We are getting ever closer to human like robots that can go to the store or the battlefield. Watch Atlas the Robot be put through its paces. Who is making it? Why its Boston Dynamics; a Google company of course.
We are getting ever closer to human like robots that can go to the store or the battlefield. Watch Atlas the Robot be put through its paces. Who is making it? Why its Boston Dynamics; a Google company of course.
Sam’s is not the first U.S. retailer to carry a 3D printer, Costco and Home Depot were leading the way a year ago. Still, there is something very mainstream about Sam’s and that implies that 3D printing is now ready for the masses…or is it?
Sam’s sure seems to think so. They are selling it in 300 of their stores. I visited the Sam’s website and found that a store in my area carries three printers: Two from Makerbot and one from Matter and Form. The store also carries two 3D Scanners and four kinds of filament to be used with the printers. (If you are unfamiliar with 3D Scanners, they allow the user to make reproductions of existing items. For example, you could make a resin copy of your favorite vase or sculpture).
I was able to discern the MSRP pricing but Sam’s does not disclose “their” price. You can’t find it until you check out so you have to be a member (I am not). They do tease you, though, with this message: “Price too low to show - See your price in checkout.”
The MSRP ran from $998 for the Cube 2nd Generation 3D Printer to $6499 for the Makerbot Z18 3D Printer. Based upon what I know of the Sam’s pricing model I would guess (some of you who are members can check and let us know the actual price) that the Sam’s price is close to $600 + / -.
I was deeply saddened to hear that Ralph H. Baer had died on December 6, 2014, at the age of 92. As numerous other writers have noted, Ralph invented the “Brown Box” home video game console (produced as the Magnavox Odyssey) and the electronic game Simon. He donated his professional papers to The Strong, and I had the privilege of processing them in 2013. Ralph’s papers spanned more than 40 years of his lengthy career in the toy and game industry. As I worked on making his collection available for research use, carefully removing thousands of staples (because Ralph never used one staple when eight would do) and verifying that his carefully dated pages were in order, I realized that I was getting attached to Ralph. (Fellow archivists, back me up here—when you spend an extended amount of time examining a person’s handwriting and deciphering their personal organizational system, you start to feel like you know the person, right?)
The Ralph H. Baer papers in The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play provide amazing insight into the thought process behind many of Ralph’s creations from inception to production. He kept meticulous records; he frequently said that the most important advice he could give to budding inventors was to document everything, making sure to date and sign every paper. An inventor may conceive of thousands of product ideas throughout his or her lifetime, only to develop a single contraption that makes it to the marketplace. Ralph, however, successfully produced dozens of memorable playthings. He owned 50 patents in the United States and occasionally found himself tied up in legal proceedings involving his designs.
“Finish him!” “Save the princess!” “Time is running out!” Video game designers excel at creating high-stakes environments. And television has earned some laughs depicting the obsessive players who heed these calls to action. Here are some of the memorable ways television shows have turned video games into life-or-death situations.
George holds the high score on the video arcade machine at a pizzeria that’s going out of business. “I’m never gonna have a child,” he tells Kramer. “If I lose this Frogger high score, that’s it for me.” To preserve his legacy, George needs to move the machine without cutting power. A birds-eye view reveals his Frogger-like dance across a busy street. Do you remember how the story ends? (Ouch.) Lonnie McDonald, who reigned as Joust champion of the world in 1982, took a different approach. Between 2011 and 2013 McDonald rolled the 9,999,999 score on 100 Joust video arcade machines, including The Strong’s example, and registered his initials at the top of each list.
Annually, the technology industries convene in Las Vegas, Nevada for community, gambling, and Consumer Electronics Show. The Las Vegas Convention Center and assorted other venues play host to 150,000 industry guests present for the unveiling of various exciting new products, many professing to be game changers for the industry. Attendees peruse thousands of exhibits, attend various speaker tracks, demo literally millions of new products, and to watch Michael Bay publicly embarrass himself. There’s a lot to see and a lot to learn, way too much content for any person to entirely absorb. Below, I tried to pick out a few key themes that resonated at CES, filtered through my own opinions and observations.
1. 4K TVs Cost Less Than $4K
After television makers spent a few years championing 3DTV as the next crucial home entertainment centerpiece, the emergence of the ultra high resolution 4K format can be seen as an admittance that 3D just might not transcend niche. 4K resolution indicates ultra high definition (UHD) display devices measuring approximately 4000 pixels across. The relatively new format replaces 1080p standard high definition televisions. Television makers like LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic hope that consumers adopt 4K and replace their current sets. The manufacturers have friends equally advocating UHD conversion, such as Netflix and other content providers. Netflix announced 4K streaming partnerships with Sony, LG, and Samsung, which is available immediately for owners of those manufacturers’ compatible products.
