Technological innovation is often a hit or miss business. For every successful product lies hundreds of failure in its wake. The business of innovation is a gold rush and only a select few will ever find gold. One such idea is the use of technology in toys. With components like LCD screens, LEDs, RFID chips, accelerometers and many others becoming more affordable, it is now feasible to design toys around these components.
Who are the winners of this technology toy rush? Skylander emerges as one of the greatest victor, with their use of RFID chips in figurines to combine the world of action figures and video games. When first released, the toys disappeared of the shelves faster than they appeared. What about the lesser known names? Should they be considered losers because of their failure to achieved broad market appeal?
Released in 2011, Sifteo Cubes are small LCD screens combines with accelerometers and detection sensors. Games are loaded on the cubes and played by manipulating the cubes themselves. Shifting the position of the cube plays an important roll of many games. For example, a word game requires cubes to be placed in a certain order to create words. However, other games push the manipulation aspect by requiring players to shift, slide and tumble the cubes around. The idea is brilliant and tons of fun.
So why does anybody know about Sifteo cubes?
To sell a product requires an understanding of the people who will purchase the product. With a starting price of 120 USD for a minimal 3 cubes setup, the toy is pricy. In addition, adding new games to the cubes requires the creation of a Sifteo account (with a credit card) and the installation of software. The Sifteo website clearly targets an adult audience, using a simple corporate approach to advertise the product. Videos of playing with the Sifteo will often feature adults or teenagers sitting around a table trying out the different games.
Where are the children? Games like Sandwich Princess and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles clearly target a younger audience. Yet very little in the design of the website or the product itself seem to include them.
Developing the Brand
Releasing a new game in a mobile App Store is akin to building a new oasis in a very large desert: nobody will come if they don't know it exists. Sifteo suffers from a bit of the same problem, nobody knows about the product. I've seen little to no advertising other than conferences and articles on tech news site. How about features in education websites? Maybe a display at Toys'R Us? To be fair, I live in Canada, so I might have missed the media blitz.
It's worth nothing that supply for the cubes have always been short. Although they could be ordered from the website, finding them in retail locations could be a challenge. If manufacturing the cubes in large quantities is a problem, it very possible that developing the brand would be futile.
Future Sifteo Cubes
The future of the current generation of Sifteo cubes is uncertain. Support for the first generation of the cubes was dropped in 2012, when the second generation was released. Thus, early adopters were left with with no possibility of new content. As for owners of second generation cubes, very little content has been released in the last year, and the product itself is out of stock in the web store. In addition, Sifteo's website has been updated to include an announcement about a new product. If history repeats itself, owners of second generation cubes could be left with no updates or new content.
Success or Failure
Which brings us to the original question: was the Sifteo Cubes a success or a failure? It's clear that the product failed to achieve market adoption, making it a niche product more than anything else. I could be that was the original goal was to gauge if the market was ready for this kind of toy. However, that seems unlikely given the licensing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle brand to promo the product.
Sifteo did succeed in demonstrating how the technology could be used to design an entertaining toy. Although it failed to create an application market eco-system, it generated interest among the development community. One interesting product is Wildflower, a rapid development tool for platform games.
For me, the Sifteo Cubes is neither a success or a failure, but an iteration of an exploration process. The definition of the word "toy" is continuously evolving, an evoluation powered by pioneers likes Sifteo.