“To infinity and beyond!” The immortal words of Buzz Lightyear could also describe the latest offering from Mattel, who have teamed up with Google to make virtual reality kid-friendly just in time for Christmas. Mattel have taken their iconic 20th century toy, the View-Master®, and reinvented it for the 21st century and today’s digitally advanced kids.
First introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, the hand held 3D viewer was originally aimed at adults as a way for them to view tourist attractions in the US. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it became a popular kid’s toy, when it switched to showing simulated 3D images from popular movies and TV shows as well as scenes from around the world.
The original View-Master® worked with custom cardboard “reels” containing small colour slides which users placed in the device to see images with a 3D effect. The new version utilises Google Cardboard VR technology, and blends augmented reality with virtual reality by placing a smartphone into the unit. It works with a custom Mattel app as well as any Google Cardboard-compatible app, of which there are currently about 200 in the Google Play Store.
It was released last Friday in the US via Walmart on-line for $30 plus $15 for a pack of three experiences: NASA partnered Space, Famous Global Tourist Destinations and National Geographic™ partnered Wildlife. These are at least to start with educational, but Mattel plans to repurpose its older View-Master® content. Given it has more than 10,000 individual reels in its archives including Disney, Star Wars and Star Trek, as well as unpublished concert pictures from Michael Jackson and KISS and of course its extensive IP with the likes of Barbie, Hot Wheels or Sesame Street, more sensational experiences may well be on the cards.
Doug Wadleigh, SVP and global brand general manager of Toy Box at Mattel claims that “combining technology and innovation with this classic toy gives kids an enhanced experience allowing for play opportunities not yet imagined through new, digitally curated content’. Meanwhile Mike Jazayeri, product director for Google Cardboard, says that “the whole goal of Cardboard was to make immersive virtual reality experiences as accessible as possible for everyone. This allows you to do it in a bite-sized (way). That is the most natural way for people, particularly kids, to experience this technology today.”
As a toy recommended for kids 7+, it’s not quite Oculus Rift, but the opportunities it presents from a marketing perspective are unparalleled, both from the opportunities for curated content, but also the normalisation of VR as a means of offering short, simple, snackable experiences for kids. Infinity and beyond indeed.