This is a 2 Part Series. Part 2 will be published in one week on December 30.
Transmedia storytelling and multi-modal communications and entertainment really took off in 2013. No longer a sub-set of tech geeks and fringe viewers, transmedia broke records this year and has truly begun to change business and leisure as we know it. Here’s some of the top stories of 2013.
10. Multi-Screen has Gone Mainstream
It’s not just for kids anymore – so says the Broadband Technology Report – http://btreport.net/2013/02/multiscreen-goes-mainstream/ as more and more adults are getting their video fix from sources other than the TV set. About 27% of U.S. adults watch video on devices other than a TV, and more than half of that group (53%) does it on a weekly basis. That’s up from 14% daily and 37% weekly just two years ago. And the industry begins to shift to accommodate. Comcast acquires NBCUniversal from GE. Multi-screen content deals are being done with Fox, Time-Warner and others. To quote Ron Hendrickson, “multiscreen video’s not a differentiator any more. It’s a “must have” simply because everyone else has it.”
9. Forbes Wakes the Business World
While transmedia storytelling has been around for a while and some amazing productions had been developed, 2013 marked the first time that a major business publication covered the phenomena in it’s story, “Once Upon a Soda” - which details several campaigns including the Coca-Cola Happiness transmedia campaign that’s credited with raising global sales by 4%. Now that’s good business.
8. Hasbro Acquires BackFlip Studios
In a continuation of the trend of Toy Company giants realizing they need to “go digital or go home” – Hasbro acquires Colorado based BackFlip Studios - http://venturebeat.com/2013/07/08/hasbro-acquires-majority-stake-in-mobile-developer-backflip-studios/. This acquisition adds to Hasbro’s stake in the digital realm and it’s attractiveness to long term suitor Disney. While the Disney acquisition of Hasbro did not materialize, they did announce an extension of their strategic relationships.
7. And the Emmy Goes to Netflix
While Netflix failed to “sweep the Emmy’s” as many had predicted, it’s 14 nominations put the “new guy on the content block” in solid position and it cemented the importance of streaming, and alternative watching and content creation. In addition to it’s Emmy wins, Netflix predicts in it’s shareholder report, that “Over the coming decades and across the world, Internet TV will replace linear TV. Apps will replace channels, remote controls will disappear, and screens will proliferate.” http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/22/4759754/netflix-challenges-the-tv-establishment-with-emmy-wins-for-house-of
6. Twitter Courts TV
SF based and recently IPO’d Twitter pushed hard into broadcast television in 2013, establishing a broadcast marketing team and a host of mature advertising vehicles intending to bring the company profit. The new TV team, headed by 30 year television industry veteran, Fred Gravers, pushed hard to insert itself in the minds of broadcasters as the way to reach and engage audiences and we’ll expect to see more of the same in 2014. http://www.fastcompany.com/3018620/twitter-woos-tv-networks-advertisers-ipo
Stay tuned for our next exciting installtion only one week from today ;-)
Last year prior to the holidays I got a request from my sister asking me to help her decide on the right tablet for her then 11 year old son. I diligently did the research and even though I’ve been in the tech industry and an early adopter of technology all of my life – I found the task daunting. No wonder she wanted me to do this for her! There are so many options out there these days – and many round-ups of what’s available. Everything from the slightly ruggedized for small kids Nabi tablets, to the latest iPad air (which can cost up to $929) – the choices are seemingly endless especially when you consider that at some of these prices, parents are likely also considering netbooks or even full on laptops.
So what’s a parent to do – besides calling in their tech savvy sisters? We thought that exploring the process of one SF couple might help you on your own journey of deciding which technology is right for your kid.
Melissa and her husband John Lamming are SF residents with four beautiful kids, Avalon, who is 7 will be 8 on New Year’s Eve, Caspian, who is 6, Arcadia, 4 and baby Cyprian, who turned 2 on Thanksgiving day. Melissa and John had bought the three older kids Nabi tablets in the past and since the family Mac was on it’s way out – they knew they wanted each child to have her and his own tablet under the tree this year. I caught up with Melissa and John to get their take on the arduous journey of deciding which tablet for which child:
As told by Melissa and John Lamming:
It took a bit of thought, but we’ve decided what the Big Toys will be for the kids this Christmas. A couple of years ago, we got them Nabi tablets, all of which were big hits, but all of which are also now toast.
