By Anne McKinnon

A sneak peek from my new book, CONVERGENCE, HOW THE WORLD WILL BE PAINTED WITH DATA, available this month!

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It’s a no brainer that toys should come to life. Kids already spend a great deal of time in a virtual world of imagination and AR is a way to bring imagination to life.

Today, kids are familiar with digital technology and the idea that physical toys can interact with digital technology has been around for some time. Guitar Hero and Wii both integrated the physical with on-screen interaction. Then, in 2016, AR suddenly became mainstream with the release of Pokemon GO by Niantic.

It’s also every parent’s dream that toys engage their children for long periods of time, and encourage education and social experiences. AR makes it easy for companies to offer updates with additional narrative or gameplay options.

Let’s not forget that adults like to game too, and we are constantly looking for a range of new experiences.

Blending The Physical And the Virtual

The MERGE Cube is an example of the range of experiences AR offers to enhance physical toys, or, for a physical object to enhance AR. The soft foam cube is both a marker and physical object. Through the smartphone camera, it can become a skull, or the sun. Using AnatomyAR+ for MERGE Cube, users physically rotate the MERGE Cube to view the brain and tissue layers at different angles.

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While limited by its physical square shape, the MERGE Cube encourages thinking outside the box in all dimensions. Other applications include support for learning in the home, classroom, and workplace, and to enhance AR experiences at museums and libraries.

Brain Games

As with the MERGE Cube, holding a physical object of one shape and interacting with various digital shapes or forms around this, requires suspension of disbelief. This plausibility factor is crucial for AR games to be engaging. “Magic Chess,” by Swedish based company Imitera AR, plays with real-world physics in a new game of AR chess. Using a physical “TouchCard,” it’s possible to interact with the virtual game with haptic feedback and object tracking.

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“The card interacts with the virtual chessboard as if it were in the virtual world. Its shadow falls on the image, you can move pieces around. The rectangle shape of the TouchCard is easily masked out and occludes the virtual world behind it,” said John Nilson, creator of Magic Chess and Founder of Imitera.

All AR Games

“Orbu” is a mobile AR game by London based VR/AR studio Dream Reality Interactive. Players use slingshot-like mechanics to navigate gameplay. “Kids really love bringing magical things into the real world, and this is what AR does,” said Dr. Dave Ranyard, CEO of Dream Reality Interactive. With a focus on world-building, Orbu features beautifully animated Japanese-inspired Zen gardens and collectible Orbu creatures that players guide through a series of obstacle courses.

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With its multiple levels, collectibles, and attention to world-building, Orbu has options for extended gameplay and an expanded narrative. With these features, Orbu has been able to increase the popularity, value, and longevity of AR games. The game is on iOs and Android. A multiplayer option will be added in 2019.

On the more eclectic side “Moonbloom” by the Ayzenberg Group (a large creative agency that serves the game industry) involves guiding the main character, a fox named Luna, through an obstacle course in an imaginary world. This experience, featured at The Influx Reality Mixer in LA in late 2018, uses the Magic Leap One. Until AR hardware like the Magic Leap and Microsoft Hololens become affordable, no matter how good these games are, it will be well-designed mobile AR games that take home the most revenue.

Storytime

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Who would have thought the paper pop-up books we saw in our early days would later be viewed through the window of a mobile phone screen? In 2012, the “Wonderbook: Book of Spells” was released for PlayStation 3 by SCE London Studio and J.K. Rowling, as one of the first AR experiential books. The pages of children’s books are already filled with magic whether spellbooks or not, and AR enhances these pages with digital animations, interactive and gamified experiences.

Today, Baltimore based Balti Virtual is also collaborating with local authors to explore Augmented Reality with a series of Holo PopUps children’s books that combine classic paper pages with mobile AR. The mobile app can read along with the story, add sound effects, and allows the studio to update the story with fresh material. On a warm summer day, the AR app may add sunshine and blue skies to a scene, and in winter, digital snow may fall softly across the pages.

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DEVAR, an AR platform for kids, is also using new technologies in literature for entertainment and education. “We want to create a new wave of education for children,” said Anna Belova, co-founder, and CEO of DEVAR. Users download the DEVAR app once and may use it with their large library of titles, including coloring books, storybooks, activity books, encyclopedias, flashcards, and toys to life with interactive animated characters, mini-games and puzzles, AR masks,and immersive portals.

Playing With Words

It’s easy to forget that most people have no idea what Augmented Reality is. Even within the industry, various definitions of AR, MR, XR, and VR have caused a great deal of confusion.

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AR toys are facing a market of consumers who for the most part, have limited technical knowledge. Successful AR toys don’t necessarily market themselves as AR games. For Happy Giant’s game “Dragon Duel AR,” CEO Michael Levine said the best way for people to understand it is to experience it themselves. “Bringing a dragon into your living room and being able to play and battle with it is hard to describe. People have to see it to truly understand it,” he said. This is something we can all understand. “Toys aren’t going away. Toy companies sell toys and things, but kids younger and younger are interacting with their devices constantly. It’s a big part of their life, and to have a connection between these two things, this is when the magic happens,” said Levine.

Communicating this magic is still a challenge. Kids are constantly seeking out toys that give them a neat experience, and the best way to show them how AR works is to use pictures. Clear tutorials that demonstrate how to scan the floor and how to interact will determine the overall first impression of the game, and the future attraction to AR games in general.

Building Blocks

Other companies are also experimenting with new ways of combining physical and digital play. In 2017, Trigger Global helped the Denmark LEGO museum LEGO House, to design a centerpiece experience, the LEGO “Fish Designer.” In Fish Designer, Kids can explore their creativity through digital and physical play without having to use mobile AR. They first build their fish with physical LEGO pieces, then scan it into digital form, customize their fish on the LEGO kiosk by adding facial features, and then watch as their creation becomes an animated lifeform and swims out into one of the digital aquariums.

Each day, thousands of user-generated fish swim through the tank to create a unique digital aquarium experience. Fish Designer allows kids’ art and creativity to be featured and shared. It also demonstrates to kids the process of taking physical properties and transferring them to an animated and digital environment.

“It’s amazing what kids bring to the table in terms of imagination. AR toys should be designed to encourage that, and live next to their imagination, rather than replace it. Sometimes less is more,” said Jason Yim, CEO at Trigger Global.

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End Game

As game developers and content studios build the next round of AR games there will be a learning curve in getting these games out into the world and having adults and kids actually try the games to see what works and what doesn’t.

Kids younger and younger are picking up mobile devices and technology, and they want to interact with the world in this way. It’s not silly for young kids to try to swipe a newspaper open or to scroll through a physical calendar. AR is changing the way we interact — and play — with the world. Game on.

Written by

AR/VR Consultant, Columnist, Author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse, A Guide to VR & AR” (2018) & “Convergence” (2019). http://forbes.com/sites/charliefink

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