We sat down with Mark Gerhard to discuss Play Fusion's ambitious new mixed reality platform that could revolutionise the toy industry.
Can you give us the pitch for Lightseekers?
Lightseekers is the first in next generation, next level play. It’s the world’s first holistic, mixed-reality entertainment platform. That sounds a lot like jargon but what that actually means is that these different types of media exists including comics, TV shows, toys, interactive game and we’ve developed technology that playfully augments all of these to enhance the game experience.
The Lightseekers game is the hub of the experience and soon we’ll be launching a TV show on YouTube and we’ve got technology that will recognise what is happening in the show, which will unlock certain content in the game. There’s also the trading card game. While it’s a cool, stand-alone TCG, there’s also augmented reality as part of the game experience with pets, unique cards, rare cards etc. The same is true of the action figures. Not only does the figure affect the game but the game affects the figure. You can accessorise the figure, every toy accessory is globally unique and as you level them up.
Lightseekers is the first in next generation, next level play.
Mark Gerhard, Play Fusion
We’ve even tried to think of the toy itself as a platform, which has its own update system which means if we have a cool idea in six months, we can update it and now the toy is doing something different! We call the toys ‘sentient’, they speak and they also have AI behaviours. If you pick them up they squeal, if you drop them on the floor they cry and they also talk to each other. They can have contextual conversations too – if you equip a certain type of weapon, the other toy might comment on that or say they’ve got something better.
The whole idea is utilising their AI even in an offline way, and then that is enhanced when the experience is connected to the game. And then even that gets updated over time as we come up new ideas. A product that you bought today should continue to be relevant and get new content X years from now. All of this is made possible by the fusion core which is a pluggable mini-computer and that can do not just action figures but also drones, remote controlled cars and all sorts of other cool stuff. The whole idea is that you can build a very rich ecosystem with inter-spatial range innovation but without the cost premium.
Tell us about how the project got started.
There was almost 40 co-founders at Play Fusion. We’ve all worked together for almost ten years. Prior to this we ran the UK’s biggest independent game developer and publisher and we left so that we could set up this one. It’s a well-established, expert game team but a lot of us don’t have your classic computer science background. There’s electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, robotics firmware, all of that.
Rather than just worrying about rendering a 3D object on the screen. That gave us a lot of confidence to move out of our comfort zone and tried to create this platform for the industry. It will demonstrate its capability with Lightseekers, but the hope is that this will be powering many future generations of other people’s toys as and when they’re ready for it. Consumers will see the benefit of a smart and interactive boutique toy, which is half the price of anything else.
Will Play Fusion be looking to create its own new brands using this technology in the future?
We will continue to do that and we’re working with some bigger brands already, using our technology. I can’t comment on these brands yet, but soon and we’re always inviting other companies to talk to us about how we can help them to do some more interesting and relevant experience.
As a parent, I still want to buy something that’s physical and tangible and has real value, not virtual diamonds or gems in a game, you know paying for a one and zero in a database somewhere.
Do you agree with the label ‘toys to life” for Lightseekers? If not, why?
I don’t agree with the label because when you look at what is toys to life, with Skylanders and LEGO Dimensions, it’s a very one-dimensional experience. You put your Spider-Man figure down, it reads the serial number, he appears on the screen and you get on and play your game. We start from a synchronous experience, not only how the figure can affect the game but as you will see with the flight game we have that difference, where the toy is the actual controller rather than an accessory.
We think that creates a whole new level of really interesting experiences. If I look at the toys I played with as a kid and what my son plays with, there has been a change because these interactive experiences have become very compelling and as a parent I still want to buy something that’s physical and tangible and has real value, not virtual diamonds or gems in a game, you know paying for a one and zero in a database somewhere.
The important thing is the kids think its fun, contemporary and fundamentally that it's still magical and delightful to them. That’s still possible with some of the toys we have coming from firms like Anki and Sphero… they are there but they’re a few hundred dollars. That’s kind of a nice linear jump from the RC stuff that I was playing with to this new technology, but why can’t this stuff be less than $100? That’s what we’re set up to pioneer.
For us, it's way more than Toys to Life, we want to create this idea of connected play which can incorporate anything from TV content to published print content as well as consumer electronics and robotics. I worry that Toys to Life almost has this stigma, that the category is getting smaller, and I think that is true for current NFC-based technologies. As more entrants came into the market they started eroding each others market share… when Spyro’s Adventure (Skylanders) first kicked off it was a real innovation, like “oh, this is cool!” But then it quickly became the same thing year after year. I think that plateauing has simply been from the lack of innovation, and all these people doing the same thing. Hopefully, we are doing the next thing.
The game is really an all-you-can-eat experience, with a few hundred hours of content and even more by the time we’re finished updating it.
Can you explain how the trading card game works?
Every card is globally unique. Once you claim it, it's yours and even that can be levelled and progressed digitally. There are various classes of cards; weapons, pets, characters etc. Depending what that is it will have certain effects on the game. This can manifest in the form of powerful spells or characters that can follow you around and collect loot. There’s a lot of different dimensions that make it this multifaceted experience. The idea is that each card provides a contextual enhancement to the game. The game is really an all-you-can-eat experience, with a few hundred hours of content and even more by the time we’re finished updating it.
Can you say anything about future plans for figures?
Yes. We’ve got future figures already made and every three months from launch we’ll have two new figures coming out as well as additional accessories.