So this year, we’re getting them smart devices, and here’s how we went about it:
First, we decided what we didn’t want:
Smart devices come in a number of different sizes, and they won’t all fit our kids’ needs.
Phone-size: The kids will mostly be using these to watch shows, listen to music, play games, and take pictures, and the fact is that when it comes to screen size, bigger is pretty much always better. Phone-size devices are out.
7” tablets: 7” screens are probably about the right size for the kids to play with. 7” tablets are definitely still on the table.
8-11” tablets: While this is a bit big for their small hands, I’m not taking it off the table quite yet. Larger tablets are still in the running too.
Laptops: The two older kids have been playing with Mom’s and Dad’s laptops for well over a year now. Laptops are definitely in the running.
Larger computers: The problem with a larger, more powerful computer is that it’s not portable. The kids like to play with their toys in different rooms, and I’m hoping they get some use out of them on our holiday road trip. Towers and iMacs are out.
In prior articles I’ve written about the rise of connected and intelligent toys and that according to Global Industry Analysts, “demand for intelligent and interactive toys is expected to continue growing and fuelling the global toys and games market.” [See these articles here.] The gist of all of these articles was basically that there is a rise of a new hybrid type of toy that sits at the cross roads of traditional toys and digital games. These connected toys tap into the phenomena that tech insiders are calling “the internet of things.” For kids – these toys basically bridge the gap between their favorite play worlds – the dynamic world of digital play and the tangible world of real toys, cards and other objects.
In this “round up” I list and describe some prominent examples of connected toys/games so that you might get connected yourself to this hot new trend in gaming and play.
Skylanders and Skylanders Giants
Skylanders and it’s extension, Skylanders Giants are the original connected toy product and a billion dollar baby for parent company, Activision-Blizzard. The world, which now includes six plus games and apps, continues to expand with Skylanders Swappables – and one site tracking the number of action figures for sale (some are variations of the same character) shows 218 available. The action figures themselves are incorporated into the game play and can hold saved game states and unlock powers, secrets and other items.
Disney Infinity, in development since 2010 and reportedly at a development price exceeding $100M, was released this summer in time for back to school on console systems including Xbox, Wii and Playstation. A PC based game is still rumored to be coming soon. Disney has released several of the proposed starter kits and each character can be played in Play Set or Toy Box mode. Play Set mode allows characters to play and interact into their own story base (Jack Sparrow can only play in Pirates of the Caribbean, and Sully only in Monsters Inc.). Toy Box mode allows players to interact with all their characters and create their won adventures with whatever Disney/Pixar characters that want at the same time.
Launched in summer of 2012, Mattels’ foray into connected toys brough it’s own powerhouse brands into the connected toy space including Monsters High and Hot Wheels, as well as some of the top tablet/phone games including Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja. The reviews have been lackluster and rumors abound that the line is being closed down, but the promise of the Skylanders magic suggests that Mattel will not give up on this endeavor any time soon.
With the rise of screens in even the littlest of children’s lives – many people have begun to consider what impact screen based reading will have on developing brains. And we ask ourselves too - what impact will this all have on the makers of books?
“Reading has changed,” said Etienne Mineur, who is the founder of Incandescence, a publishing house in Switzerland that specializes in themes related to new technologies and experimental art. “We are reading more on TV screens, on mobile phones, on video games, as well as on paper.” Due to the shift in how and where and when we read, Etienne and his teams are now focusing on connecting reading with toys, cards, and other tangible objects.
“With my studio, we are inventing, designing and developing new games, toys and books, focusing on the relationship between the tangible and digital” continued Etienne. “We don't espouse the digital versus the tangible, but instead try to find new creative way to improve digital experiences with tangible media.”
The mystical magical fountain of youth was a place where if you drank the waters – the old would become young again. While we are still searching for these waters for us mere humans – certain entertainment properties have unlocked the source: adaptation, modernization and transmediation.
Adaptations to modern worlds have long been a means for modernizing classic stories for young audiences. Converting Romeo and Juliet into a zombie flick in 2012 earned Warm Bodies a very healthy box office return and fans that may have never even heard of Shakespeare. The low budget and very transmedia Lizzie Bennet Diaries has not only earned its creators a nice return and a huge audience, it has set a precedent – and provided funding and an eager audience - for a transmedia series around another Jane Austin classic Emma. Reviving IP, games and characters with transmedia strategies is also a tool for existing game and toy companies. Using these techniques, game and toy companies can explore their vaults of IP and come out with already proven, nostalgia-valued, new content, designed for new and dynamically oriented young audiences. And Spyro, the Dragon and Sklanders prove that transmedia techniques do indeed work for toys and games – and can be incredibly profitable.
