James Batchelor

Smartphones are the industry’s fastest-growing gaming platform – but one that is off limits to video games retailers.

The only way for the High Street to grab a slice of the £7m spent on Angry Birds Space, the millions of dollars invested in Smurfs Village’s Smurfberries or the countless other app money-spinners is to sell iTunes vouchers.

Or is it?

Over the last few years, toy companies have found a way to capitalise on the rise of app gaming: with physical products that work hand in hand with smartphone games. 

Guns that connect to iPhone shooters, Android-controlled helicopters, figurines that control tablet games – there is a plethora of innovative app toys on the market that attract impulse buyers and gifters.

These products have been abundant in gift and gadget stores for years, as well as those pop-up novelty shops that suddenly spring up on High Streets at Christmas. 

So why shouldn’t games retail get a slice of the app gaming pie?


Reality is cropping up in more video games, with most modern formats experimenting with the technology. 

Both 3DS and Vita allow users to interact with virtual items on the move, while Kinect brings the AR experience into the home. And now Character Options is distributing a range of AR products developed specifically for iPhone and iPad users.

AppGear is a series of toys and associated app games from the team at WowWee, developer of the Robosapien robotics toys. The range kicks off on May 1st with Foam Fighters and Zombie Burbs, each of which will retail for £9.99. 

The former sees players attaching toy planes to their iPhone and piloting it through a series of aerial dogfights, while the latter challenges iPad users to guide a zombie figurine through dangerous neighbourhoods filled with zombie killers.

And there’s more on the way in 2012. FPS fans will be catered for with Elite Commander and Alien Jailbreak. There will also be puzzler Mysterious Raygun and pet sim Akodomon. There is even a Doctor Who game in the works.

But don’t mistake the AppGear products for gimmicks. The team has worked hard to ensure the games that come with them are still as enjoyable as other App Store hits.

“It’s all in the quality of the gameplay,” says WowWee’s creative director Mike Gonzales. “We set a high bar for ourselves and really wanted to deliver a great play experience. We have some incredible games and some very experienced game designers behind them.

“For instance, with Elite Commander you connect your iPhone, iPod and Android phone to a physical app weapon and play against digital enemies in both the real and game world simultaneously.

“Your device acts as your screen, through which you can view both your real life surroundings and digital elements. Another favourite of mine is Foam Fighters with players actually flying small detailed foam airplanes in the game, battling in their bedrooms or within an immersive game world.”

The brand was shown off to critical acclaim at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, as well as various toy fairs around the world. AppGear even picked up a few awards along the way.

“AppGear has been a long time in development, and even before the show we were getting a lot of buzz from press and retail. We had some great features from some of the best tech reviewers,” says Gonzales.

“At London Toy Fair the brand won the best Tech Toy Award and was named as one of the Gadget Show Live’s Top Five. We walked away from New York’s Toy Fair with a Best of Show award as well.”

Now the important work begins: getting the AppGear range into retail. The company is putting all of its marketing weight behind the toys, even recruiting celebrity fans to share their love for AppGear.

“AppGear is providing retailers an opportunity to take a bite out of the app pie,” explains Character Option marketing director Jerry Healy.

“We have a major marketing drive in place for the launch of each title. Each game will be supported by TV ads, PR and social media activity. An ongoing campaign with leading kid’s social gaming platform BinWeevils will immerse kids into each game.

“In addition we are teaming up with gadget guru Jason Bradbury from The Gadget Show to champion the range to his followers.“It’s fair to say our traditional retail partners are as excited as we are. But this brand is not just for the toy market – major games retailers are also fully on board.”

Character Options: 0161 633 9800



The AppToyz range from Main Sauce is one of the sector’s most prominent lines, often seen in gadget and gift shops.

And, MD Joanne Ramsden tells us, the brand’s headline stars tap into two of gaming’s most popular genres.

“We’ve had huge success with the AppBlaster and AppWheel,” she says. 

“The AppBlaster comes with a free app, Alien Attack, and now also has several additional apps available to buy and use with this toy.

“Interaction is key to success with apps. With the AppBlaster, one minute you can be blasting aliens as they attack in your own environment using augmented reality technology, or shooting tin cans at a fairground or clay pigeon shooting.

“We have also had a great result with the AppWheel, which is a more generic product that can be used with any racing app.”

