A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences

Digital Games and Merchandising

Minecraft Foam Sword 1Digital games have historically been surrounded with a variety of physical material, such as the game box and game store marketing material. Due to digital distribution, this materialism has shifted into collectible figurines, collector’s edition boxes and game weapon replicas.

Along with the popularization of digital distribution, many anticipated the death of the physical game disk and game retail stores. Games, however, are one of the strongest areas of entertainment brand merchandising – accordingly, many game stores have seen fit to counter diminishing game sales with various kinds of physical products that cannot be downloaded. Tellingly, Angry Birds products can be found everywhere and in all product categories. Brands popular with younger children offer for example physical, often real-size objects from games, such as the Minecraft pick-axe. It is now also a viable business plan to produce expensive axes and “chainswords” in life-size replicas from brands such as Warhammer 40K.

Further, a lot of the collector’s edition game copies come with collectible figurines, large special shaped game boxes, cloth maps, caps, art books, and so on. A Splinter Cell game even came with actual working nightvision goggles. Larger game launches aim to draw attention with a collection of “swag”: key chains, posters, and wunderbaums. Elsewhere, many Kickstarter campaigns for games offer reward tiers that promise physical objects, such as T-shirts and even retro style physical game boxes.

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Pokémon Rumble U

Pokemon Rumble UPokémon Rumble U is an arena-fighting game for the Nintendo Wii U. While players collect Pokémon and fight waves of enemies, the gameplay can be enhanced by buying physical figurines which are able to enhance the game via the NFC reader in the Wii U controller.

A downloadable title from Nintendo eShop, the gameplay in Pokémon Rumble U consists of fighting waves of enemies using the Pokémon, while each stage ends with a larger boss battle. The art style presents the Pokémon as “toy versions” of themselves and all creatures from the five first generations of the main line of the series are available to collect. The gameplay can feature up to one hundred Pokémon and up to four players at the same time.

Accompanying the game is a toy line of Pokémon figurines (£3.99 apiece) that can be purchased in blind bags. Figurines include NFC chips and consequently are compatible with the Wii U gamepad that includes an NFC reader. By placing the Pokémon figurine on it players are able to upgrade the abilities of the corresponding character in the game and buy new skills for it.

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Monsterology 2Monsterology, based on a series of childrens books, is a hybrid card game where players press different monster cards on to an iPad and watch them come alive as 3D depictions of themselves. These in-app monsters are then used to battle other players.

Developed by Nukotoys, Monsterology iPad app is a free strategy game where players use various monsters to fight each other. A card depicting a monster – sold in blind bags of three or seven – is pressed on to the iPad after which the monster comes alive within the 3D game world. (The game most likely uses capacitive ink on the cards in order to let the iPad recognize them.) Unlike Pokemon cards for example, the cards themselves cannot be used for battling.

The battles take place in playing fields that resemble the ones found in the Monsterology books and revolve around capturing points on the map that are used to spawn creatures. Each creature will gain different attack abilities as they gain experience and level up. Other weapons, such as catapults, can be used to deal extra damage. The visual style of the game is based on the artwork in the books themselves, with the battlefields resembling pop-up book pages with watercolor stylings.


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Blythe dolls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlythe is a fashion doll with an oversized head and large eyes that change color with a pull of a string. Sold originally during 1972-73, Blythe dolls experienced resurgence in 2000 and since then have achieved a cult status among adult collectors.

Created in 1972 and initially sold for one year only in the USA by toy company Kenner, the Blythe doll rose to new prominence in 2000 following media exposure by New York TV producer Gina Garan and a photo book by her, This is Blythe (2000). In 2001 Japanese toy Blythe dolls 1company Takara, under a licence issued by Hasbro (the Trademark and License owner), began producing new editions of the dolls called Neo Blythe. After notable success in Japan, Hasbro issued a license to Ashton-Drake Galleries in 2004 to sell Blythe replica dolls in the United States. There the doll became a niche product in a marginal market, selling largely to adults, supported by a network of hobbyists who create clothing and shoes for the Blythe dolls, building their collection but also customizing them for resale. Many enthusiasts share also stylized photographs of their work on the Internet.

The dolls range in retail price from around US$60 for the Ashton Drake versions to upwards of several thousand dollars for an original Kenner doll in the collector’s market.

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Apptivity 3Mattel’s Apptivity toy line enhances popular smart phone games with physical figurines. Apptivity toy characters can be used to control existing games such as Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja through capacitive plastic pads placed at the bottom of the figurines.

Mattel’s Apptivity toys are an example of the larger trend of “appcessories”, various physical accessories designed to enhance and complement related smartphone applications. Touch-sensitive contacts on the bottom of Apptivity toys allow players to use the toy characters for controlling related iPad games, normally controlled with finger.

