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‘Active play’ zeitgeist strong at Toy Fair

Judging from the sheer mass of motion-control tech applications at Toy Fair this year, it's clear that the hot-selling Nintendo Wii console is inspiring a new category of toys, part of a trend that Anita Frazier is calling 'active play.' Though the toy and video game industry analyst from The NPD Group has seen application of the Wii's motion-controlled movements in the market for the last couple of years, she says 'the success of the Wii over the last 15 months has accelerated that curve...for mass adoption.'
April 1, 2008

Judging from the sheer mass of motion-control tech applications at Toy Fair this year, it’s clear that the hot-selling Nintendo Wii console is inspiring a new category of toys, part of a trend that Anita Frazier is calling ‘active play.’ Though the toy and video game industry analyst from The NPD Group has seen application of the Wii’s motion-controlled movements in the market for the last couple of years, she says ‘the success of the Wii over the last 15 months has accelerated that curve…for mass adoption.’

Nintendo’s newest console is

certainly outpacing its hardware rivals. NPD’s annual data shows that the Wii sold a whopping 6.29 million units in 2007 – leaving its competitors the PS3 (2.56 million) and the Xbox 360 (4.62 million) in silicon dust.

The Wii’s technology is intuitive and very easy to use, especially for non-gamers, and eBay gadget and toy director Cat Schwartz says this widespread accessibility and appeal is what will continue to drive it into more and more toys at lower price-points.

Tyco’s R/C Wheelie Cycle Pro from Mattel (US$89.99) is just one of several toys launching this fall that has borrowed a page or two from the ground-breaking console. Touted as the first toy motorcycle to pop wheelies on command, the toy’s motion-control transmitter has been designed to look like handlebars from a bona fide hog. Tilting the controller to the left or right will steer the toy in that direction, à la the Wii.

The second generation of VTech’s V.Smile product works in much the same way, except in console form. Kids three to seven can plug V-Motion (US$24.99) directly into their TV and use a wireless controller that detects up, down, left and right movements to control their character on-screen. City of Industry, California-based Playhut’s GoLive2 Stix (under US$50) mimics this kind of motion-guided action on the PC with a controller that plugs into the computer to access more than 50 games online.

NPD’s Frazier notes that manufacturers of Wii-inspired toys were all highlighting their get-off-the-couch play patterns, which is bound to be a popular message with parents fighting to establish healthy living habits at home. ‘This year, there was a sharper increase in the number of toys identified as being an active play toy – far beyond the outdoor and sports categories that traditionally get kids up and moving,’ she says. Though the Wii and its imitators are no substitute for regular exercise, they still espouse fun physical activity that can cause players to break a sweat.

Just ask the demo staff for Hasbro’s new U Dance gaming system (US$74.99), which the toy company plans to release under its Tiger Electronics label in the fall. A set of motion tags are attached to kids’ feet, and each step they take is registered by the console as virtual footprints on the television screen. So it’s like Dance Dance Revolution without the limitations of the dance mat.

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