Is Phygital Play the Future?
Phygital toys are hybrids between the physical and digital; think blocks, dolls, action figures, and board games with varying levels of digital connectivity. They vary in both technological prowess and cohesiveness. Some are innovative and offer exciting, cutting edge play experiences that push the boundaries of augmented reality (AR), and others are wooden blocks with bluetooth speakers and poorly executed apps.
Phygital toys can put kids in the driver’s seat as augmented reality technology becomes more sophisticated—there is real potential for kids to bring their imagination to life. Since the success of Pokémon Go in 2016, more and more toys are hitting the (digital and physical) shelves, though we think there is still a way to go before the phygital is fully fledged.
For example, in 2021 Lego launched VIDIYO, a collaboration with Universal Music Group that combined their classic bricks with AR tech. Kids could collect and customise rockstar minifigures and build them stages to perform on, then use the VIDIYO app and their “beat bits” (small tiles loaded with special effects) to film and create AR videos around their stages. It was set to be huge, winning an Innovation Award at the Smart Toy Awards (cohosted by the World Economic Forum). In the lead up to its launch, Lego set up VIDIYO Music Festivals and even released this music video featuring an unlikely collaboration between one of their figurines—a cartoon llama called L.L.A.M.A, and R&B artist Ne-yo.
But VIDIYO was widely declared a flop even before its first products launched. After reports of a glitchy app and some other technical issues, it was discontinued in January 2022, following a wider pattern of promising AR toys that didn’t quite make the cut.
In response, Lego’s passionate fans (of all ages) took to the internet discussion boards and blogs, mostly in defence of the toy and what it was trying to achieve. Like the Lego fans online, we hope to see a full realisation of their phygital potential someday soon. For now, VIDIYO sets are still on sale (the app will be supported until at least January 2024) and there are rumours it is set to make a Star Wars themed comeback in 2023.