When I was growing up, toys were expensive. And expensive toys were considered “cool.” The supposedly cool kids sported their Tamagotchis and Nintendo Gameboys, while I had to rock my new pack of counterfeit Pokemon trading cards and play on the free-for-all slides wistfully.
As I grew older, new toys, dolls and plushies came into play. They were all very interactive with the like of Baby Alive being the number one thing girls wanted for Christmas and their birthdays. Oh, and yes, the young girls in their make-believe world could feed their doll, talk to them and have the “babies” make facial expressions back. Everything was nice, albeit just a little creepy.
Then today, Roam & Wander, a children entertainment studio, released their newest creation TuTu on Kickstarter, the global crowdfunding platform. The pink plush bunny rabbit, also a little unnerving to anyone who has seen 2001′s Donnie Darko — a film starring a large demented bunny — has a total of 30 days to hit its goal of US$25,000.
When we checked out the respective rewards available on the Kickstarter page, we were left a little puzzled. With a minimum of US$35, pledgers could receive a TuTu plush toy, all five core toy accessories, and the full version of the TuTu iPhone app. At first I thought that was rather cheap, but upon considering the other big children toys brands like Mattel and Hasbro, I would say US$35 is probably affordable for an interactive plush toy that comes along with other accessories.
We spoke to Jason Warren of Roam & Wander to find out more.
Entertainment first, education second
There are many interactive plush toys out there in the market which allows children to get a response from their dolls. Some of these are positioned towards education and giving kids a head start even before they enter kindergarten. However, TuTu isn’t one of them. Jason explained, “I’ve positioned our studio around entertainment; we’ve put fun as the top goal, with education second. Our hypothesis is that kids (and more generally, humans) bond more closely with anthropomorphic stuffed animals than with purely digital characters, and will have more fun (and maybe care a little more) by helping TuTu learn as a physical character than they would as a digital avatar in an iPad game.”
There will be five touch toys that will come along with TuTu. Jason added that they are planning to add more. The studio has designed 3D-printed and prepared additional toys that they will be playtesting with kids this summer. “We will be publishing updates to add more content to TuTu, and to add support for the new toys.”
These toys will enable interaction between the child and TuTu. For example, when the child picks up a toy toothbrush from Roam & Wander and scrubs TuTu’s (probably bad-smelling) teeth, the character reacts in a positive manner.
There are currently three price tiers for TuTu. In order for them to reach the Kickstarter goal, they would be needing about 600 total orders. This includes a limited number of discounted versions for US$35, a limited number of get-the-very-first-units with rush delivery (will come weeks before the main deliveries) for US$125 and the main purchase option for US$45.
Judging from the colour of the rabbit — a sweet pastel pink — I asked Jason if this is targeted at boys, as well. He replied, “TuTu is a pink rabbit. With the 125 kids who participated in our playtesting in Taiwan, there were some boys that liked playing games with her, but for the most part the reaction from girls was the strongest.”
At Echelon 2013, though, where Roam & Wander exhibited their prototypes, TuTu was also a hit among the grown-up ladies. Jason told e27 that even the ladies at his office often used the prototypes as iPhone cases, attractive plush toys that these were. (And yes, plush toys offer good protection against drops, but not against cuddles.)
Key differences between Roam & Wander toys and other dolls
Jason shared that there are two key differences when it comes to Roam & Wander toys and other interactive dolls. Firstly, the characters grow and mature along with the kids who take care of them. “With the progress and unique personality the characters develop stored in the cloud so kids can continue to play with ‘their’ TuTu even if they buy new/different dolls.” Secondly, mobile devices have become very engrossing for kids who are now growing up in a digital era. Also, “they provide a fantastic creative canvas for delivering interactive experiences.”
Check out their informative video here: