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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ROB the Robot 2R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) was an accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Receiving commands via the TV screen flashing signals through its eyes, R.O.B. supported only two games which involved R.O.B. moving around plastic discs.

Released in 1985, R.O.B. had a short product lifespan with support for only two games, Gyromite and Stack-Up (the “Robot Series”). R.O.B. was released in the US with the intention of portraying the NES as something novel – a “robot game system” – in order to differentiate it from the failed “video game systems” of the 1983 video game crash. It was available in a Deluxe Set, a configuration for the console that included, among other things, R.O.B. and Gyromite.

R.O.B. receives commands via optical flashes (there are six different types) in the screen. Just like the NES Zapper, R.O.B. only functions correctly when coupled with a CRT type television. A puzzle-platformer, Gyromite involves player collecting dynamite before the time runs out, with several red and blue pillars blocking his way. Player commands R.O.B. to place gyros on red and blue buttons (pushing the A or B button on the second NES controller), thus moving the pillar of the corresponding color. Stack-Up was sold with its own plastic blocks, and includes a series of mini games for R.O.B.

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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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Nintendo 3DS SpotPass and StreetPass

Nintendo StreetPass and SpotPassStreetPass is an “always on” background connectivity system for Nintendo 3DS. It allows 3DS to seek and connect to wireless network nodes on the background, for example when strolling through town, enabling data exchange for games and other features.

Nintendo 3DS features an “always on” background connectivity system, SpotPass, which can automatically seek and connect to wireless network nodes such as Wi-Fi hotspots, sending and downloading information in the background while in sleep mode or while playing a game. Further, using the console’s background connectivity, a Nintendo 3DS in StreetPass Mode can automatically discover other 3DS units within range, establish a connection, and exchange content for mutually played games, all transparently and without requiring any user input, even when the console is dormant. Thus a monster collecting game might reward users with additional monsters for passing somebody with a new monster.

“Swapnote” feature allows users to send 3D pictures, sound, and scribbled messages to registered friends via either StreetPass or SpotPass. Also, certain hotspots send a channel called “Nintendo Zone” featuring game trailers, game screenshots, and information on games.