A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences

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Mega Bloks World of Warcraft

WoW Mega Bloks 2Mega Bloks World of Warcraft figures are a line of action figures, dragons, castles, attack vehicles, and mounts. Due to their high number of articulation points, the toys offer more varied play options compared to Lego figures.

Developed by construction set manufacturer Mega Brands and based on Blizzard’s popular MMO game, Mega Bloks World of Warcraft figures can be seen offering more action figure-like alternative to the competitor Lego’s construction-oriented toy lines. Compared to the standard 7 articulation points on a typical Lego figure, Mega Bloks World of Warcraft figures have up to 12. (Generally, the ones with some kind of robe lack the knee joints and only have 10 points.) Furthermore, Mega Bloks figures have ball joints on their necks, shoulders and hips, giving them more possibilities for posing. So far the series includes such popular characters and locations from the WoW lore as Colton, Lich King, Stormwind, and Deathwing, with characters based on the Mists of Pandaria expansion on their way.

Mega Brands has also released other Mega Bloks toy lines based on computer games, including the Halo series by Microsoft.

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Talk With Me Barbie

Talk With Me Barbie 2

Released in 1997, Mattel’s Talk With Me Barbie was a programmable Barbie doll set that came with a special PC-connecting toy-desk and a CD-ROM. With the aid of these the Barbie could pronounce the user’s name and make preprogrammed comments.

Talk With Me Barbie doll from 1997 came with its own PC table that was connected to the user’s PC. The associated program came on a CD-ROM which was included in the package. Using the computer program, the users could select a set of phrases and their own name for Barbie to speak. When the user’s PC was connected to the play set desk and the Barbie was seated by it, the phrases were then stored into the Barbie’s necklace through utilizing infrared beaming, thus allowing the use of the voice functions without any accessories. Barbie (or rather, the necklace) could pronounce over 15,000 names, including a lot of uncommon ones, and even do different kinds of pronunciations. The phrases included on the CD covered a wide array of different kinds of situations. The user did not, however, have a possibility to create his or her own phrases.

Retailing for $90 in the US, Talk With Me Barbie was eventually deemed too expensive to be profitable and discontinued.


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Hot Wheels iNitro Speeders

ImageiNitro Speeders are miniature radio-controlled cars with a carrying case that serves triple duty as the carrying case, charger, and controller. Moreover, the free iNitro app for iOS devices lets players control the car remotely with a host of different control layouts.

iNitro Speeders have lots of zip, going in scale speeds up to 600 miles per hour. What puts the “I” in the iNitro Speeders name is the fact that it is compatible with the iPod Touch, iPad 2, and iPhone. The free iNitro app turns the smart device into a controller for the car. After downloading the app, users attach the R/C adapter into the headphone jack, calibrate the device into controller, and choose one of five ways to drive the car: dual-stick control, motion control, slide, pre-programmed routes, or draw and drive. The app also comes with a host of games and the opportunity to customize your driving profile and keep track of your progress. The Speeders come in three styles: Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang GT, and Ken Block Fiesta.

The touchscreen app and adapter really do seem like an added value without the added expense. The iNitro system costs only a little bit more than the plain Nitro Speeders from Mattel. The vehicle is powered by a permanently installed Li-Po battery. The controller requires four AA batteries, which are not included. The iControl adapter includes three button cell batteries.

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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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Designer toys

Designer toys 3cTo an extent, toy design and production has been liberated from the hands of big companies and in to the laps of artists and designers, as anyone can commission a batch of few hundred toys from China. 

Made of variety of materials, such as ABS plastic and vinyl, designer toys are often produced in limited editions typically from as few as 10 or as many as 2000 pieces. Besides having backgrounds in graphic design, illustration or self-described low brow art, many of the designers have connections to graffiti art, a feature evident in the mash-up aesthetic of the scene.

Designer toys first appeared in the 1990s and are a continuing niche success, gaining more attention as high profile trade conventions such as Comic Con have chosen to expand to include toys also. Having an “adult feel” to them designer toys often birth online communities of adult collectors who exchange toy related information, pictures, etc. Sub-categories of designer toys include urban vinyl, designer plush, and designer consumer electronics.

Despite the importance of China the creative epicenter of designer toy world has moved from Far East to the west, in the Americas, Europe, and even South-Africa. As people buy stock toys, repaint them, and sell them online, many times for thousands of dollars, the line between consumer and artist is blurred to the point the two are often indistinguishable.

