Augmented Reality: What are the Prospects for Licensed Toys, Books,
Games and Other Products?
Reprint of article from The Licensing
Letter (May 3, 2010). Reprinted with
permission of EPM Communications, Inc.
With the number of 3-D movies seeming to increase
exponentially with each new release, and with the consumer electronics
industry trying to push 3-D into the home, what are the prospects for
licensed 3-D toys, books, card games and other products incorporating
the technology known as Augmented Reality (AR)?
There is definitely buzz about Augmented Reality in the toy,
publishing, and entertainment industries. Back at this year’s Toy
Fair, one attendee went so far as to say he has “seen the future
of toys and it is Augmented Reality.”
But whether AR is the “flavor of the month” or has the
potential to become a mainstay of toy aisles, publishing, and games
remains to be seen.
Broadly, AR involves a product such as a card or toy connected to a
webcam that allows an image to be viewed in 3-D form on a monitor. At
this stage, AR offers more promise than actual product, but some
speculate that it will transform the toy industry in particular —
perhaps with 3-D tie-ins to heavily licensed 3-D movies.
“There are traditionally two phases of technology. The first,
shock and awe, happens when everyone jumps on what is cool and
different. The second, general acceptance is when a technology becomes
mainstream and a part of everyday life. It’s too early too tell
what AR will do, but I wouldn’t bet against it becoming
mainstream,” says toy consultant Richard Gottlieb.
“[Augmented Reality] seems to have the potential to become mass
market in the not-so distant future,” says Greg Davis of Total
Immersion, a company focused on integrating AR technology into new
platforms. “As [AR] continues to develop, new methods of tracking
this paradigm will change dramatically, providing a playground that
seamlessly combines the virtual with the physical world.”
Certainly AR is novel and exciting, but others question whether it
will have a run beyond the novelty factor. As one licensor says,
“I just don’t see what’s fun about it right
Many experienced toy licensors are taking a wait and see approach.
“When you first see AR, it’s absolutely super cool, but
I’m not quite sure how kids will really play with it,” says
Carlin West, 4Kids Entertainment. “I have seen what Topps has done
with its cards, and how images come up on screen and move around and do
things, but I’m not sure it’s really a play pattern; I
don’t know if it gives the kid that much extra value.” Topps
has had success with its Disney Club Penguin cards, which are
interactive with the children’s virtual world.
As West points out, one of the hottest toys on the market of late is
“a wind-up hamster.” Items like $1 Hot Wheels have also been
driving volume. Toy giant Hasbro has so far been holding back,
despite Mattel making a buzz about its AR Avatar toy lineup. According
to Hasbro, there are no plans on the horizon for AR in its licensed
product range, despite 3-D entertainment hits such as its Transformers
movies, that would seem to lend themselves to the genre.
“Kids are the ultimate early adaptors and they expect
technology to be a part of their daily lives,” says Elie Dekel,
Saban. “Today’s examples of augmented reality — i.e.
Mattel’s Avatar toys — are a glimpse of what kids will
demand in the future.”
Time will tell how Mattel’s AR offering performs. Mattel has
the deep pockets to give it a go, but price is the most obvious downside
for companies interested in AR. An action figure from Mattel’s
Avatar iTag AR line, for instance, costs about $10 more than the basic
action figure. Since an AR toy has both physical and digital components,
the tangible product is the most expensive component, though the
development of the digital element, AR or otherwise, also involves
substantial fixed initial costs. Here is how AR has been making its way
into the marketplace in products and promotions:
Improved Action Figures. Mattel and Total Immersion
introduced a line of action figures based on 20th Century Fox’s
Avatar in fall 2009. These are considered the first retail toys to
incorporate AR technology. The collection, called iTag Set, started with
an initial 25 SKUs and was followed with an additional 15 SKUs for
spring 2010. Similarly, SpinMaster’s Tron Legacy Impulse
Projection Figure has a 3D face that enables the action figure to
display lifelike features.
Point-of-Sale. Lego and its AR partner, Metaio, are
using AR on toy packaging. Kids hold a package to a screen to see what
the completed project looks like in 3-D. This Lego Digital Box is
currently available in all Lego retail stores.
Worldwide Play. The MIT Media Lab is developing an
interactive physical game that makes it possible for one child to stand
in front of a screen to kick a physical ball to someone standing in
front of another screen who is able to return it.
Beyond The Printed Word. Kids’ books are able
to “come alive” with animations, sound, and video clips when
placed in front of the webcam, says Metaio’s Lisa Murphy.
“[It] really teaches the kids the topics.” Metaio and
ArsEdition recently introduced an interactive 3-D book, “Aliens
& UFOs,” which transforms 2-D pictures into 3-D. Animated
films Nine and Coraline both issued AR-enhanced trading cards allowing
users to interact virtually with film characters. Topps and Total
Immersion offer 3-D Live trading cards for Major League Baseball and the
Virtual Theme Parks. Total Immersion has worked with
Six Flags Theme Parks on several interactive games, including Professor
Keaney’s Xploratorium. Metaio teamed with Universal Orlando for an
AR promotion providing a 3-Denhanced tour at the new Harry Potter
Food Tie-Ins. The general consensus among those in
the restaurant industry is that in addition to a toy, premiums need a
digital element to appeal to families. McDonald’s has been the
first to offer AR premiums with McD Vision, a global promotion tied to
Avatar that ran in 40 countries.