Spyro the Dragon was born in 1998. Even then, he was an impressive gaming dragon and was included as one of the “Top 10 Ten Dragons in Video Games” list. (Yes, there is such a thing.) While Spyro was a modest hit and had a new game developed around him ever year since his birth, he really came into the big league when he was shrunk down and literally miniaturized for hand-held gaming. Things really exploded when he went on his first Skylanders Adventure. Today Skylanders and Spyro – not even two years after their 2011 launch – have earned Activision over $1 billion dollars as of January 2013.
Quirky’s homepage states: For centuries, becoming an “inventor” has been a hard gig to crack. Complexities relating to financing, engineering, distribution, and legalities have stood in the way of brilliant people executing on their great ideas. Since launching in 2009, Quirky has rapidly changed the way the world thinks about product development. It is crowd sourced invention. The process is described here http://www.quirky.com/how-it-works. What is also interesting is that Quirky puts a picture of the inventor and their story on every product. Stories sell.
As one who is a part of the inventor community, this is intriguing. I’ve been watching them grow and have toy/game industry colleagues that have had success at Quirky as well as loved the process and working with them. Their founder, Ben Kaufman, has already been on the Late Night Show with Jay Leno three times. On my recent trip to New York City, I met with Andrew Erlick, Quirky Invention Ambassador, who took me through their awesome offices in Chelsea Piers. I asked him if he would share with us Quirky’s roots, philosophy and goals and he agreed.
Andrew: “As an Invention Ambassador (IA), I act as liaison between the inventors and Quirky's in-house teams. IA's are assigned to new inventors and communicate with them throughout the entire Quirky process from ideation to prototype, engineering to retail. I am the voice of the inventor within Quirky, ensuring that their ideas and concerns are heard and at times, anxieties quelled.
entire invention process, I provide constant feedback to the inventors and
ensure that they
feel confident that their idea is evolving through the process in the most efficient manner. Often times, inventor's ideas change in the design phases and its the job of the IA to explain and convince the inventor why a departure from the inventor's original concept is the best collective decision. Being a good IA means knowing when to be understanding and sensitive as well as when to be persuasive and firm. The relationship between an IA and inventor is very personal while the relationship between an IA and the Quirky team is very pragmatic and businesslike. Managing this balance throughout the process is always challenging and often exciting.
In the world of digital games – as in many other worlds – acronyms rule the day and separate the insider from the outsider. This special alphabet language can make for difficult discussions when industries begin to collide or even want to partner and evolve. Sometimes though, the concepts that the acronyms embody are a “secret sauce” and are something to be embraced.A very important cpncept/acronym for the worlds of games and toys is ARPU. ARPU is not a cuddly character and friend of Winnie – it’s a leading indicator of success also known as Average Revenue Per User. ARPU is the measure of choice for casual and social games – especially those termed F2P (free to play) – since this measure helps to define how successfully a game or product is monetizing its user base. The often used and associated term ARPPU – for Average Revenue Per Paying User – is defined as the average income only from those users have that converted into paying customers and is a solid indicator of how well a game is upselling its premium services. While these terms come primarily from internet service companies and have been the focus of the casual and social game markets, other types of games and game companies are increasingly looking to ARPU as the economic factor that they need to focus on for the future.
In a recent investor meeting at Electronic Arts (EA) in June of this year, senior executives described a strategy that focused strongly on ARPU/ARPPU and hinted at more than one free to play game coming in the future. They likewise confirmed a F2P mobile version of their FIFA game which will base its entire revenue structure on upsell. This is all a huge and needed shift for EA.
As with many in the world of high end, AAA or console games, trends have been moving away from off-the-shelf sales to selling as Downloadable Content – DLC – for a long while. The DLC model helps companies by curbing the re-sale markets and cutting out retailer share and business development concerns. But even with shifting to DLC, wherein payment for the product is in hand before the player even gets the game, pre-sales has been eroding for years and this decline has been tied to the rise of tablets, smartphones and free to play models on the web. But many companies, like EA, felt they needed to hold onto high upfront prices to make back the huge and ever growing budgets of producing their high quality content. Meanwhile, companies offering “free” games may be able to bring in over $50 per paying user – and sometimes more – PER MONTH. Rumors suggest that “whales” – big players/payers – can exceed thousands of dollars total lifetime value (LTV) – a far cry above a $60 price tag for a one off software package. Plus, with the massive numbers of players that free games generate – there are many other options for monetizing and upselling the lower paying user base.
