Over the last several years, the online world has steadily crept closer to real life. Most of us reading this blog can scarcely imagine a life without Facebook. Many of us have friends that we only know via Twitter. Then there’s the intersection of the Web and toys. This really made a splash a few years ago with the success of Webkinz – a stuffed critter brought to life in the digital space. My own son was an addict for a while, sleeping with the plush Rufus at night and during the day building his virtual “room” while connecting with other Webkinz kids for games.

Yet, for anyone who also monitors the gaming industry, it has always been clear that this was but the very beginning of what is possible … and certainly of what people of varying ages will connect with. Virtual spaces like Second Life never really connected with a broad audience and certainly didn’t incorporate the reality of something like a real life object.

Games consoles like Wii and Kinect are bringing even more layers of technology – body movement meets gaming. But what about augmenting our real life toys (or even the objects we interact with every day)? This turns objects into the center of the game.

AR

A friend Tweeted a link to a website that detailed Suwappu – a toy-meets-AR concept that uses your mobile device to augment a simple plastic toy with a virtual environment.

When I see stuff like this, my inclination is to be excited; because every little innovation is progress. And this was certainly complex to build (or I least I would expect so, given my little grasp on the actual technology behind something like this).  Still, I can’t stop myself from thinking that it seems primitive. This isn’t really gaming. Is it? It’s a plastic toy, but hold your phone to it and it’s now a toy PLUS a colorful environment. It also meets with my biggest argument about the validity of AR as anything truly exciting: this kind of AR is but a snapshot of something slightly more interesting than what you already see.

The future of gaming and technologies like AR will create experiences that expand what we see in the gaming world. It will be something that carries you along a storyline, sets you on a mission and takes you away into a narrative or a mission. Something that engages your senses and immerses you somehow deeper than existing gams can.

And because this is a digital marketing blog, I have to say – this is where brands can really get creative. Like Red Bull, brands can create experiences that use their product to engage audiences in game play. They created the Red Bull Racing Game – which, through a mobile app, lets you use AR to create a virtual track. From the app, you can then race your car on that track. It’s a little clunky, but you get a sense for the possibilities. More advanced version that brands undertake would likely eliminate some of the upfront effort and hopefully be tied to a greater brand initiative or promotion.

* Image credit: http://berglondon.com/blog/2011/04/05/suwappu-toys-in-media/

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