A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences

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Invizimals 1Invizimals is an augmented reality based collectible-creature-game for the PlayStation Portable. It involves players catching and raising various creatures and doing battle with them. It was bundled with the PSP camera peripheral on launch.

Drawing comparisons to Pokémon, Invizimals involves players capturing and raising different species of creatures and battling other users or an AI opponent with them. Unlike Pokémon however, Invizimals requires the player to hunt and capture these creatures within the real world, using the concept of augmented reality, a camera attachment for the PlayStation Portable, and a physical “trap”, a square-shaped device used as a fiduciary marker. Monsters are spawned at different environments determined by colors of surfaces and time of day. Players are able to raise and level their monsters, and allow them to learn different attacks that can be used in battle. The trap can be used to view the monster collection and take pictures of it.

The player will be able to collect 100+ Invizimals during the course of the game. Each Invizimal has different attacks, powers, and skills. The player can level up their Invizimals by collecting “Watts”. The higher the level, the stronger the Invizimal.

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Mechatars 1Mechatars is an interactive toy robot and a free virtual online game. Mechatar robot is a remote controlled toy that can both be used for completing missions and challenges against friends in the physical world, but also used to connect to the Mechatars online game.

With a Mechatar robot, kids are able to drive their toy around with the included remote control, complete offline missions and challenge their friends to online and offline Mechatar battles. Mechatars evolve both in and out of the virtual world. When you fight a friend, either online or in the real world, your robot gains experience points and becomes more skilled.  Speed, damage, defense, and other traits are taken into account. There are also attachable weapons available for purchase, which will also show up online when you connect your Mechatar Robot via the included cable. The bots are compatible with Mac and PC. Those without a robot can still play the online game for free. In the online game players can customize their avatars, earn or buy weapons and armor, and perform missions against the nemesis of the game, the Swarm. The primary location in the virtual world is the arena, where players spend their competitive time gaining experience and special attacks they then can download to their Mechatar.

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Techpet 3Bandai’s TechPet is a robot pet toy dog with an iPhone for a face. Users take care of the TechPet, level it up and earn rewards. TechPet is an example of an app toy, toys that in one way or another incorporate a smart device application into a play experience with a toy.

The winner of the award for best ‘Innovative toy’ at Tokyo Toy Fair 2012, called SmartPet in Japan and re-branded as TechPet for the UK market, the electronic dog TechPet incorporates an iPhone or iPod touch into its animatronic body. Like a Tamagotchi, it needs to be taken care of and can be taught to perform tricks on command. TechPet can also take calls and play games and music. The TechPet app, downloadable for free, can be used also when the phone is removed from the toy, so the user can continue to look after the pet, level it up and earn rewards while on-the-go.

Like with Tamagotchi, Bandai believes that it has a hit product with TechPet – one that really makes the most of the ‘app toy’ concept as it utilises a full range of the iPhone’s features; the touch screen, camera and microphone – combined with an animatronic package. Still, the marketing in Europe will be kept relatively low-key for the time being.

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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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ImageAkodomon is an appcessory  adventure game where players use a special AR cage to move their Akodomon creature in and out of the game app and to care, feed and groom it. Players are also able to strengthen the Akodomon by scanning a physical Akodomon toy.

In Akodomon, an AppGear appcessory game from WowWee, players explore the virtual world of Akodomon, discover hidden regions and engage in battles to restore peace to the land. Playing Akodomon consists of an Akodomon creature, the AR cage, an AR marker and the Akodomon game app. While physical components all come with the game box purchase, the app is available free for the iOS and Android. During play, players are able to scan their Akodomon toy in order to transform their creature into an all-powerful alter ego, Colossus. Each of the six Akodomon has its unique strengths and abilities. The AR cage is used to care for the Akodomon in the real world: the app will indicate when Akodomon needs to be send to its cage for grooming. Using the AR cage, the creature can also be fed in order to power it up. The AR marker, shaped like a tree stump, is used for head-to-head battles with a friend in co-op AR mode. When viewed through a smart device, the AR marker will become the center of the arena.

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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.