Brad Smith - Digital Play, Emotional Experiences, Connected Devices and the Future of Manufacturing

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The web, mobile apps and digital media are changing the toy and game industry, and as smartphone and tablet sales continue to grow, this trend is likely to continue well into the future. How do we chart a course through the new digital frontier and find opportunities to grow and develop new products?

A little understanding of technology, psychology, neuroscience, culture and emotion can help shine some light on the future.

Toys and games will continue to break down digital / physical (analog) barriers, as there is a shift to move away from dedicated game hardware to apps that leverage the built-in functionality of smartphones and tablets. However, when the form factor of a device is lost, there is a need to create branding and iconography that connect and resonate with audiences’ senses and emotions.

Affective neuroscience - the study of neural mechanisms and emotion - can offer clues for developing toys and games that attract, surprise, delight and satisfy. Just as the experience of petting a digital cat can be associated with and perhaps feel as satisfying as petting a real cat, the success of a product will hinge upon the ability of the designer to create experiences in digital and physical spaces that complement and connect play with emotions, senses and memory.

Beyond the digital/physical connection, there are other factors that come into play, such as:

  • Communities and the importance of social play;
  • The importance of interaction and experiences
  • Narrative and story worlds;
  •  The role of culture and media.

Lastly, imagine a world where sensors, wearables, connectivity and hyper-local manufacturing of games and toys is common and expected. We’ll see a major shift in the roles of creators, marketers and distributors as traditional production and distribution models move to a new model. Expect to see process ownership and intellectual property rights rise in importance as robotics, 3D printing, laser cutting and automated assembly and logistics make it possible to deliver products directly to customers on an order-by-order basis.

It’s a new world.