Play Enhanced


Toys-to-Life products are a combination of physical toys and digital games. Currently, toys-to-life products are the fastest growing sector of the toy industry and they are expected to reach annual global revenues of $2 billion US by 2018.


According to a recent Connected Kids report, conducted by Childwise, children over the age of five spend more than six hours in front of a screen (TVs, tablets, mobiles, and games consoles). This trend creates challenges for traditional toy makers. But there is the opportunity to create an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. Engaging users depends upon the proper balance of toy and tech — both must share equal importance.


Lego has entered the Toys-to-Life category with, Lego Dimensions, one of the best examples of a balance between physical and digital play. Throughout the game, players are encouraged to take a break from the screen, grab some blocks and complete building tasks. The resulting objects can be used to unlock new content within the game.


Recently, Splashworks worked on a product for American Girl, Maryellen’s TV Console, which encourages combining physical and digital play. The best results are had by girls using the app to create TV shows for display on the toy. Our objective was to produce an authentic play pattern between the real and virtual — one reinforces the other and neither is complete alone.


The toy is a replica of a 1950’s TV console that can use a standard iPad as the screen. Knobs on the toy can interact with the app once the iPad is situated within the console. The app lets users select a theme, choose music, add their name and shoot black and white video. A filter that recreates a distressed look can be applied to completed videos to give them an authentic 1950’s feel.


Developing the digital component for the toy was a new experience for the team and there were many important takeaways from the process.


• Careful consideration needs to be given to how the combination of physical and digital play can augment natural play patterns.


• When play occurs outside the app, this interruption causes disruption therefore it is essential to have an intuitive interface where it is easy to navigate especially to leave and return.


• When toys are constructed to work with a specific mobile device, the potential target audience is significantly reduced. Anyone with the wrong device can become a frustrated customer. As a result it is important that the app can be used independently from the toy and vice-versa.


• If an app has to interface directly with a toy, the app’s development schedule needs to be linked with the toy’s prototype deliveries. Every time there is a new prototype, alignments can potentially shift and the app may need to be tweaked to fit.

The evolving world of Toy-to-Life has enormous promise. We believe the products that employ clever technology—but don’t ignore physical play patterns, mental and emotional development, and engagement with content—will be the ones to watch.

07 Dec, 2015