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Furby (2012 Edition)

ImageFurby is a furry, talking and moving electronic doll that answers to a host of voice commands. The 2012 edition introduces new features such as the ability to feed Furby by “flicking” different edibles towards it from an iDevice.  

The original Furby was equipped with robotic eyes and ears, simple sensors and the ability to speak. While already the 2005 Emtro-Tronic Furbies introduced increased facial emotions and voice recognition, the 2012 Furby takes the design even further by making Furby’s body more active, with the ability to wiggle its ears and dance. The classic white eyes have been replaced with LCDs widening Furby’s range of emotions and giving it a host of playful “eye graphics”. Like the first generation, Furby 2.0 has the ability to communicate with other Furbys. When Furby speaks and another one is nearby, it can discern the “Furbish” language and respond. It can also respond to human voices, and even pick up on tone.

The free Furby iOS app offers up a translator that will listen to its speech and offer its English equivalent. The app also features a dictionary and meals for Furby, which are served up by flicking them in its general direction. Unlike a Tamagotchi, Furby won’t die if you don’t feed it — though it may get cranky.

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LEGO High Speed Chase set

ImageLEGO City Police ‘High Speed Chase’ is a construction set in Lego’s City series that allows the buyer to unlock exclusive content in the Wii U console game, Lego City Undercover. The set also contains an exclusive minifigure of the game’s protagonist, Chase McCain.

Lego City Undercover for Wii U is an open-world sandbox game developed by TT Fusion and TT Games and is set in the Lego City theme. Unlike the previous Lego computer games, it is not based on an existing third party license but instead on original characters developed by Lego. Similar to Toys for Bob and Skylanders Giants, Lego is using the physical play set to sell exclusive content for the digital game. Anyone who purchases the ‘High Speed Chase’ set will find a unique code in the package – on the police car’s license plate – that will unlock unique vehicles and missions in the game. Unsurprisingly, the police car and sports car included in the Lego toy set are part of the unlockable content. The set also includes an exclusive Chase McCain minifigure – collector’s item in itself – modeled after the protagonist in Lego City Undercover. Those who pre-order the game receive also an exclusive Lego minifigure of the game’s antagonist, Rex Fury.

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App toys

ImageThe term ’app toys’ can be seen as a general category for toys that – in one way or another – incorporate a smart device application into a play experience with a toy. Examples range from squeaking smart phones inside plush toys to apps facilitating and controlling play.  

The last few years have seen the introduction of a new type of electronic toy. As various smart devices incorporating touchscreens, motion sensors and gyro motors have become commonplace household items, and as adults have let their toddlers dabble around with these devices, a sizeable economy of toy applications for younger children have emerged. The term ’app toys’ has become general jargon for toys that incorporate a smart device application into the play experience of a toy, in one way or another. Examples include app pets (Tamagotchi-like toys that come alive via the smart device and are subsequently taken care of by the user), slip-ins (smart devices placed inside a plush toys in order to give the toy interactivity), and toys like Lego’s Life of George (where the player uses Lego bricks to build an object displayed on the screen and then verifies the end result with the smart phone camera).

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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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Slip-ins and playful protection cases

Slip-ins and playful protection cases 4

Many kinds of protective smart device covers double as children’s toys/designer toys. While some are mere decorative cases, some are accompanied with a dedicated app adding interactive character aspect to the product.  

Since the beginning of smart devices, users have tried to protect their phones and tablets from accidental falling and rough handling. This has led many manufacturers to design more and more attractive cases for different user segments. One such emerging category is the smart device cases doubling as toys and playful characters. Some of these “slip-ins” allow user to slide their device into a plush toy which then becomes a sound-and-interaction-enhanced smart toy. Some toys leave openings in the plushie, letting parts of the device screen remain App Toys 2visible for touch controls and visual input/output.

A typical slip-in, YetYet by Totoya Creatures, a cuddly yeti-like creature, lets children interact with it via touch openings. A less interactive (though perhaps more protective) case is the iGuy by Speck Products. iGuy is a durable foam case for iPad that doubles both as a stand and as a character that children can play with. Yanko Design’s iWhale depicts a whale. The “blowhole” doubles as a headphone jack, while the curled tail allows the whale to grip to a number of surfaces like handlebars or rear-view mirrors.