In the throes of a neverending tug-of-war between traditional and digital retailers for consumer toy dollars, a growing number of kids entertainment companies are finding plenty of opportunity in the middle ground.
We’re all aware that the toys-to-life category is on fire. To recap: The category, which didn’t exist until 2011, is now worth US$4 billion at US retail and has seen 47% growth between March 2013 and March 2015, according to market research firm The NPD Group.
Disney got in on the action relatively early with Infinity in January 2013, and it rolled out version 3.0 late last month. However, its newest digital/physical product hitting shelves this fall essentially flips the toys-to-life category on its head. With Disney’s Playmation, instead of importing plastic figures into a digital game, kids strap on gear and become a part of the game themselves.
“It’s an entirely new category of play. There is nothing like it out there,” says Nitin Chawla, VP of strategy and business development at Disney Consumer Products & Interactive Media. “Playmation combines the latest technology and storytelling from across The Walt Disney Company to inspire kids to play the way we did growing up—to run around and use their imaginations.”
Playmation looks to bridge the generational gap between today’s touchscreen kids and a growing chorus of parents clamoring for the return of nostalgic play patterns who also see an important role for tech toys. In fact, a recent Disney-commissioned third-party study of 2,000 families across the US discovered that a full 90% of respondents were in favor of new technology that could play a role in keeping their kids active.
“It’s clear there is a major opportunity to meet the needs of both parents and kids, and we feel Playmation is the answer,” Chawla says.
The first Disney mega-franchise to get the Playmation treatment is Marvel’s Avengers, with starter kits (US$119.99) that launched on October 4 in the US and Canada at mass and specialty retailers, select Disney stores and DisneyStore.com. Starter packs will consist of five Hasbro-designed connected toys—a repulsor, two power activators and two smart figures (Captain America and Iron Skull).
By attaching high-tech repulsor gear to their arms, kids six and up can become an Avenger recruit and help to save the planet from the comfort of their own backyards or living rooms. Iron Man’s operating system Edwin Jarvis guides players during gameplay, which features all of the Avengers and most of the IP’s villains as smart figures. Each figure comes complete with its own unique personality, music and unlockable content for players to reveal as they progress through the levels. And through the AvengersNet app, players can then track their progress, explore different locations/characters and get new missions.
“It’s important that the gameplay experience stays true to the Marvel storylines, characters and universe, and we’ve worked closely with the creative teams to make sure we do just that,” Chawla says.
Following the Playmation starter kit’s launch this monthwith Avengers , Hulk hands and additional smart figures will be added to the line before the holidays. In addition, Disney is developing Playmation systems based on global franchises Star Wars and Frozen for launch in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
This article originally appeared in Kidscreen’s September 2015 issue.