Northy's Inventor Mantras: Digital or die

This week, Wow! Stuff CEO Richard North explains why toy manufacturers need inventors of digital toys.
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I wrote this with my colleague, Wow! Labs' Dr. Jim Wyatt who is the biggest geek I know.

Jim is also a great inventor and co-creator of our Real FX Racing system, so please excuse my indulgence this week on what makes Real FX so special.

We are getting to the point where we will stop thinking of things as toys for kids where toy companies set parameters for age groups past five years old: 'this toy is for ages five to seven', 'this one for ages seven to nine, and so on.

We've seen how smart devices have been embraced by young and old and the 'levelling up' of the games ensures the 'winners' are more to do with the users skill level, not their age.

This is likely due to the users time on the game and thus their amount of practice, as opposed to age group!

As a society we are just not growing up like we used to. Our generation are a seething mass of kidults (kids at heart) that never grew out of our video games, 3 3/4" action figures, stickers and comic books.

Geeks no longer hide in the shadows, they are our new rock stars, comedians and movie directors and they have brought their toys and entertainment properties with them into the mainstream for an audience that transcends all ages.

Just look at 'kids' movies like Despicable Me to get a glimpse of the future that is our now.

We're not just making toys for kids anyomore, we're making them for ourselves and with modern technology we can make the experience richer than ever before.

Soon we will no longer be just acting out what we saw in a cartoon or movie with a couple of plastic action dollies. No, we will be immersed in a continuing narrative that flits effortlessly across TV, film, social Media, AR, experiential shopping, play parks and exhibitions.

These consumer communications and a company's ability for great story telling will blend virtual and real world experiences utilising physical objects.

In Wow! Labs' case, we are very much focused on the digital meets physical emerging toys world.

It won't matter if you're eight or eighty we'll all be playing and experiencing together, possibly at different skill levels as the more we interact, the richer and more immersive the experience will be.

The technology is already here. Just look at the level of sophistication in our Real FX Racing system. We've taken artificial intelligence and used it to blend with the best of traditional real world toys (radio control and slot racing) to provide a whole new experience that, we believe, is the most realistic racing outside of a real car on a real track.

Trying is believing.

As everything in our lives become more connected, our toys are bound to be part of that. But it needs to be done right. There has to be a reason for that connectivity, otherwise you are just adding complexity and
cost but no benefit to the consumer.

A lot of product will do just that and the wheat and the chaff will go through its natural sorting cycle and winners will emerge.

We think we have got that balance right in Real FX and have left ourselves a lot of doors open to enable us to add to, and enrich, the system we have set in place for years to come.

In the wider picture of the 'Internet of Things,' where your smart device (often your phone) connects to everyday things like washing machines, kettles, garage doors and thermostats, we will see a revolution the size of the advent of the internet.

Take a look under the clip off body of a Real FX car to get a glimpse of the mini USB port. Everything has been designed with the future in mind and to enable a real and virtual gameplay the like never seen or experienced before, and that will be an additive to your original purchase.

One plus one must equal three, as Apple have shown so well for the last decade.

However, that said, the technology alone does not make the toy great.

The play patterns and experiences you create with it still have to engage and thrill for it to be a great toy.

3D films are (arguably) more immersive than 2D films, but if it's a rubbish story you can't engage with. You are pulled out of the immersion and just left watching a rather rubbish film in 3D, having paid extra to go see it!

Like I said before there will be plenty of players in this new connected world and plenty of false dawns but there will also be a few very, very successful winners.

Skylanders was a wake up call to the toy industry and toy manufacturers had better get their digital toy strategy, and their digital toy inventors, in place or be left behind.

This week's inventor mantra (which is sure to put cat amongst pigeons with some inventors...):

  • There's always room for traditional toys, but more exceedingly big wins will come from digital meets physical, than from traditional non-digital invention.

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