HYBRIDEX

A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences


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Nintendo Amiibo

amiibo_img02_E3Amiibo is a line of RFID-equipped toys to be used with Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS consoles. The toys can be scanned by supported Nintendo games and each toy typically yields some kind of special functionalities for the matching character in the game.

Amiibo toys – officially “amiibo”, with lower case – are equipped with RFID sensors placed in the base of the toy, and can be read by the NFC reader within the Wii U gamepad and New Nintendo 3DS. The toy line consists of popular Nintendo characters such as Mario, Link and Donkey Kong while also introducing lesser known characters such as Marth from the Fire Emblem series and King Dedede from the Kirby series. The toys are compatible with various Nintendo games and open different kinds of functionalities in each game. The latest Super Smash Bros games (Wii U, 3DS, 2014), for example, allow the user to level up corresponding in-game characters, teach them new abilities and save their progress in the figurines. In Hyrule Warriors (2014) a Link figurine can be used to unlock special items. In Mario Kart 8, figurines are used to unlock additional outfits for player’s Mii characters. Like Nintendo’s earlier RFID toys, the Pokémon Rumble U toy line, the Amiibo toys draw direct comparisons to similar “toys-to-life” games, such as Disney Infinity and Skylanders.

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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.


Makie Dolls

Makie Dolls 4Makies are 3D printed dolls. User customizes the doll’s facial features in MakieLab web service after which the doll is printed and shipped. Through the service, additional clothes and accessories are also available.

The lowering costs of 3D printing sees companies adapting the technology to new sectors, such as customizable toys. MakieLab lets customers closely define the appearance – face, skin color, hair type and color – of the elf-like Makie doll via a related web service. Users are able to create as many virtual Makies as they want and then order the creations they like as 3D printed dolls. The service can then be used to shop from a wide variety of additional doll clothes and accessories. Makies support more extensive customizing, too, as the doll’s head can be fitted with electronics, such as Lilypad Arduino sets, Bluetooth, and RFID tags, for further tinkering.

While the price tag of roughly 80€ is not necessarily too high for children, high-end collectible toys are often embraced by adult aficionados. This kind of business model strongly relies on the community, as the users are encouraged to create custom content and share design tips and photos.


VCR Games

VCR Games 1VCR games were game hybrid that used video cassettes as a part of game experience. Players might for example search for clues by watching a tape or even shoot at the screen with toy guns when special lights were blinking.

VCR games utilized the defining technology of the 1980s, the video tape, which were used to expand regular games such as board games (and eventually, toys) to new areas. Starting the genre, Clue VCR Mystery Game (1985) was the most popular VCR game and involved players solving murders with real on-screen actors. In Candy Land VCR Board Game (1986) players watched video segments to find visual clues in order to move matching cards from the board.

A unique toy-game hybrid, Captain Power and the Soldiers From the Future (1987) comprised of a TV-show – later released on video – and an interactive toy line. Special light signals from TV would activate mechanisms in the toys and even “shoot” at them, while the kids were able to shoot back at the screen to score points. Similar shooting mechanism was used also in Action Max (1987), a VCR light gun game, that resembled Nintendo’s Zapper. Some of the games, like the horror themed Nightmare (1991), got popular enough to spawn expansions, each of which came with a new video tape.


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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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Disney Appmates

App Toys 3Disney Appmates is a line of Cars 2 (2011) themed toys and a free iPad app. Players place the toy car on the iPad and then, by turning the car, control a virtual version of it cruising around different landscapes, presented from a top-down view. 

An “appcessory” game from Disney, Appmates consists of toy cars themed around Pixar’s Cars 2 and a free game app downloadable for iPad. The toy cars are “driven” across the top of an iPad: the user holds the car in the center of the screen while the scenery races by. The toys interact with the Appmates app through special pads at the bottom of the cars. There is no need for any other accessories or installations beside the app, as the app recognizes the pads and activates as soon as the toy is placed on it. (The game, however, can be fooled by placing fingers in the same spots, and driven without the toy.) Headlights and different optional accessories appear on screen around the toy, as if they were really attached to it. The game is based around different locations from the Cars movies and lets players drive around courses, complete missions and collect special hubcaps which can be used as virtual currency to by virtual items in the game.


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Ubooly

Ubooly 1

Ubooly is a plush creature that comes alive when you place an iDevice inside of it. Ubooly can then tell jokes and stories, make conversation, even recognizing users’ pitch. Ubooly can also be customized to teach children math and science.    

Launched through a Kickstarter campaign, Ubooly is a “slip-in” hybrid toy, aimed mostly at kids. Users first buy the Ubooly plushie and then download the free app. The interactive face of Ubooly can be customized and it talks back when spoken to. Similar to Furby, two Uboolies can recognize each other and have conversation.

The toy is also a service, as Ubooly downloads interactive content every month over wifi, including games, stories, and adventures. The initial download includes over four hours of content and the company estimates that there will be roughly half an hour worth of extra content per month. Content packs are available as in-app purchases.

In Ubooly Lab parents can customize Ubooly to teach their child new languages, math, and ocean biology, among other things. After this Ubooly’s data can be accessed to see how the kids are progressing. Other features include Ubooly walking kids through teeth brushing, i.e. making the two minute brushing session more engaging via a song or a story, changing it each time to keep it fresh.