According to the rhetoric, “brick-and-mortar retail just can’t compete in today’s digital-first economy.” It’s said that e-commerce showrooming habits and hand-held digital devices have disrupted the existing markets and value networks of brick-and-mortar retail. According to the United States Census Bureau, e-commerce continues to see compound annual growth of more than 10 percent, and analysts do not expect this trend to slow. In 2011, U.S.-based retail and restaurant sales (including e-commerce) reached over $4 trillion. Overall, according to the United States Census Bureau, brick-and-mortar sales are flat or declining while oftentimes untaxed or under-taxed online retailers reach new heights. Retailers report “showrooming” activities, the act of browsing at a store location only to then make an online purchase, and question the ability to compete with Amazon’s quick shipping, massive selection, and bottom-line pricing.
Why concentrate on speed, selection, and pricing when e-commerce has it won? If retailers don’t like the new rules set by e-commerce, why play the game?
Toys and apps: Many toy and game manufacturers have tried to combine these two play ingredients with varying degrees of unimpressive results. There are a few success stories: Activision has seen a tremendous consumer response to Skylanders, and Hasbro’s popular Furby is arguably “app-enhanced.” But as Richard Gottlieb’s article and GAMEZEBO’s study posted last week indicated, most app-enhanced toys rank on a sliding scale from disappointing sales to complete disaster. Do the average consumer and user (usually mom and child) see added value in “app-enhanced” products? Do these products deliver beyond expectations? App-enhanced toys wage an uphill battle in the marketplace due to perhaps impossible or unfair customer and user expectations. The value proposition of an app-enhanced toy is the very best qualities of a casual video game and a physical toy, combined.
From a customer at retail perspective, toymakers face a significant challenge in conveying the quality and added value of app-enhanced products. Zak Orner, User Experience Specialist at Manifest Digital, has spent the last few months knee-deep in app-meets-toy strategy. Zak applies his years of UX training and interest in consumer habits to the emerging toy category. “You get one chance to impress a user before he or she makes a snap judgment,” Zak cautions. “If one part of the [product] doesn't meet their expectations the entire product will be judged.”
The NY Times ran interesting story today titled: Google Tries Something Retro: Made in the U.S.A. The opening paragraph reads: Etched into the base of Google’s new wireless home media player that was introduced on Wednesday is its most intriguing feature. On the underside of the Nexus Q is a simple inscription: “Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A.”
I’ve often wondered why if we have a label that states the product was manufactured in the U.S.A. or wherever, why not add where it was invented. It could be as Google has it labeled or you could have, as an example, “Designed in the U.S.A. and Manufactured in China.”
I also think it is important to have the name(s( of the inventor(s) of the box as a face or a story helps sell product, a topic I have written about many times.
Inventors themselves aside, isn’t it just as important where the idea was developed? People are employed designing just as they are manufacturing. Aren’t we proud of our innovative spirit? Perhaps the toy and game industry should lead the way and include such verbiage on our packaging.
There, I’ve said it. I am addicted to Pinterest. Social media maven Mary Kay Russell led me here a few weeks ago. Although I didn’t want to add yet another social media addiction to my already full plate of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, I am now spending more time on Pinterest than the rest combined. In part, because it is new; but also because it is incredibly fun and useful on many levels. And the more time I spend on it, the more I can see why it could be hugely beneficial to the toy business – especially for retailers – from the big guys to the small brick & mortar stores.
So what is Pinterest? And why should toy retailers be interested in it? Pinterest is an online “social” site that lets users collect images they find online and offline – onto virtual bulletin boards that they can categorize and organize however they wish (i.e. home décor, recipes, party planning, TOYS I MUST BUY). Find something you want to buy? Or maybe a DIY project you want to try? How about a recipe you’d like to save? Grab the image and “pin” it onto one of your boards. The social part (this is where it gets addicting) comes into play when the user starts to window shop on Pinterest. Users can follow each other’s boards, and images can be shared or “repinned”, commented on, or “liked”. If a user wants to find out more about an item or make a purchase, they can click on the image and it’ll take them to the originating site.
I now have over 25 boards with over 1,000 images – and the list is growing. As you might have guessed, among my 25 boards are Toy and Game Inventors, Chicago Toy & Game Exhibitors, Kid Inventors and My Favorite Toy Stores. I no longer need to keep notes about places I want to go, recipes I want to try, decorating ideas, books I want to read, unusual wine corks, videos I like, etc. It’s all there for me when I want it, in an organized system that I understand and can access from anywhere, anytime.