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Bangalore Startup PlayShifu is Gamifying Learning With AR-powered Children’s Toys

Bangalore Startup PlayShifu is Gamifying Learning With AR-powered Children’s Toys

As a part of an emerging phenomenon, new companies have sprung up in the AR and VR field. This Bangalore-based company PlayShifu aims to revolutionise the way information is delivered to children and is focused on gamifying learning.

PlayShifu is a company that creates AR-enabled toys for children, with products ranging from a globe that teaches children about locations, to an AR-powered gaming system for children that teaches them complex concepts such as math and spelling while playing.

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Launched in March 2016, PlayShifu now has a global presence, along with being one of the most highly rated toy companies for children. They offer multiple products, each with an emphasis on teaching and learning in a fun way for children.

Curious Dose got in touch with Vivek Goyal, co-founder, and CEO of PlayShifu who elaborated upon multiple facets of the company’s development, providing an insight into one of the hottest-rising smart toy companies.

Initial Hurdles

Due to the nature of the technology, the company ran into a few hurdles when trying to develop a toy that could serve all the purposes they wished. These pitfalls included the very conceptualisation of a simple and easy to use AR-based experience for children and charting new ground with AR in general. Their mission also came with the additional caveat of making the toys educational, as the company does not believe in making ‘just-for-fun’ or one-time-use’ toys.

At the time of their establishment, AR was still very much an emerging technology. Therefore, the team was also tasked with utilising AR as a technology, along with creating a fun, engaging and useful in-house AR platform. All the effort eventually paid off, however, with the release of their first product, the Shifu Safari flashcards, occuring in August 2016.

Introducing Smart Toys

Shifu Safari flash cards are AR-enabled flashcards that depict 3D animals upon scanning with a compatible smartphone. These allow children to gain information such as habitat, food, sounds and the actions of the animals provided. Vivek stated, “The initial feedback was very encouraging but being parents ourselves, we had to work even more to satiate our own standards of what children love and learn from our games.”

This led to the motivation of the team towards improving the games and continuing to devise new game concepts at an accelerated pace. They also worked on increasing their footprint, both offline and online. This led to the creation of their sixth game in December of 2016, marking another entry into the company’s AR-enabled flashcards catalog in the form of Shifu Cosmos.

Growth and Expansion

The next two years were “eventful and fast-paced”, says Goyal. The process involved a lot of ideation, development, and creation of unique products. They were helped along the way by their two successful Kickstarter campaigns, allowing them to increase their global footprint.

This expanded their reach to more than 10 countries, including prominent markets such as the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Poland, Japan, Australia and more, all in 2018. With added reach, there also came a need to scale up production, allowing for a general growth of the company. This, in turn, boosted sales figures a whopping 6 times in the last financial year, with 70% of the revenue coming from international sales.

The company also looked into expanding in India, first moving into e-commerce websites such as Amazon, Flipkart, and FirstCry, to complement the building of their own website. Along with online growth, PlayShifu expanded their offline reach as well, with retail penetration in Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mangalore. This was achieved by entry into modern retail avenues for toys, with retail chains such as ToysRUs, Landmark, Crossword, Hamleys and more jumping on the AR train.

Their portfolio was also expanded, with the release of products such as the AR-enabled Shifu Orboot globe, and the Shifu Minglings, a set of wooden toys. An upcoming product was also announced in August through Kickstarter, known as the Shifu Plugo.

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Future Plans

Riding upon the momentum of their growth in 2018, PlayShifu has a full agenda for this year. As Vivek elaborated, “The goal is to bridge the gap between physical and digital worlds, using AR in the case of early learning. Adding more variety and depth in our products, the agenda is to bring more innovative AR toys in the market that are focussed on interactive learning.”

This means that the company is not only going to continue to create these AR-based experiences but also track and monitor their motor skills. This means that children’s learning will be enhanced and upgraded as they develop their cognitive and intellectual play. This contributes towards, “creating a self-guided experience for every child through our products”, says Goyal.

To enable an optimal growth of the company, PlayShifu has developed a two-part plan. The first step is to achieve deeper penetration in primary target markets, such as Europe, Japan, Australia, and the United States through presence in retail and online markets. An important part of this plan is also the entry of PlayShifu’s products into the classroom. The second step of the plan is to continue launching products that bring together the physical and digital world of children. Along with this, PlayShifu aims to build every foundational skill required by children in an age group of 2-10 years.

Use of Smart Toys

Armed with the purpose of providing accessible and fun education for children using AR, the company moves with a simple philosophy. The toys themselves are rooted in technology, with an essence derived from AR. Goyal provided insight into this philosophy, stating “…[to] build meaningful early learning experiences for children that are fun and engaging. PlayShifu’s sole purpose is to gamify the learning process for kids that build the foundational skills necessary for their holistic development.”

Even as the gamification of children’s learning process is not a new concept, PlayShifu’s offerings show a higher retention rate than traditional toys. This is due to the fact that the complete tech stack is built in house from the ground-up, and customized to make it work for children.

Goyal mentions how traditional toys and games fail at keeping them occupied for more than 10 days, with PlayShifu’s products retaining their interest for more than 1 month. He offered an insider perspective on this phenomenon, stating, “They are not enamored just because of new technology per se. They get engaged only by captivating content and medium, and that’s what we have done best, innovate and make technology like AR super-friendly for kids in our own way.”

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