BRIDGING the gap between physical and digital play is looming as a must for traditional toy companies.
Relying purely on physical toys is no longer enough as companies scramble to satisfy the play appetites of increasingly tech savvy kids.
Australian company Moose Toys has had global success with its Shopkins figurines, selling more than 240 million of the characters inspired by everyday groceries and household items from their release in June 2014 to January 2016.
Picture: Jennifer Longaway
But it is the app game version of Shopkins, developed by South Australian company Mighty Kingdom that is helping to drive the physical toys’ sales well into 2016.
Moose and Mighty Kingdom released the game Shopkins: Welcome to Shopville in the App Store and Google Play in September 2015, quickly hitting the top 10 in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The free app game, which allows users to enter a unique code from the figurine package and build their physical and digital collections together, has been downloaded more than 8 million times in nine months.
It also allows users to travel down the Shopville main street and play various mini-games along the way collecting points to unlock digital Shopkins.
Every day about 200,000 children play the game, pushing it to number one for children's games (aged 6-8) in Apple's app store in 45 countries.
Shopkins: Welcome to Shopville has been translated into Japanese and will have French, German, Italian and Spanish versions available in the coming months.
Since the game’s release, Mighty Kingdom General Manager Dan Thorsland has attended major toy and game conferences in the United States where he has been invited to sit on discussion panels about how to successfully bridge the physical into the digital.
Thorsland, a passionate New Yorker who has lived in the South Australian capital Adelaide for about 15 years, said the game’s success had also proved sustainable.
“We’re almost getting a million downloads a month and it’s got a daily active user base of over 200,000 around the world playing the game for 18 minutes a day so it’s doing really well and it’s sustaining that audience,” he said.
The global toy industry is worth more than USD $90 billion a year.
Major toy companies have been dabbling with physical/digital crossovers since LEGO launched Life of George – the world’s first interactive game combining apps with real LEGO bricks in 2011.
More recently, console games such as LEGO Dimensions and Disney Infinity have successfully integrated physical figurines, despite Disney’s announcement last month that it would soon discontinue Infinity’s production.
Mattel’s Hot Wheels Apptivity allows players to steer their physical Hot Wheels cars around an iPad screen, where they interact with in-game action across a series of mini-games.
The latest Sphero Star Wars BB-8 droid (below) toy is powered by a smartphone app and has a “Watch With Me” function that has it listening for cues to trigger responses while watching The Force Awakens movie.
Thorsland said the toy industry was still “getting its head around” how kids play with physical and digital toys together.
“That crossover, that merger of physical and digital play that’s what the future is, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
“Kids don’t see the difference between a TV screen, a movie screen, a book, a toy or an app, it’s just playtime with a brand, it’s just the toy, we call it world building.”
The huge success of the Shopkins app and a $25,000 South Australian Government grant has allowed the company to rapidly consolidate its growing reputation as a global innovator.
“The important thing for us is that we are able to get a lot of detailed analytics back from the app in terms of how kids are playing with it in a very detailed way – it’s not intrusive, we don’t know who they are – but it identifies trends of what kids like to do within the software,” Thorsland said.
“We are talking to a number of major feature film studios and cable brands, we’ve been in discussion with major video game developers. The next thing to do is to go out and talk to global brands.
“We’re also talking to Occulus and Microsoft about how to create interesting and compelling content for their new and emerging hardware including the Apple Watch.”
Thorsland said the keys to developing a successful app game for children was to understand your target audience, look at what else is on the market and modify it in a bid to appeal to target users’ interests.
“You really need to do your research in terms of what the market does, you get a lot of start up wannabes who think that because it’s an idea they like, that it’s what the world will like and that’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
“The toy industry says don’t watch the game watch the player, don’t watch the toy, watch the kid.
“It’s always about observing what the market wants, who your target market is and what they like to do.”
Thorsland said Mighty Kingdom, which has a team of 18 in Adelaide but is looking to expand to 30 by the end of the year, was continuing to work well with Melbourne-based Moose Toys.
“We’re going to have four or five different products based on Moose Toys products in the App Store within months and every one of those is going to be a substantial revenue stream,” he said.
“The good thing about app development is it’s very small scale, a team of six guys can support a pretty significant project if you can get it into people’s hands and they like it.
“It’s a future facing business and it’s very sustainable. Year on year we just keep doubling and we’ll probably quadruple it this year because we’ve had such a big hit.
“Australia has a great track record of international success with mobile games, and South Australia is well positioned to win big in that market.”