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Wowwee’s “Alive” series includes a Chimpanzee “So Real, He’s Unreal” per their website. The chimp is actually a bit of a talking head (the product is a model of a chimp from the top of the shoulders up.)

It features realistic animal behavior, mood dependent behavior, and responds to stimuli with mood specific animations and sounds.

Technically, the chimp features infrared vision, detects movement, reacts to human interaction, has touch sensors on its chin, head and ears, and can be ran by remote control or on automatic interactivity.

Initially released in 2006, the Alive Chimpanzee is still for sale on Amazon.

Wowwee RoboPanda

RoboPandaRoboPanda takes the traditional teddy bear look and turns it into a robot. It is intentionally designed to look robotic.

Capacitive touch sensor technology combined with a sonic sensor allow his eight motors to operate without use of a remote.

With RoboPanda’s realistic actions, an interactive personality, advanced artificial intelligence and awareness, Wowwee has made a pleasant advancement from some of the more basic virtual pets. RoboPanda also interacts with a small panda that is included in the set.

He can tell you stories, play games and learn tricks. Plus the content is cartridge based (we suspect more content will be available later).

RoboPanda is currently for sale from Amazon.

TachikomaBandai is preparing to launch Tachikoma (from Ghost in the Shell anime) in February 2008. The robot will be controlled a via a USB port per their 10 Oct 2007 press release (in Japanese). Ghost in the Shell is also known as “Mobile Armored Riot Police”. The anime strongly influenced the popular U.S. movie, The Matrix.

NeopetWith everybody imaginable jumping in to follow Webkinz’s successful model of selling plush pets as tokens to enter an online community, Neopets has announced they will be creating a plush pet entry path to their virtual community as well.

Is this the first case of digital reverse evolution? (Going from a virtual community to an plush pet instead of from a plush pet to a virtual community).

A 26 September 2007 Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products (NVCP owns Neopets) press release announced they signed a licensing agreement with JAKKS to create a plush line of toys based on Neopets. They call it a collectable roll out strategy and say JAKKS will create new ways to interact with the site in the months ahead (maybe they will use some of the concepts we have mentioned in the past to better integrate the plush toys?) .

Neopets began with an online virtual community. As they began to add merchandise, they started selling traditional plush pets. Now that everybody else is launching virtual communities based on plush pets you purchase for the secret codes (tokens) to enter their virtual community, it sounds like Neopets is going to back up another step and follow suit.

The new plush Neopets are expected to hit the stores in early spring 2008. The plush toys will contain codes that allow players to unlock virtual extensions of the toys to use as part of their Neopets Key Quest experience. (sound familiar?). They say the plush pets are part of their “multplatform strategy”.

Sounds a little more like they (or their major stockholders) think they may have left some money on the table and are coming back to get it.

An example of one of the current (non token containing) Neopet plush pets is shown above. It is currently available from Amazon. The press release does not specifically say a plush pet will be required for entry, but points out they will be required to unlock virtual extensions of their plush pets. You may still be able to enter without one?

With the continued rash of entries into the plush pet virtual community category, Neopets may be able to bring some real innovation to the category through JAKKS who has also been involved in several interactive toys. We hope so. In their haste to hit the streets in a hurry, they may just copy everybody else and sell standard plush pets with a code on them as Generation I. Maybe Gen II will open some new doors. Time will tell.

JAKKS recent list of signed licenses is very impressive. It can’t help but make us think of the history of Dream Pets and the companies involved. We sure hope JAKKS comes out better than Applause did. We also hope all the new signings don’t detract too much from the time they have available to work on truly interactive Neopet plush pet designs.

Imitating Webkiz Continues

Emily Bryson York published a story titled The Hottest Thing in Kids Marketing? Imitating Webkinz on Advertising Age 8 Oct 2007.

She opened with a quiz to guess where you would find a Webkiz toy, the answer was tossed aside and forgotten in the corner of the bedroom. Her article is right on the theme of our earlier post, Hasbro Joins in Chase of Webkiz, Webkinz are being purchased solely for the ID tag to access their virtual world.