The company also produces remote control toys that players steer with their iPhone. These include the monster truck-style AppRacer and, for flight fans, AppCopter.

Main Sauce has planned a TV campaign for Q4 2012 to raise awareness of the range.

Main Sauce: 01780 765290


Jumbo Games has established itself in the app toys market with its iPieces range: a series of popular board games updated for iPad.

There are four iPieces titles currently available, ranging from classics such as Snakes & Ladder and Air Hockey to a simple Fishing Game and slightly obscure Game of Goose. Each one comes with counters and a free app.

Naturally, the target audience for these games is children, as Jumbo believes that long-running activities like this will never truly be replaced by more modern games.

“Children have a desire to be a part of new technologies but they still get a great deal of enjoyment from being able to sit around a board and play together,” says Jumbo Games MD Gray Richmond. 

“iPieces gives them that – it’s a new way of playing games together. And you have seen with Skylanders that children especially love something tangible.

"For parents, iPieces is particularly appealing as it allows children to maintain a social element to playing. They don’t need to sit in their room and play on their own – they can play with family and friends together.”

Richmond adds that iPieces can bring new customers into stores and offer much more attractive margins than traditional video games.

Jumbo Games: 01707 289289


The app toy market is packed with remote control vehicles, so it takes a lot of creativity to truly stand out.

Enter Orbotix’s Sphero, a remote controlled ball. But don’t let its simplicity fool you – there are a range of apps that will appeal to users. 

As well as controlling Sphero via touch screen controls, users can also draw routes for it to follow and guide it with the augmented reality camera mode. They can even customise it, changing the internal LED’s colour via iPhone.

Orbotix is working on more apps for Sphero, and has even sent out development kits to other studios to see what they can come up with.

“We’re moving into an era where we will be controlling all sorts of objects with smartphones, and Sphero is a robot that allows for versatility in gaming for the user and a healthy margin for the retailer,” says Orbotix CEO Paul Berberian.

“In future, we will have accessories and follow on sales opportunities.”

Orbotix: +1 (303) 502 9466


Nothing sells kids products like familiar licences and Disney is still one of the most powerful on the market.

This was further proven by Spin Master’s AppMATes range last October. These apps build on the concept of traditional play mats, using smartphones and tablets to make the flat environments more interactive.

The initial line-up was based on last year’s Pixar blockbuster Cars 2, introducing a variety of toys based on Lightning McQueen and Mater that fans drive around the screen.

“Kids are getting very savvy much earlier on,” says creative activities and games brand director Davina Masterman. “They can pick up how to use electronics very easily and very quickly.

“That, matched with great kids licences from movies such as Cars 2 and well known toy brands, makes these toys a very attractive offering. 

“Kids also have a growing exposure to smartphones. For example, when parents buy the latest model, often their kids are given the old one.”

Spin Master: 01628 535000


Mattel is one of the world’s most well-known toy companies, home to the likes of Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price.

The firm is bringing these high-profile brands into the app space with its new Apptivity range, which launches in July. 

Apptivity kicks off with a Hot Wheels pack. For £11.99, kids get a tiny toy car that they can race through the app’s three tracks. There are more cars to collect.

Other early games include product based on WWE, Cut The Rope, Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds and The Dark Knight Rises. Each will come with a single toy figure.

Two figures packs will also be available for WWE and The Dark Knight Rises at £24.99 each.“We are confident that we have a great range with great play value,” says Jonathan Kirkley, Mattel Boys marketing manager. 

“The strength of our range lies in the power and popularity of our global brands combined with our expertise in the art and science of play. 

“We have a range of price points available and brands that will appeal to boys, girls and even pre-schoolers.”

Mattel: 01628 500000


Flight simulators may be a niche genre, but Flying Toys says remote control aircraft appeal to a much broader audience.

Its line ranges from Silverlit’s SmartLink craft for £39.99 to the £279.99 Parrot AR.Drone. The company also offers the iConnect Bluetooth Ferrari Enzo, and promises high margins on all products.

More importantly, it says the connection between these devices and iPhone means they appeal to gamers and children – the perfect audience for a games retailer.

“Whilst we believe that traditional modellers will generally prefer to use a conventional transmitter, a whole new generation of gamers have grown up with computer technology, and intuitive control comes naturally to these consumers and their parents,” says MD David Rawlins.

Flying Toys: 01702 295110


Tags: Retail , ipad , iphone , toys

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