There are other bonuses as well. In Fruit Ninja using the Apptivity toy with an updated version of the existing app unlocks an exclusive multiplayer mode. In it, the Sensei toy can be used to push fruits and bombs off a conveyor belt and into the competitor’s area, catching them up and making them fail.

Along with Fruit Ninja, toys for Cut the Rope and Angry Birds activate special game modes (the latter will even let you play as the pigs!). Additionally, Apptivity toys are available at least for Hot Wheels, The Dark Knight Rises, Barbie, WWE, and Monster High brands.

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Disney Infinity

Disney Infinity 4Disney Infinity is a line of toys that can be transported into a digital game of the same name. The characters are based on popular Disney characters and form different play-sets that each contain a campaign of its own.

With Disney Infinity players place specific character figurines on a special pedestal to activate their digital equivalents in a digital game of the same name. As such, it stands as direct competition to Activision’s Skylanders. Playing takes form viaplay-sets”, which provide access to the different campaign games, sized around six hours in playtime. Characters and play-sets from Monsters University, The Incredibles, and Pirates of the Caribbean are featured, among others. The campaigns are widely varied and differ from each other in play style, too. The play-set stories are designed to function with a particular set of characters, meaning that each play-set only supports characters from its own franchise.

The characters can, however, be mixed in the Toy Box mode, a sort of a sandbox game creator mode, where players are able to create their own game experiences. There are also special coin collectibles that unlock particular Disney themed objects in the Play Box mode. These coins can be purchases in blind packs – sealed and unseen before purchase. As such, they can be easily placed in cereal boxes and the like.

Rather than a new game franchise, Disney sees Infinity as a platform for games, most likely suggesting that the company aims for continuing figurine sales as it introduces new franchises.

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Bin Weevils

ImageBin Weevils is an online virtual world where kids are free to move around, socialize, and build their “Bin Nests”. Bin Weevils, the cutesy insect characters, exist also as a line of toys each containing a code that can be used online to unlock “nest items”.

Bin Weevils got started as a series of Nickelodeon animation shorts revolving around Bin Weevils, cute ant-like insects. The shorts have been the basis of an online game that centers on the main characters, Tink and Clott.

Joining Bin Weevils online game is free. Some areas of the site and game features, however, are restricted to paying members, or “Bin Tycoons”, only. Players can create their own pet Bin Weevil, walk around and explore a 3D world, chat and play online games with friends, do activities, solve secret missions and decorate their homes and garden (which other players can then be invited to visit). The more online games and puzzles players complete, the more virtual money (called Mulch) they earn. Mulch is used to buy items, furniture, gadgets and gizmos for player’s “Bin Nest”.

Bin Weevils toy line includes minifigures, collectables, nest playsets, regular and talking plush toys, a trading card game and books, to name some. Most of these come with codes for redeeming content in the online game.

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Moshi Monsters

ImageMoshi Monsters is an online world of pet monsters where users customize and nurture a virtual pet monster, move around Monstro City, take daily puzzle challenges, play games, personalize their room, and communicate with other users.

Developed by Mind Candy in 2008, Moshi Monsters is primarily aimed at children aged 6–12 and has 65 million registered users worldwide. The basic version of the game is free, while a paid membership with members-only features is also available. Players choose from one of six virtual pet monsters to customize and play with, and then interact with other users in game and on the official message forums. Due to the age of the target audience, the forums are not real-time chat rooms, but rather monitored message posting facilities.

In 2008, “Moshlings”, even smaller monsters that act as pets for the original Monsters, were released. There are various methods of obtaining Moshlings, including purchasing special “seeds” from an in-game shop to attract them. Following its online success, Moshi Monsters has expanded commercially with physical products, including toys, the top selling kids’ magazine (in the UK), a Nintendo DS video game, a music album, books, membership cards, trading cards, and molding clay, to name some examples.

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Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure

skylandersSkylanders (2011) is a fusion of a digital game and a toy line. Skylander toys, equipped with RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips, are placed on a “Portal of Power” peripheral which instantly activates a matching virtual character in the game.

Published by Activision and developed by Toys for Bob, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure features 32 fantasy characters ranging from skeletons to tree men. A starter pack for Skylanders includes the game (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, 3DS), three starter toy characters, and a special “portal of power”. As a key feature, the toy characters are equipped with RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips and placing them on the portal of power instantly activates a matching virtual character in the game. The feeling of actually transporting the character in the game is strengthened by the toys’ ability to save the player progress within itself.

Ignoring specific platforms, players can continue their game campaign on any of the supported consoles. Each character belongs to a class (one of 8) and has varying levels of specific attributes, giving each toy/character unique characteristics within game play. To conquer all the game locations, player needs most of the characters. New characters can be bought separately or in three-a-pack combos.