Bratz and MyePets are mentioned as following the Webkinz model (buy a plush pet or toy for access to the online community).

Other virtual communities for youth that do not require purchase of a something to enter are also briefly discussed (Barbie Girls, Club Penguin).

Its nice to see we are not the only ones noticing the “throw the Webkinz in the corner” mentality. However, we do still seem to be the only ones recognizing that somehow incorporating the physical pet into your online experiences or otherwise increasing its play value of the physical pet might differentiate you from the rapidly crowding field. Plus it could make you look more favorable to mom when she makes the purchase.

I tried to respond to Ad Age’s post in their system, but after spending many minutes signing up, giving them my life history, and finally writing my response, the form died. I hate it when that happens. Especially later you get bombarded by their advertising materials in your email box.

Anyway, my never sent comments mentioned the opportunity for third parties to create “add-on” additional features to bring new life to the tens of thousands of Webkinz and “Webkinz like” plush pets tossed in the corner right now.

If not, at least a toy drive to collect them and give them to poor kids might be in order?

Plus I pointed out their list of Webkinz wantabees missed Hasbro’s quite recent addition, the VIPs.

LPS CatHasbro announced it will be entering the “Digital Plush Arena” with Virtual Interactive Pets (VIP)  in a 24 Sept 2007 press release. Their already successful “Littlest Pet Shop” line will be launching five pets bound for the virtual world: a dog, cat, turtle, penguin, and a panda. The “VIP” will be launched in mid October 2007 in the New York Metro and online markets, followed by a global launch in 2008. The global launch will include a total of 18 VIP.

The pets are anticipated to list for $14.99 and are targeting young girls. Just like Webkinz, purchase of a pet will allow you to enter an online community of pet owners. You can customize a virtual home for your pet, purchase apparel for them and buy pet accessories. The virtual world uses a currency called Kibble.  You earn Kibble by keeping your virtual pet healthy and happy. (I wonder if Kibbles ‘n Bits pet food bought into this ?)

One nice feature is an adoption desk. You can sign up at littlestpetshop.com, borrow a pet for a limited time and check out the virtual world before actually purchasing a pet to gain continuous access to the world.

VIP owners can play 16 mini-games or get involved in ten different activities in the virtual world. Games include hang gliding, snowboarding, and skate boarding.

Hasbro’s new VIP games, MyePets.com from MGA, Webkinz, and others chasing Webkinz use an unusual approach. They provide you with a free online virtual community experience, but make you buy a plush pet as a token to enter. Its like you go to the store to buy the plush pet, get the secret codes to sign up online off of it, then just throw it in the corner and forget about it. Seems like a waste. But, they can’t get zillions of people to pay for access to the virtual community, so they use this as a monetizing method. Hard to knock it when they are being this successful.

Nonetheless, seems like if someone took a similar approach BUT also created and promoted some more ways to interact and have fun with the “real” plush pet, they could separate themselves from the pack.

No mention in the Littlest Pet Shop press release if their online pet vanishes in a year like  Webkinz does unless you buy another one.

MyePets.com from MGA

MyePetsMGA Entertainment’s MyePets follows the Webkinz model. You buy a plush pet in a retail store, then go online to MyePets.com, log on using the secret number on your pet’s bone, then go to the adoption center, meet the virtual version of your plush pet, give it a name, decorate your own private room, then begin to explore a virtual world and visit with other pet owners. You can earn credits to decorate your room or to purchase food and toys for your pet.

Current versions include a Mutt, Chocolate Lab and and Golden Retriever (shown).

Myepets.com were announced in a 16 August 2007 MGA press release. They are another version of their Rescue Pets product line.

Novamente has announced it will be showing a “teachable virtual companion” (virtual pet) in conjunction with the Electric Sheep Company at the Virtual Worlds Conference in San Jose in October 2007.

