Dis­ney gets phys­i­cal with dig­i­tal toy

Play­ma­tion, aimed at tech- and me­dia-savvy kids, will steer them off the couch too.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Daniel Miller and Shan Li

Dis­ney has cooked up a toy that will en­able kids to heed their par­ents’ de­mands that they go out­side and play — with­out ever hav­ing to shut off their dig­i­tal de­vices.

Called Play­ma­tion, the sys­tem of con­nected prod­ucts fea­tures char­ac­ters and story lines from block­buster Dis­ney film fran­chises, start­ing with “Avengers.”

It marks a bold step for Walt Dis­ney Co. The Bur­bank en­ter­tain­ment gi­ant has tra­di­tion­ally li­censed its brands to third par­ties. But it has not only de­signed this line in-house but also has charted new ter­ri­tory in the toy in­dus­try, where tech­nolo- gy is rewrit­ing the rules.

Toy mak­ers are rush­ing to in­cor­po­rate tech­nol­ogy into prod­ucts to en­tice chil­dren who are drawn to smartphones and video games in­stead of more clas­sic play­things. Mat­tel will soon start sell­ing a Wi-Fi­con­nected Bar­bie that an­a­lyzes chil­dren’s speech and talks back. Even board games such as Mo­nop­oly are find­ing new life as smart­phone apps.

Play­ma­tion will launch in Oc­to­ber with a line of “Avengers”-themed toys that in­cludes a plas­tic Iron Man “re­pul­sor” glove worn by play­ers. A starter pack, which will re­tail for $119.99, also comes with four other smart toys, in­clud­ing two ac­tion fig­ures.

Users who don the glove will be guided by a nar­ra­tor on mis­sions that al­low them to jump, duck, dive and run around. They can in­ter­act with an­other player wear­ing a glove — and with the ac­tion

fig­ures. (Think laser tag, but more com­pli­cated).

A free app, Avenger­sNet, will track com­peti­tors’ progress and of­fer more mis­sions. The toys are built to be por­ta­ble, so kids can play in the house, backyard or a park.

An­a­lysts said that Play­ma­tion — with its in­ter­con­nected, wear­able tech­nol­ogy and cloud-based dig­i­tal in­ter­face — is a sign of where the toy in­dus­try is headed to win over tech-savvy chil­dren.

“It’s role-play for the new mil­len­nium child that grows up in the dig­i­tal age,” said Jim Sil­ver, edi­tor in chief of TTPM, a toy re­view web­site. “That’s what kids re­ally want to do.”

Dis­ney has 25 patents pending on the tech­nol­ogy that un­der­pins Play­ma­tion, which took roughly three years to de­velop. The com­pany de­clined to dis­close devel­op­ment costs.

“What we are do­ing is us­ing light, sound and that phys­i­cal feed­back — all co­or­di­nat­ing with the con­nected toys in the sys­tem — to re­ally bring this fan­tasy to life,” said Af­soun Yaz­dian, direc­tor of prod­uct man­age­ment for Play­ma­tion.

Dis­ney re­vealed Play­ma­tion at an event in Hol­ly­wood on Tues­day that was em­ceed by Thomas Staggs, the com­pany’s re­cently ap­pointed chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. Pre­sid­ing over his first ma­jor an­nounce­ment as Dis­ney’s new No. 2, Staggs said Play­ma­tion of­fered “phys­i­cal play for a dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion.”

At a demon­stra­tion af­ter Staggs’ pre­sen­ta­tion, a girl play­ing the game was out of breath as she dodged an attack from Ul­tron, the cen­tral vil­lain of the block­buster “Avengers: Age of Ul­tron.” At the end of the child’s game, in which she used the glove to fend off bad­dies, her re­sults were dis­played on an iPad run­ning the Avenger­sNet app.

Ka­reem Daniel of Dis­ney Con­sumer Prod­ucts said the tech­nol­ogy that pow­ers Play­ma­tion wasn’t avail­able even half a decade ago.

“The way kids are play­ing to­day is evolv­ing — their de­sires and ex­pec­ta­tions are chang­ing ac­cord­ingly,” said Daniel, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of strat­egy and busi­ness devel­op­ment. “What we did with Play­ma­tion was use tech­nol­ogy to bring our sto­ries and char­ac­ters to life in a way that frankly we were never able to be­fore.”

Jaime Katz, an an­a­lyst at Morn­ingstar, said Play­ma­tion of­fers an­other way for Dis­ney to get its highly popular “Avengers” brand to the public.

Chil­dren will “love to be­have like the char­ac­ters they ad­mire, and this brings that abil­ity to life,” she said. “It gets them out of the house and be­ing phys­i­cally ac­tive rather than just sit­ting be­hind tablets to get their tech­nol­ogy fix.”

Katz said that although the $120 price is high for a toy, there’s a mar­ket for high­erend play items with new tech­nol­ogy. Toy maker Has­bro is man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tribut­ing the line in part- ner­ship with Dis­ney.

Dis­ney said “Star Wars”themed kits will be avail­able in 2016. That tim­ing is note­wor­thy: In De­cem­ber, Dis­ney, which bought the “Star Wars” pro­duc­tion com­pany Lu­cas­film in 2012, will re­lease the first new film in the fran­chise in a decade.

A year af­ter the “Star Wars” Play­ma­tion toy is re­leased, Dis­ney will begin sell­ing a ver­sion cen­tered on “Frozen,” the hit 2013 film that is the high­est-gross­ing an­i­mated pic­ture of all time.

“If there was ever a time to do it, this is the time, with all of the char­ac­ters and fran­chises that they have,” said Tuna Amobi, an S&P Cap­i­tal IQ an­a­lyst.

In an era in which so­called smart toys have drawn the at­ten­tion of con­sumer ad­vo­cacy groups that worry about the pri­vacy of chil­dren, Dis­ney has built cer­tain safe­guards into Play­ma­tion.

Yaz­dian said Play­ma­tion “does not record or store any­thing be­yond sim­ple, anony­mous game play in­for­ma­tion.”

Dis­ney re­cently launched an­other prod­uct that of­fers wear­able tech­nol­ogy: MyMagic+, an on­line sys­tem that en­ables theme park vis­i­tors to tour at­trac­tions more ef­fi­ciently. It in­cludes a bracelet that can be used as a ho­tel room key and a theme park ticket, as well as to make pur­chases.

Damian Do­var­ganes As­so­ci­ated Press

WEAR­ABLE TECH as part of Play­ma­tion takes the form of a “re­pul­sor” glove, through which users get ex­er­cise in tak­ing on the role of Iron Man.

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