which turns an iPad into an interactive gameboard. The company launched with two games and is set to launch more in 2012.
Designed to marry traditional board games with iOS devices, Hasbro’s (disclosure: a client) zAPPed line aims to add a social twist on the digital gaming experience. This new product category launches with three iconic brands: The Game of Life, Monopoly and Battleship.
Hasbro has also announced a 2012 upgrade to its Laser Tag brand, combining its platform with the augmented reality capabilities of iPhone and iPod Touch. Players will be able to track competitors at a range of 250 feet and use virtual leaderboards to keep track of successful missions and gear upgrades.
While toys have always fueled the imagination of children, the industry lies at a crossroads, where the imagination of engineers will carry some companies well into the digital age -- and bury others besides the trinkets built in decades past.