These virtual pets are being designed to interact with avatars in virtual worlds such as Second Life. The pets are designed with certain goals (seek food, get exercise, avoid danger, seek new experiences, a strong instinct to imitate behavior), and can receive love from their owners and others. They “learn” by statistical and probabilistic methods. The pets can even learn things from each other and exhibit group behavior per a 13 Sept 2007  report in Digital Trends.

Designing virtual pets for virtual worlds is said to be more straightforward than creating physical / robotic pets for the “real” world because you only have to interact with a database instead of trying to observe what is around you, interpret it, and react to it. For example, in Second Life, the database requires no interpretation, the pet will know what is going on around it.

Novamente has provided a tech sheet  over viewing their new Artificial Life technology called Novamente Virtual Pet (NVP) which calls for a product launch in 2008.

Early tests were done with rabbit and dog modules. A subscription cost of $3 per month is anticipated and since the pets actually reside on Novamente servers, the same pet can be ported to multiple virtual worlds for the same owner.

Hear NowThis new tool for “real” pets is another example of handheld electronics similar those used in handheld games passing over to actual pet applications. The Hear Now company of Calgary, Alberta, Canada launched the “Hear Now” in 2006. It allows interactive two way voice communication with your pet at a range up to 12 miles. Some versions also include LED lights for night time visibility, GPS tracking technology, and a PEPi Recorder (Personal Entry Pet Information) allowing owners to record their contact information which can be played back if the pet is found. A handheld controller allows communication with the pet and GPS tracking on maps on versions with that feature. Military and Police applications are strongly featured on their web site. Officers can follow police dog position on a map and hear what is going on around them.

The system has GEO fencing capabilities (your dog boundaries can be defined on a map) and is also available with a horse collar attachment. One feature is telling your dog to stop barking without yelling at them from a distance. You can just talk to them.

One hand controller can control up to 14 different pets.

We find it interesting the way electronics are working their way back over to actual pet applications.

Recent times have been very good for Mattel. A 16 August 2007 Associated Press story points out sales of their Transformer and Spider man toys have been boosted by movies, plus they are still reaping sales from Pixar Animation Studio’s “Cars” movie.  Barbie sales are anticipated to pick up with the new MP3 player.

Earlier, we covered the booming success of Barbie’s new online world, Barbie Girls.

Now on the heels of major product recalls in several other industries surrounding products from China, Mattel has been hit hard twice. The first recall covered about 1.5 million of their Fisher Price toys with concerns about lead paint. Now about 265,000 “Sarge” cars from the “Cars” movie with lead paint concerns and 9.3 million toys with tiny magnets.  Overall 18.6  million magnetic toys and 436,000 die cast toy cars are being recalled.

A list and photos of Mattel toys being recalled with 1 August 2007 and 14 August 2007 recalls is online at Mattel Consumer Relations

Several Elmo items are on the list.

The lead paint issue has been in the news a while and nobody was releasing the name of the company involved in China. Lee Der Industrial Co. Ltd was recently identified as the Chinese company and a co-owner, Zhang Shuhong, committed suicide over this past weekend, reminiscent of the death of Robert Solomon over financial troubles with Dream Pets in 2004. Once again we are reminded,  the toy industry has intense pressures. Its not all fun and games for those employed by it.

Mattel’s Barbie is an icon in the doll industry. As we continue to try to put together a history of virtual pets, we become more aware of the contribution of dolls through out the ages. In addition they have been behind Pixel Chix, Barbie Girls, and many other virtual pet efforts.

Some writers are starting to question if Mattel will make it through this recent recall. Consumer confidence among those with young children is going to be hard to restore. The current recalls are all over the news, the morning shows, and now I see the legal arena – a company in Seattle is suing them in a class action for the lead paint issue.

The bulk of toys in many categories are made in China to keep the price low, but with the rash of recalls, there may be a new push for Made in America in virtual pets as well as other toys?

Mattel tries to make a case for their efforts in the future on their Voluntary Safety Recall Facts Page which includes an online video with Bob Eckert, Chairman & CEO talking straight to their plans as well as apologizing for the problem.

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